Formerly homeless man from Bury St Edmunds was helped by West Suffolk Council’s Rough Sleeper Service
Ten days before Christmas last year, Dave found himself homeless and on the streets after tragedy, addiction and a mental breakdown saw his life spiral out of control.
His mother who suffered from dementia had died, just a few years after his brother passed away from cancer, and Dave’s life spiralled into a mental breakdown which saw him arrested and bailed not to return to where he had been living.
“It was probably the worst time to be homeless. It was freezing. Some nights I stayed at friends. But Christmas is an intimate time for families, you don’t really fit in.
“All I had was a mountain bike and a large quantity of cannabis and cocaine. I would take my drugs and then cycle around to keep warm. I’d stay awake days on drink and drugs and then sleep for a day at friends before carrying on with the madness.”
This Christmas will be very different, however, thanks in part to the continuing support of West Suffolk Council’s Rough Sleeper Service.
They met Dave on January 11, 2023, after he returned to Bury St Edmunds after a brief trip away fishing. The next day they got him into temporary accommodation.
“There was a period around even then when I didn’t want to wake up,” he said. “I had a choice between life and death. My exs weren’t talking to me because of the things I’d done, I hadn’t seen most of my children for several years, again because some of the mistakes that I’ve made. My mother’s gone, my brother’s gone. I had to do something. Either end my life or accept help.”
While Dave had tried in his mid-30s and mid-40s to get clean of drink and drugs by himself, he never managed to sustain it, in part because he never properly engaged with the support.
“I went to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) before but I was always drunk and thought it was nonsense and that I knew better. Through drink and drugs, I’d have explosions and end up in jail for robbery and violence. I was jailed for nine and a half years in total. The only times that I was ever clean was when I was in prison.
“It’s hard to admit to yourself that you are an addict and that your life has become unmanageable through drink and drugs.”
This time, however, he decided to embrace all that AA and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings had to offer.
“I was lucky to have a friend 11 years clean at the NA programme. He’s helped me turn my life around.”
Now in his early 50s, Dave has been clean of drink and drugs since April 24 this year.
“That’s a lot of work myself don’t get me wrong – it has to come from you. You’ve got to be willing to learn.
“But I have had support all the way through from the council's Rough Sleeper Service. They helped me get gym membership to help with my recovery. I’ve still got their support today and I moved into my own property in September.
“They helped me get some white goods, they helped me get some vouchers to get furniture from Gatehouse and they check in on me. It’s not like ‘he’s got his own place we’ll just dump you’.”
Dave is continuing to attend frequent AA and NA sessions and is also receiving counselling support for the first time in his life.
“October 4 this year was nine years since seeing my youngest children – I’ve had to admit I used to drink drive with my children in the car. Horrendous stuff really.
“But this year I didn’t blast my mind away. I dealt with a horrendous anniversary without having to use anything. It’s about dealing with life on life’s terms - good things will happen to anyone, bad things will happen to anyone, but you don’t have to take drink and drugs.”
Part of his steps on the road to recovery will see him apologise to all those he has wronged and hurt. He will also be going into prisons to help people stay clean while he is gradually reconciling his relationship with his eldest daughter and her mum.
“I’m now like a dog with a bone. I’m a recovering addict. I want to be the best version of me that I can be.”
Dave – not his real name – is one of many rough sleepers who have been helped by West Suffolk Council. The council has invested in accommodation and support over the years and established a Rough Sleeper Service in 2018 when there were 36 people sleeping rough in West Suffolk.
While the number of people rough sleeping can fluctuate daily as people are accommodated or become homeless, the number of people rough sleeping in West Suffolk on November 1 was four.
If people see or suspect someone is sleeping rough, the quickest way to tell the council’s Rough Sleeper Service is using StreetLink.
The Rough Sleeper Service then gets an alert, and will go and speak to the person (if they aren’t already) to try to get them the help they need.