“Every day is a new day for me. I am seeing things in different perspective, a new light. Before I was just existing, but now I want to wake up in a morning. Before I was there just to feed a habit, I wasn’t doing anything with my life. But now I want to become somebody, and make something of myself.
The words of David, a long-term addict and rough sleeper, whom, for many years, has wanted to try and address his addiction and his issues, but has not been able to find a way out of it. Who has wanted to move on from a ‘normality’ littered with drugs and addiction, but hasn’t been able to find the reason or the motivation. Now though, it is different. He is ready, and is making small but strong strides each and every day towards a new and more fulfilling existence.
It has taken trauma, and grief, to serve as a catalyst for David’s desire to change. The loss of a close friend has prompted him to engage with the Good Shepherd and the Housing First project which aims to support people with a history of homelessness and complex issues into their own accommodation. This time, he really wants to make it work.
“One of my mates passed away not so long ago, and that has spurred me on into trying to get clean,” he says.
“I know what I want, and it’s what I’ve always wanted, because you don’t realise how bad and chaotic that sort of lifestyle is – and the affect it has on your health – until you step back from it.
“I have wanted to get out for years, but it has come to a point where it took something drastic to happen for me to decide to do something about it.
“It took the loss of one of my best friends to actually realise what I was doing to myself.
“I’m in a good place at the moment, but it is very much about taking each day as it comes.”
David found himself descending into addiction during his early teenage years, and, whilst there have been occasions where he has been in accommodation, for the most part he has been street homeless.
Locked in a cycle of taking Class ‘A’ drugs on a daily basis, and shoplifting to fund his habit, his life has also been a mixture of spending time in and out of prison.
“It got to a stage where being homeless was the normality for me,” he explains.
“It’s pretty much all I have known throughout my adult life.
“And it was only when I started accessing the support network at the Good Shepherd that I truly realised how bad I actually was.
“Every day was the same – taking drugs, making money, taking drugs, making money.
“I was ripping people off, lying to myself, lying to others.
“I’d be sleeping in doorways, sometimes without even a sleeping bag, and if it wasn’t for Jim from P3 coming around with a coffee in the mornings I think there were times I would have frozen.
“I’ve been assaulted while I’ve been asleep, a lot of things have happened – it’s not a nice lifestyle but when you are in it, you just can’t see any hope.”
David’s Key Worker on the Housing First project is Dawn, who is all too aware of the difficulties people can find themselves in whilst battling with addiction without a roof over their heads.
“Some of the stories we hear are horrendous, and it’s enough to bring a tear to your eye,” she says.
“They can be treated awfully and looked at as though they are something on the bottom of someone’s shoe.
“But it’s like I always say, everyone is someone’s son or someone’s daughter, they don’t want to be in that position, and very often it’s because of some form of trauma that they have experienced in their lives.
“We had been trying to engage with David before, without success, but losing his close friend, which affected a lot of us at the Good Shepherd, really put things into perspective.
“I think it hit a lot of people with a dose of reality of what drugs can do to the body and to the mind – it’s frightening to see what that lifestyle can do and how people can end up.”
David now has accommodation in a hostel, and the long-term ambition will be to get him into his own flat where he will receive the tailored one-to-one support which Housing First offers, firstly to help him sustain his own accommodation and then to thrive and push forward.
It’s a step-by-step process, including a lot of different appointments with agencies, not to mention becoming accustomed to tasks which most people take for granted such as shopping or travelling on a bus.
“David had never been shopping properly before, but we went to the supermarket the other day and he bought two big bags of food, and went home and cooked himself burgers,” says Dawn.
“He is learning skills which he hasn’t used before, and the ladies at the hostel have got nothing but good things to say about him and how helpful and kind he is being.
“They say he is a pleasure to be around, he makes them laugh, he makes them coffee, and this is a man who went into the hostel in January extremely exhausted and just wanting to be left alone, and slept for three days.
“David now is the real David, a really nice bloke – that’s the person he is, not the main in a sleeping bag addicted to drug use or getting involved in criminal activity.
“But that is what addiction does, and I’m not sure we will ever completely understand it.
“Nobody wakes up wanting to become an addict, but with experiencing trauma, poor mental health, peer pressure or lack of coping skills, or even being in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can get swept up in it all.”
Alongside working closely with Dawn and Housing First, David is also attending weekly meetings of Narcotics Anonymous at the Good Shepherd.
He knows making a new life and moving on from the one he endured before will be difficult, and not without its challenges and bumps in the road, but he is fiercely committed to making it a success.
“Like I say, I wake up every day now with a purpose, and I want to make something of myself,” he insists.
“I know I have got to stay abstinent from drugs, there is no point going through all this pain and effort and it leading to nothing.
“There is a big world out there, and I want to see that world, because I’ve been missing out on it.
“I’m in a different mindset now, I want this more than I have ever wanted anything before.
“I want to set up my own business, fitting kitchens and bathrooms, and am currently looking into how I can get started with that, and I’ve got ambitions.
“But I know not to get too carried away, and have got my keyring here from Narcotics Anonymous, which says, ‘just for today’.
“That’s all I have to keep focused on for now, just today, taking each day as it comes.
“I know I have the help though, because for 20 years I was telling myself I could get out of my addiction, but I couldn’t, not without this help.
“I need to thank Dawn and the Good Shepherd for what they are doing for me, they have been absolutely amazing.
“I couldn’t have got to where I am now without them, they are always there for me and have been fantastic.”
“From the time David agreed to engage with us we have just run with it, and I am so proud of how he is doing,” added Dawn.
“His face has filled out, he has put weight on, he’s clean and tidy.
“The emotions people experience when they stop using drugs can be overwhelming, but David is coping very well so far.
“We are just going to support him as much as possible until he is strong enough to keep taking those small steps forward.
“It’s a long journey, starting with enjoying the simple things, doing a food shop, a bit of gardening.
“As he says, one day at a time, but it’s wonderful to see him making such good progress.”