Lee’s Story

    Lee is 55 and lives at Hilldrop, one of our specialist care services for people who have experienced homelessness.

    Before being supported by St Mungo’s, Lee slept rough and struggled to find food.

     

    “It had its ups and its downs, good days and bad days. When the weather was good it was tolerable but when it snowed or there was torrential rain, getting dry was a real difficulty, waking up in the sleeping bag all wet. You just have to sit there, it’s all you can do.

    It’s hard work walking past restaurants and people are eating while you’re starving, you’ve had nothing to eat for three days. I used to get handouts sometimes. On a Sunday there was one in Waterloo, they’d give you mince and potatoes. That was good. But some of the places I didn’t like to go to. People can get really nasty over food, fighting over it.”

     

    He was later supported by St Mungo’s Tenancy Sustainment Team, who tried to help him maintain his own flat. But he struggled to look after himself, and needed more support.

     

    “I’ve been off the streets for a couple of years now. I had my own flat until things got on top of me. I got depressed, really depressed. There were all the bills and I didn’t know what to do with them. I wasn’t eating or sleeping, just getting as many drugs inside me as I could, it was all I was living for.”

     

    Lee struggled to feed himself, and had frequent hospitalisations. He knew he needed more support, and was then referred to the Hilldrop team.

    He came to Hilldrop after being in hospital after a fall, caused by tremors in his arms and legs. He said just before the fall, he had been struggling to eat.

     

    “I ended up in hospital in a bad way. I was really ill. I didn’t realise how sick I was until they told me. I slipped into a coma. I was in hospital for two and a half months learning how to walk again, getting the energy to walk.”

     

    Since being at Hilldrop his health has really improved and he hasn’t needed any more hospitalisations. He’s also managed to recover from his drug addiction.

     

    “I’m stable now. I’m not doing drugs so my health has improved. I’m eating and sleeping more regularly. It’s a relief to know I’ve got somewhere stable. I’ve got support and help if I need it.

    My medication, I didn’t take it before I came here. That’s how I managed my medication before, I didn’t take it. Just drugs, it was just a waste of everything. Staff here looking after my medication is a god-send for me.”

     

    His eating has also improved, as he now has people to prepare his meals, and make sure he’s eating enough.

     

    “Having food now means a hell of a lot to me. I’m not a big eater but it’s all provided. We’ve got a good cook, good food. She looks after us. I’m not quite as scrawny now.”

     

    Hilldrop is one of two specialist care services run by St Mungo’s for people who have experienced homelessness. We recently launched a review into care provision for people who have experienced homelessness, hoping to start a sector-wide conversation, leading to collaboration and change.

     

    Tracy’s story

    Experiencing post-natal depression after the birth of her son, Tracy left her family home in Sussex for London in the early ‘90s and soon became homeless, sleeping rough for 18 years. When an outreach worker supported her to come inside, she spent three years in hostels before moving into her own flat through the Clearing House scheme in 2013. Tracy has been supported there by St Mungo’s since 2015. 

    I didn’t wake up one day and think “I’m going to become homeless” or “I’m going to become an addict”. Something happened to me, and unfortunately I took the wrong turn and I went down the wrong path.

    My first six months after I left home is all a blur. I moved in with a man who got me hooked on heroin, and had to leave his flat after he went to prison for drug dealing. A girl he knew took me to a squat for a bit, but when I left there I became homeless, living in people’s sheds and on the streets.

    When outreach found me, I’d been living under a bridge in Tottenham for eight years. I was begging at the train station in the day and being a working girl at night, and I didn’t want any help. But the outreach worker, Mark, kept coming back every week, and we built up a relationship and I trusted him.

    After about a year, I finally felt ready. I happened to see Mark on his day off and as he walked past me I asked him “Any chance of a hostel tonight, Mark?” He got me a bed and breakfast for the night and an appointment with the drug service, who gave me a script for methadone. I threw away all my drug paraphernalia and my dealer’s number that night. There were a lot of sleepless nights before the script started working for me, but it was the start of my recovery.

    Mark helped me to get in touch with my mum as well. After almost twenty years, she got to see me stop using and turn things around before she passed away.

    After the bed and breakfast, I spent the next few years in hostels, including an all women hostel, which I loved. Then I got an interview for a property with St Mungo’s. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I went to see it – a whole flat to myself! I started volunteering with a homelessness charity soon after I moved in, then did an apprenticeship and became a support worker.

    When I started that job, it was all about helping clients achieve their goals like I had, but I soon saw there was funding being cut everywhere and it was all coming down to the money. I was expected to say ‘no’ to my clients when I wanted to help them turn their lives around, so I took a step back because I didn’t want to lose my passion. I became a care worker instead, but I lost that job when coronavirus hit.

