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One step at a time

March 01 2020
First seen on the Pavement's insta. Find us on @pavement_magazine #pavementpix © Mat Amp First seen on the Pavement's insta. Find us on @pavement_magazine #pavementpix © Mat Amp

Changing things in life is difficult but when you are homeless and completely disempowered, it’s a concept that often gets buried by the need to survive. Here’s how Mat Amp found the transition from street to home.

A home is so important because it offers a safe place to eat, rest and sleep. Without one it can be difficult to keep our sense of self intact. It’s also almost impossible to take stock of life, something that is essential if we need lasting and meaningful change.

For those living on the streets, or in precarious housing, a large proportion of time is spent surviving. And for those in active addiction, getting sorted has to be the priority because it’s impossible to function effectively without a hit. I’ve heard people refer to drug addicts as “lazy, feckless and useless”, but addicts definitely put hard work and ingenuity into getting their drugs. 

No matter how willing you are to work to get drugs, feed yourself or whatever else it is you do to survive, the thought of getting back into mainstream life when you’re homeless can seem to be an insurmountable challenge. Just thinking about it can be overwhelming, which can in turn lead to the onset of serious depression at the hopelessness of your situation. It’s easier to just carry on surviving and accept things the way they are. 

When you’re at the broken edge, inspirational quotes about the “power of the struggle” are meaningless and pointless because the other side of the mountain is not visible. It’s a place where other people live, the people that walk past you in their thousands. It’s a world you cannot see and a world that cannot see you. 

The “one day at a time” mantra espoused by the “anonymous” groups used to make no sense to me either (see box). I used to think that recovery is about the future, surely it’s about building a new life beyond today? Perhaps I would have understood the idea better if it had been “one step at a time”. That sounds more like you’re going somewhere, rather than repeating the same day over and over again.  Change for me came step-bystep and instead of looking at the destination I learned to concentrate on the journey, taking pleasure in the small victories that would eventually add up to something resembling recovery. Now I realise that I never wanted to reach the other side of that mountain. All I wanted was a comfortable, safe place where I could sort my mental health issues, beat my addiction and be myself.

In a nutshell

  • Living on the street is about survival.
  • Take it one day at a time is advice from Alcholics Anonymous tel: 0800 9177650 & Narcotics Anonymous tel: 0300 999 1212. Mat couldn’t get his head around the “day” part of this mantra. He preferred to take change “one step at a time”.
  • Getting back to mainstream life one step at a time is possible, but changes in your accommodation are sudden. 
  • When you come off the streets you’ll be in an assessment centre, with all the new challenges that throws up. You have to sleep there every night, there are cameras in the corridors, intercoms in the rooms and you’re not allowed visitors. Everyone is in the same precarious situation, which means the atmosphere is anxious and unrelaxed. 
  • Once assessed you will be placed in a hostel or supported living house. The institutionalised nature of hostels can be a real shock after the frontier freedom of the streets. It can feel like you’re trading liberty for comfort at times, but at least you can come and go as you please and have people round.
  • When you finally arrive at the nirvana of being housed in a proper home you may feel cut off and lonely. Mat says: “I did everything I could to get out of the house and connect with people. It’s surprising how many cheap or free things are on offer if you look hard enough.” 
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