Life after homelessness: ‘I was once housed in an old police station. My room? A cell’

I had a really difficult upbringing. My life at home was very dysfunctional and I ended up living with my nan. I became an alcoholic and used heroin. I went to rehab in 2014, but when I got out I broke my leg, lost my job and my nan died, which meant I had nowhere to go.

I must have lived in more than 50 temporary accommodation placements in the four years I spent homeless. A lot of these places were very rough and full of drugs, which made overcoming my addiction problems impossible.

A broken leg made things worse, because I couldn’t get work. One of the places I was housed in was an old police station. My room? A cell. I thought: I am not staying here, so I opted for the streets. On the streets, I started smoking mamba – synthetic cannabis. That blocked everything else out, it numbed the pain and it kept me warm.

Even so, I found it easier to clean up on the streets. Living in hostels, there was temptation everywhere and I couldn’t function.

One day, someone told me: “True life begins when you are 40.” I was profoundly embarrassed by this, because I was 40 – and my life was in tatters. It really stuck with me. I felt ashamed. The person who said it won’t know this, but what she said changed my life.

I approached a family member and asked if I could stay with them. I got clean and started attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings. With help from Shelter, I got into supported accommodation and began volunteering. After that, I applied to become a peer mentor – and I got the job.

Currently, I am working with Shelter on their Housing First scheme in Birmingham. I have my own home, I live with my partner and five weeks ago we had our first child – a boy.

If you are worried about becoming homeless, contact the housing department of your local authority to fill in a homeless application. You can use the website to find your local council

For more stories of life after homelessness, read Guardian Cities’ the empty doorway series

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