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.”