    I felt panicked then because I’d lost my job and I thought I wouldn’t be able to meet with Christina, my support worker at St Mungo’s. But Christina is amazing and she made sure I was OK. She said “even though we can’t see each other face-to-face at the moment, I’ll get you what you need” – she got me a foodbank parcel, some phone credit, and put money on my gas and electric.

    At the moment, I can’t imagine my life without her. I think I’d be worrying too much if I didn’t have her there. I don’t have any close family now – no relationship with my sister or my son, my dad and I haven’t been close and my mum passed away a few years ago. I’ve got no one I can say is ‘family’ family but I’m okay. I have my partner, and I’ve got a good support worker – that’s all I need.

    Everybody’s recovery path is different – you can’t put a schedule on it. My journey has been up and down, not all plain sailing. It’s only with support from Christina that I’ve been able to keep this flat I’m in.”

    John’s story

    For the first time in years I feel safe again.

    When lockdown began in the UK, John* found himself in a difficult situation and needed support to help him survive. With the support of our Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch outreach team, he has been able to self-isolate in safety and comfort.

    I’d been living in my car for three and half years. It was initially just meant to be for a few weeks, but it went on for a bit longer than expected.

    The first thing I noticed when lockdown started was that the gym was shut. I had been using the gym to do some training, have a shower every morning, and to charge up my USB battery for the day. The gym closing was a big problem for me. I had to start cycling for miles to use the public showers on the beach in the middle of March, which is definitely something I wouldn’t recommend to anybody!

    When all the cafes and fast food places shut down, I had nowhere to use the internet. That meant I couldn’t do my daily job searches or log in to my universal credit. Everything was shutting down around me.

    A world that was already quite difficult was starting to become impossible.

    I’d always refused help before. A few days into lockdown Christian, an outreach worker, came and spoke to me. He spoke to me with such decency and respect it just changed something for me. He offered me a room in a B&B and I moved in the next day.

    My life changed overnight. Having plugs and taps was a bit of a novelty! There’s a big bed in the middle of the room. At the moment I’m still finding it hard to sleep – I’ve been sleeping rough for so long and it takes time to adjust – but I’m working on that, I know it will come.

    For the first time in years I feel safe again. When you’re living on the streets, safety never really comes into it.

    I’m a musician – a guitar player and singer. For the first time in years I can pick up my guitar and play when I want for as long as I want. I’m even writing songs again, which I just couldn’t do when I was sleeping rough.

    For someone who’d been on the streets for so long this has just been amazing. There is help there. There are people there who can help you get off the streets, and they’ve definitely done it with me.

    Things are looking good now. I feel a lot more positive that there’s a good future for me.

    Thousands of people who were sleeping rough are now safely self-isolating in hotels during the coronavirus pandemic. But this was only a temporary fix. That’s why we launched our No Going Back campaign to call on the Government to ensure no one would be forced back on to the streets. Read more about the campaign.

    Kevin’s story

    Kevin on his sofa

    Kevin slept rough for the first time when he came out of prison and had nowhere to go. He had struggled for years with mental health and substance use issues, which started after his mum died when Kevin was age 12. His story shows just how hard it is to move on from homelessness without a stable home and access to the right support.

    “When you’re on the streets that environment becomes all you know, it almost becomes an addiction. It’s your community. The homeless community that I floated around with in the west end of London became like family.

    “I got an emergency place in a St Mungo’s hostel. I’ll always be thankful for having that place. I had my own pillow to go home to. I stayed there for five months before moving to another hostel, where I stayed for a year. Then I got access to a rent deposit scheme.

    There wasn’t any safety net

    “That was my first ever flat that was basically mine. I came straight out of a supported environment which was, really, full support – I was quite high needs. When I got the rent deposit scheme flat, all that support stopped. I got into this flat and I just felt a little bit naked, emotionally, and things started spiralling really quickly. My mental health suffered and it became a downward cycle very quickly. And there wasn’t any safety net.”

    Following a number of unsuccessful attempts at detox, Kevin attended a residential rehab which took a holistic approach to treatment. This was what triggered him to turn his life around and become clean for good. He took psychology courses, became a SMART recovery facilitator and got an apprenticeship with St Mungo’s.

    “It went full circle – the people that initially helped me, I went and worked for them. Since then I’ve flown up the ladder. After the year-long apprenticeship I got a job with an alcohol support service as a group work practitioner on a CBT based recovery programme.”

    Now Kevin heads up a socially inclusive community centre that, following a successful fundraising campaign, has recently opened a coffee shop.

    “I work with people all the time now who are or have been homelessness, and this problem hasn’t got better, it’s got worse.

    With people who are street homeless, it’s not as easy as just giving them a roof over their head.

