"When my stepdad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I was asked if I could help look after him. I went to stay with him and, while I was there, my flat was broken into."
I asked the council to fix my front door. It took them three months. In the meantime, the door was just left open, the doorframe smashed. I went back every couple of days to check for post, and my flat was being vandalised more and more every time I went over.
Each time I’d phone the council up and tell them the door still wasn’t fixed. They got back to me and said the contractor was waiting for some parts, and they’d do it in the morning. In the end they said I had to sign a form to say I wouldn’t hold them accountable for any theft or damage done to the flat.
When my stepdad died and I moved back into my flat, there were no light fittings, no kitchen units. They even took the sink and the bath taps. There were no doors – it was completely gutted. Then, the day after I moved back in, the fuse box caught fire, so I was left with no electricity for three days.
From Housed to Homeless
I’d just had enough, so I rang up the council and said, “You can keep the flat.” I left it and lived in a tent for two and half years. It was very difficult. My benefits got cancelled while I was staying at my stepdad’s, and they still weren’t sorted then.
It was really bad weather. My sleeping bag and all my clothes were always damp. It affected my health – my feet started rotting because they were always wet, and I suffered with arthritis in my legs and hands. I suffered badly with bronchitis too, which I had up until 18 months ago.
I went to the DHSS, as they were called at the time, who wanted to help me back to work. They asked for my address and I said, “If you go to Blaise Castle, go down the path, over a little fence, and underneath the fourth tree along you’ll find it!” The advisor said they’d cancel the work stuff for the moment, and concentrate on finding me somewhere to live.
From Homelessness to Hibernation
They helped me get a flat in Bedminster, but when I moved there I didn’t really know anybody, and a lot of the people around me were using drugs. I got mixed in with them, taking drugs with them. Then they started stealing stuff from my flat. It got to the stage where whenever I went out, I wouldn’t know what to expect when I came back. I asked if I could move, so the council put me on this bidding list. But I was in Band Five, and was told I’d be waiting a lifetime.
After two years of trying to move I gave up. I ‘hibernated’. I’d disassociated myself from all family and friends. My curtains were drawn 24 hours a day. I had three big bolts on my door, which were always locked. If anybody came to my door I’d just ignore it. For shopping, I used to go to the 24hr ASDA across the road at 3am so as not to meet any people. I’d get a few things, pay for them at the self-service till, and then go back. A lot of the time I’d spend asleep, because there was nothing else to do. That was my life for 10 years.
From Hibernation to Hope
Over that time, my amphetamine addiction got worse. When I started injecting, I went to Bristol Drugs Project to get some pins. I got given one to one counselling for 26 weeks (it was supposed to be 6 weeks max) but I couldn’t cope going to groups. They gave me a support worker to get me out to daytime activities, and it was through her that I ended up coming to Crisis Centre Ministries, to do the LIFE course.
It was so relaxed and so helpful. I was learning things each time, and I began to feel safe enough to talk rather than hide. I got on really well with the staff and the other people doing the course. They were so different from the people I’d been mixing with. I’ve actually done the LIFE course three times now. (Stuart comments that he has told Steve he can come back and teach it next time!)
During my time with the Life Course, I’ve learnt an awful lot about coping with my emotions. I’ve never been able to show any affection or trust in anybody, or ask anyone for help. I always suppressed everything. But through the LIFE course, I learned how to feel more positive. Even though I’ve had an awful lot of incidents happen, with the help of people like Stuart I’ve been able to sort out things that normally would’ve made me give up and lock myself away.
From Hope to Helping
While I was at the Life Course I was encouraged to go to Life Recovery Group. I didn’t say much when I was in group at the start, I wasn’t really there for “God,” it was just to get out to places where I could feel less anxious. I went open minded and continue to be. I find some things in the Bible hard to believe but I have seen how Christianity has helped so many people. I like that Christians can have a good sense of humour and are not all upper class, and I can see that most Christians are really good – but not all of them.
I’m now getting out and socialising more with people I’ve met through Woodlands Church and LRG. If I don’t turn up for LRG one week, everyone asks, ‘Where’s Steve?’ and I get all these phone calls and text messages, just to check I’m all right. I’ve made one friend whose house I’ve been to for Christmas dinner the past two years. We exchange Christmas presents and birthday cards, and I go round there regularly.
Another chap that I know from LRG got married eighteen months ago, and I was their best man! His wife works at Southmead Hospital, which I’m now volunteering at three or four times a week. I’m a volunteer housekeeper and I give out meals and drinks, restock supplies, clean, wash up and make patients happy. I was nervous at the start (partly due to my DBS certificate being seen!) but found it easier knowing the person in charge. It’s helped me get a better routine and be more reliable. Now I’m thoroughly enjoying it and meeting loads of people. I get a lot of satisfaction from it. My friend’s wife says that when I’m not there, the patients ask where I’ve gone! It’s good seeing how I’m doing something that affects people and cheers them up.
I gave up my council flat recently. I’ve wanted to move for a long time, to get away from past associations. Now I’m living with a friend from Life Recovery Group. I’ve been there since just before Christmas, and I feel much more relaxed.
If I wasn’t introduced to Stuart on the LIFE course in 2011, I would either be dead, or I’d be on the streets. I’d probably be wishing I was dead. Whereas now, I’m more happy and enjoying life a bit more.
I’m very grateful for all the helped I’ve had from Stuart and Sophy. They’re the people that helped me the most, who I feel most comfortable with. If I get any major problems, Stuart’s the one that gets the earache. But he does too much work, and doesn’t seem to ever get any time for himself! I have told him that he needs to try and slow down a bit.