"I had a brilliant childhood, the best a child could have. I grew up with my parents and four siblings, three brothers and a sister, in Teesside. It had a bit of a bad reputation for crime and the like, but I enjoyed living there.
When I was 19 I was introduced to recreational drugs. I used to take them at parties and with friends, but it was never anything serious or something I was worried about. I met my future wife at one of those parties and I settled down. We made a home for ourselves and had three beautiful girls.
Unfortunately, my marriage broke down for various reasons and I lost my home and my family overnight. I had nowhere to go, and no one to turn to. I was placed in a hostel in Redcar which was the worst decision I could have made, but there were so few options available. The hostel environment is just awful. Everyone was abusing class A drugs, and the staff took the view that you could do what you wanted unless you got caught. If you were caught you got kicked out and blacklisted. There was no actual help. You were just a number.
I fell into a depression. I wasn’t seeing my kids, and not having a home of my own made things worse. I started using hard drugs I had never used before, just to try and get through it all. They were the only comfort I had.
After being in the hostel for a few months I was allocated a flat of my own, but the long-term support just wasn’t there. I was abusing speed daily, and as there was no substitute for it (like methadone is for heroin) I just carried on taking it. It was something to make me feel anything but the depression I felt.
Over the past few years I have had 19 stints in prison, all for stupid stuff like petty crime. I would shoplift for money to feed my drug habit. I refused to sit out on the streets and beg, that wasn’t me. The benefit system was no help either. Universal credit makes it so hard to even live. I know the people in the Job Centre are only doing the jobs they are paid to do, but they are the most unhelpful people ever. If I had conflicting appointments, and chose one appointment over another, I would receive a sanction from the Job Centre. So many sanctions mean that you get banned and then, no money. I went 12 months without any payments and had no choice but to turn to shoplifting. Even that wasn’t enough to cover rent, and I was evicted from my flat due to substantial rent arrears. There I was, homeless again.
The last time I was in prison I made the decision that I was never going to go back into a hostel. The environment is toxic. I would get clean in prison, then come out and go straight into a hostel where I would be surrounded by drugs again. I had made peace with the fact that I would rather sleep on the streets than go back to that. Thankfully, my prison support worker recommended Emmaus. I didn’t really know what I was expecting when she described it, but it was better than sleeping rough.
I have been with Emmaus North East for three months now and I can’t begin to explain the difference it has made to my life. I really love it here. I’m off drugs, well, I’m on a script, but I would never have been able to get that far without Emmaus’s help. The aim is to be off that by October and I know with support from Emmaus I can do it. The staff are approachable and friendly, and they put in place the exact support that you need. They pick you up when you are down and make you feel like part of the family.
I work in the wood shop and have learnt so much since I have been here. I’ve made a few different things which have been sold in the shops and the aim is to train more. I want to eventually stand on my own two feet and be independent, but for now, I am taking it slow. I know I have a home here for as long as I need it.
If Emmaus hadn’t come along when it did I dread to think where I would be now. Probably back in prison, or back on drugs. Thanks to Emmaus I am now rebuilding my relationships with my daughters. I have grandchildren too. It’s just a day by day process for now, but we’ll get there. I have a purpose and a family and I couldn’t wish for anything more."