    “They need to realise that when you’re housing people, that doesn’t just solve the problem – it’s everything else that goes with it. The whole package. With people who are street homeless, it’s not as easy as just giving them a roof over their head.”

    Kevin was able to access social housing and is now happy and settled in a housing association flat in north London.

    It’s a flat forever, a home

    “What I have in my current place is independence. It’s mine, you know – it’s mine. It’s a flat forever, a home.”

    “I am one of the lucky few who has managed to get stability, I truly believe I am one of the lucky ones. Not everyone is going to end up like me, but it’s not that they don’t want to. There is capacity in everyone to turn their lives around.”

    Kevin championed the first phase of the St Mungo’s Home for Good campaign, writing an open letter to the Housing Secretary that was signed by over 21,400 people. Sign up to be a campaigner to find out how you can take action.

    CarrieAnn’s Story

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    My substance use had caught up with me and I was seriously addicted to cocaine, constantly under the influence around my children.

    “I remember the day I got in touch with St Mungo’s. My substance use had caught up with me and I was seriously addicted to cocaine, constantly under the influence around my children. I’d had enough of the person I’d become, but I couldn’t kick my habit. I knew if I carried on, I’d be kicked out onto the streets and my kids would be taken away. I’ve never been more scared.

    St Mungo’s got me into a 12-week course of AA and NA meetings. The course gave me the tools to get clean, and stay clean. It was a big step forward for me and my family.

    St Mungo’s told me that I’d never be alone with my problems.

    But when the course finished, I was still terrified of relapsing. So, I went back to St Mungo’s and asked: “What happens to me now?”. What they said will always stay with me – they told me that I’d never be alone with my problems. That’s when they offered me a place on their Bricks and Mortar programme, a scheme to help people recovering from homelessness develop construction skills. I’m dyslexic so I don’t read or write very well, but I’m practical and hands on, so it was perfect. Since then, I’ve never looked back. I’ve gone on to do an NVQ in dry lining, and I’m still clean.

    I was on the edge of losing everything. Now I’m in a full-time job and my children are still with me. I’m so grateful for everything St Mungo’s has done for me, and I know they’ll never leave me in the lurch if I need support in the future.”

    For many of our clients, St Mungo’s are the first people in a long time who care and want them to succeed. It’s why we make sure our support is available for as long as someone needs it. Help us take the next step. Find out how your legacy could help us end homelessness here.

    Diane’s story

    Image: Diane Frontline Summer 18 Cover

    I had lost everything through alcohol. Lost my home, my friends, most of my family, my job, my car and all the material things I once had. Most of all I lost myself.

    I first came into contact with St Mungo’s in July 2017 and it changed everything for me.

    I had lost everything through alcohol. Lost my home, my friends, most of my family, my job, my car and all the material things I once had. Most of all I lost myself.

    I lost all confidence and self-esteem and I isolated myself with alcohol. Alcohol was my ‘everything’ and my only friend. My depression grew. I wanted to end everything, including myself. Looking back on this now it seems like I was in a cloud of insanity. Alcohol had taken me to this place.

    My daughter stepped in. She took me to Bristol and helped me in the long process of recovery.

    But when the detox was ‘over,’ I was left with this big question: who am I?

    The realisation kicked in that I was homeless, and I felt useless. I felt lost. Lacking any confidence and not knowing what I should be doing.

    I met with an Outreach Support Worker who suggested that I go to St Mungo’s and see if there were any courses I might be interested in. I came to the Bristol Recovery College and had a warm welcome, chat and a coffee in the garden.

    The garden was a hive of activity, and I met Rubyjo who was managing the gardening crew. I was right in my element. I was missing my own very large garden, which I had spent most of my time in at home – mostly alone and intoxicated. Everyone was friendly and warm to me. That was in July, and by early August I had become part of the Putting Down Roots team as a volunteer. I’m now part of a great team of people whose company I love.

    I feel very proud to be maintaining the Physic Garden as it’s such a beautiful garden in a great part of town. My confidence has returned through gardening and everyone knows my name, which feels so good.

    I have my self-respect back

    I have my self-respect back and I look forward to joining up with the team twice a week. I also achieved a horticultural qualification though the project, which gave me something to work towards. Now I’m helping to teach others who are doing the qualification.

    I would recommend the Bristol Recovery College and Putting Down Roots to anyone who may have lost their way in life. There is hope; a life on the other side of addiction and homelessness. I am so lucky.

    Putting Down Roots started in Bristol in late 2014 and offers people who are a risk of homlessness or people who have experience of rough sleeping the opportunity to gain a horticultural qualification. Helping people who have experienced homelessness to gain skills and develop their employability is a fundamental part of our aim to help people rebuild their lives. Find out more here.