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My view: staying clean is hard...

July 10th 2014

My recovery is now a decade in the making. Along the way, there’s been an attempt to get clean in rehab, as well as time spent on the streets, sometimes living with friends and other times presenting as homeless to the local Homeless Persons Unit.

My journey here hasn’t been easy. As you’ll probably know, addiction and alcoholism are rife in the large hostels, and it is very difficult to remove yourself far enough to make a sustainable recovery possible. It’s not impossible, though. It depends how much you actually want it.

I have tried to make a successful recovery from my heroin addiction on a number of different occasions. Failure seemed to be a big part of a learning experience and I quickly realised I needed a plan, and I had it make myself.

Support workers can suggest strategies that they might feel would be beneficial. From my perspective, and as a man of 50, I realised that I was going to have to change my whole life and many of my attitudes: that’s got to come from within.

The struggle I think many people have is that they don’t realise the amount of work needed to be able to stay clean for long periods of time. My own situation changed dramatically when I started to work out what I needed to do to get clean and move out of hostels. And though I had a support worker, I felt I could only succeed if I worked out the steps to success for myself.

Now that I’m in a privately rented flat, my situation is very different from that of someone who is living either on the street or in a hostel. And yet, I believe the real work starts here.

My experience means I know the system inside out. And right now I think it’s impossible not to see and feel the impact of the recent cuts and changes to a now very complicated system. The present DWP has a tendency to make some very questionable decisions affecting some single men and women who have tenuous connections to a given area of London and are affected disproportionately.

The amount of homelessness in London does seem to be on the increase and with it come all the problems associated with a daily life spent moving, going to day centres for food or maybe for some human contact. When someone has given up totally, sometimes a little bit of human kindness does make a big difference.

In terms of me moving forward with my life, I won’t deny pressure from the system has been a big motivational factor. But I would move away from such a punitive system as sanctions. They don't work. Anyone seen to be trying to improve their lot should be given a lot of support at first. This would set the stage for small steps to be taken and very quickly lives can be spun around.

"Negative stereotyping is rife and people are labelled by their issues rather than the focus being on their strengths."

Homelessness has many causes. Poor mental health, addiction and alcoholism, gambling and debt, and the breakdown of relationships are all contributory factors, as are the lack of access to skills and credible training.

Raising awareness about the steady rise in people experiencing homelessness is extremely important at the moment. Public sympathy is very important and will act as a backdrop to the next general election

There are now so many things needed to eradicate homelessness once and for all from our cities and towns. And without real public support to persuade and cajole government to improve their policies around what is now accepted as a very complex issue, nothing will change. My fear is that the numbers will increase and very quickly yet another generation will experience serious housing problems, long-term unemployment, and homelessness. There is strong evidence to suggest that being homeless affects some individuals very badly. The fall-out costs society in the long run as those individuals struggle with mental health problems, depression, dependence issues and/or exploitation and physical abuse. All this adds up to overstretched services, and men and women who feel totally left behind by a society that doesn’t seem to care.

There now needs to be an outcry – a demand for action from the government is the only way forward. This is no longer a sideline issue, with numbers once again on the increase.

Research being undertaken by the likes of St Mungo’s Broadway show quite overwhelming evidence that someone experiencing a period of homelessness will need intensive support for quite a while after the initial housing problem is sorted.

There are no quick fixes in this game. And while there have been some positive noises coming from politicians and ministers, we need to make sure any promises or pledges are both tangible and useful.


July 2014



Workfare boycott

Shelter standards raised

Footballer reveals: "I was homeless for six years"

Charity records 'revenge evictions' increase

Big Issue is 'tax loophole'

The Brazilian dream?

Homeless portrait scoops prestigious award

Strike over service cuts

London rough sleeping rise


Money for nothing

First lady call for action

Handwritten signs of the times

In focus: The Samaritans

My view: staying clean is hard...


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