Sonnie's story

St Albans Sonnie Starkey 57 230813

I was named for Sonny Liston, heavyweight champion of the world. I grew up in a big family, four brothers, three sisters, and left home at 15 to make my own way, working as a greengrocer, in a camera shop and various other jobs.

At 17, I enlisted, and spent the next six years with the Royal Green Jackets doing two tours of Northern Ireland and active service overseas. I left at 22, a decision I still question. Life on civvy street was very different, but I made my way in the building trade. My wife and I stayed together for six years and we had two children together, but eventually we drifted apart.

I qualified as a plasterer, stayed in the trade for many years, and kept in touch with my kids, I had eight in the end. I was living with my son working as a driver for a big supermarket when we both got made redundant. It came as a huge shock. Suddenly, we had no way to afford the rent. He was OK, he managed to move in with some pals, but I just didn’t want to impose on anybody.

At 57, there I was on a computer, googling homeless shelters. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. I had walked the streets of London my whole life seeing people begging for money, and sometimes I gave them a pound, sometimes I didn’t, but I never thought about how they got there. But there I was in the freezing cold, wondering what was going to become of me.

I got a place in a shelter and after a couple of weeks they asked me if I’d heard of Emmaus. I came here and started doing the van deliveries and collections. It’s OK, I’m meeting new people, and it reminds me a little of my days in the barracks, all the lads working together. There’s no point in dwelling on what’s happened. With my C1 driving licence I’m an asset here.

I’m hoping to get my own place, and I’m on the waiting list, so now I just have to bide my time and make the best of things. I believe a man makes his own luck but Emmaus certainly helped me when I was struggling.