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Put Me On Firm Ground

I was homeless, being accommodated by St Mungo's at Canterbury House, but their contract was going to expire, and I was very concerned. I didn't know where I was going to go. I had particular needs and requirements, I'd become very withdrawn in myself, so I was having problems socialising. Shared accommodation was out of the question in my case. I was very poorly as a result of the serious health problems I've got. I found myself with type two diabetes, I found myself having a lot of problems with pain. I've got a degenerative bone condition called osteoarthritis, I struggle with it on a day-to-day basis. The workers at St Mungo's referred me to Connection Support, because they felt my case was a deserving one. Connection Support were trying their utmost to alleviate my anxieties and stress, and they worked with me, they had a vision to accommodate me. Now I'm heading towards a year of being with them, and it's still a novelty to me, it's just great.

I was called up for surgery by the NHS, to alleviate my problem getting about. I had lost a hell of a lot of my mobility and I was in constant pain. After I had the surgery, while I was in hospital, Connection Support kept on calling me, checking on me, advising how far the steps to get me a place had gone. After I'd come out of surgery, I would be going into an accommodation. I was concerned about how I was going to manage this, I was concerned about how to furnish the place. But they didn't offer me a half measure, they offered me the whole package. I was thinking my first priority was a bed, but the day I walked in there, there was everything: furniture, pots and pans, kettle, microwave. There was soap in the bathroom, food in the fridge. My bed was made! And I didn't have to lift a finger, it was just there, like somebody waved a magic wand! To say I was elated is an understatement.

When you’re in your darkest moments in life, you're trying to grab hold of something to hold on to. My mother was an ardent Roman Catholic, so I went to church with her as a child, but as I grew up, I grew distant from the church. But in my darkest time, I found solace in religion. I started going to church and it helped un-ruffle my ruffled feathers. I prayed after I got this accommodation, I said, ‘Thank you Lord, you've reaffirmed my faith in you.’ In this new place, I'm free to say my prayers anytime without interruption. It’s given me the ability to do so many things that I couldn't before. Being homeless is quite a desperate thing. Even little things, like you've gotta be careful what you eat – you can't afford to have a bad stomach, because you've got no toilet! Imagine the difference it makes for you to have that. All courtesy of Connection Support. It's given me a new lease on life.

I’m grateful I was chosen, and I just wish this help could be extended to other people in my situation. We all need it sometime or other. A few years ago I wouldn't have even thought I could be homeless. I was working, I was financially stable, and everything was alright, my health was good. There was a period where I was doing so well that every few years I'd buy myself a new car. How vain I was then! I felt like, if I’ve got it now, I'll always have it. I didn't think life would take such a bad turn for me. A homeless person, because of the depression and stress – you find yourself drawn into doing things that you shouldn't, abusing alcohol, abusing drugs. I used to be quite judgmental, I used to say, ‘Oh, you can't help a person like that.’ But then I found myself drinking a lot, and now I look at things differently. It just took a few issues to bring me down to that level, and it's made me realise how fragile life can be. From being in that dark, dark place in my life, I'm back into the light now.

I used to feel very embarrassed about being homeless, but I'm not anymore, as a matter of fact I'm just proud of what I've got, you know? I can make myself a meal. I can make myself a sandwich in the middle of the night if I so wish to! When you're homeless, you can't do that. I am grateful to God, but I'm also grateful to the people who have made it possible, to Connection Support, Aspire, St Mungo's. And there’s Asylum Welcome, they provided the go-between for us to meet at the time. This was at the height of coronavirus, we were still isolating, so they went to great lengths to make sure we met safely. For me, it was like, ‘Wow, look at these people taking so much time and effort just for me!’ I felt really special. It's had the effect of improving my self-esteem. When you are in that dark place in your life, your self-esteem is no longer there, you just don't feel self-worth at all. You feel really desperate, but this has been smoothing those kinds of thoughts out of my system. It’s had the effect of taking away the abrasiveness in life, and replacing it with some meaning and calm.

Now I can relax mentally, and try and piece together my fragmented life. I'm trying to sort out my debt status. It hangs over me like a hangman's axe, you know? I am looking to Asylum Welcome – their legal expertise and knowledge is second to none. If I get that sorted I might be able to take a job. I've got to become a productive member of society, it's important to me. I am in my sixties now, but I feel that I still have a lot to give society and a lot more years to do it in. If you'd asked me two or three years ago, I would have told you, ‘Mate, I'm thinking more about dying than living!’ That's what happens to you. At that time I was feeling death is merciful. I think generally a lot of homeless people feel like that in a way, you know. But I'm out of that hole now and I'm really looking ahead. I actually don't even feel sixty anymore, I feel forty!

I don't have the means to be extravagant, I'm not extravagant in any way. But my life is so easy now that I feel like I'm living the life of a football star or a film star! It’s gone a long way to helping ease my mental stresses. I might be able to overcome the things that really affect me, for example, the anxiety. It's not that I want to rest on my laurels and just live as a kept person and not do something for my future, but it's given me a fighting chance to try and sort myself out so that I can move on. I'm just one person that they've given this help to, but I can expand on it and give back, and then they'll be helping a whole society. That’s the reason I want to get better, and try and move on with my life, so they can help somebody else as well. That little word 'help', it's got a big meaning. I was hanging on a cliff, and I'm not any more. They took me and put me on firm ground.

They're doing the work of society, taking a chance on somebody like me, to pick them out of obscurity back into mainstream society, and give you a chance to do that all on your own. I say ‘all on your own,’ but they help you every step of the way, they make sure that you don't stumble and fall. Their communication is very good. I've got an open line to them anytime. My caseworker at Connection Support actually makes a point of coming to visit me at least once a week. I always look forward to that, I prepare my cups and biscuits, you know, it's a social visit as well. For the past seven years, I've hardly taken notice of my birthday, but now, first thing that morning my phone rings, ‘Happy birthday!’ It's all those little things that really matter.

It's very empowering, you know, it makes you feel valued. When you're in that dark place in life, you don't have good self-esteem, you sort of want to remain in the dark, out of everybody's way, and just hope that you're going to survive, and if not, well, it will be merciful. That's all that you hoped for then. And all of that has changed for me now.

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