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Chicken or egg?

May 01 2019
Recovery © Mat Amp Recovery © Mat Amp
Which comes first: homelessness or the addiction? Report by Sarah Hough

Which comes first: homelessness or the addiction? Report by Sarah Hough

For me it was trauma, bereavement, years of insecure housing and a high-pressure job that led to my addiction. After years of subletting rooms in shared houses, I found myself self-medicating; unable to cope with the stresses of living with other people and the constant uncertainty of my situation. In the end, I had to drink to function which led to losing my job and the room I was sub-letting.

I found myself sofa surfing until I worked up the courage and motivation to seek help. In order to do this, I had to attend an assessment which only operated as a drop-in between 8am and noon. I was advised to arrive by 7am to ensure that I would be seen. Getting up that early was impossible and I overslept many times after a day and night's heavy drinking. Also, I often didn’t know where I’d be staying – I might be miles away from the service.

After weeks of failing to get to the service, I decided to stay awake all night and camp outside. Obviously, I needed substances to help me (which is ironic considering I was trying to get into treatment). I wondered if the professionals who were running the service realised how difficult it was to gain access to the drop-in. Was it some sort of test to see who was serious?

My assessment went well. I was painfully honest and within a week I’d been allocated a key worker. She was really understanding and advised me the best course of action would be rehab. I told her about my housing situation, and she referred me for supported housing. In the meantime, I was told I needed to attend groups including a pre-detox group. I was sofa surfing anywhere that would have me, so to get to my groups, I had to get several buses, which took money and motivation. I was exhausted. My sleep pattern was all over the place and when I was awake, I was too depressed to do anything apart from drink. Then my key worker told me that her manager wanted to close my case because I was staying in another borough.

It would have been catastrophic to have to start the process all over again. I don’t know if I would or, could have done this. Luckily, my key worker had already made the referral for supported housing and she hurried this along. I got into a hostel several weeks later. My key worker regularly warned me that funding would have to be agreed for my rehab placement and unless I was attending groups regularly it was unlikely that I’d get this. After six months of attending groups and engaging with services, I got into rehab.

It’s clear to me why so many people are unable to jump through these hoops when homeless, in active addiction, and with other complex health or mental health problems. The system is designed to be difficult to navigate, let alone used, by the people with multiple issues who need it the most.

Keep at it

  • When allocated a keyworker, request a referral to supported housing.
  • Try to stay near to the services you’ll be using.
  • Be careful about disclosing if you're staying in a different borough.
  • Try evening groups. Narcotics Anonymous and Alcohol Anonymous offer evening groups in many areas. More about AA or call 0800 9177 650
    or email:
  • See if Groundswell can help. It enables people experiencing homelessness to take more control of their lives.
    - See  or call 020 7725 2851.