'How I went from earning £100k a year to sleeping rough because of my addiction'
PUBLISHED: 07:47 12 March 2018 | UPDATED: 19:19 12 March 2018
Behind every person sleeping rough on our streets there is a story. Today, as we continue our in-depth look at the homelessness issue in Norfolk, one 48-year-old from Norwich talks about his journey from high-flying engineer to bedding down in the doorway of Debenhams.
After being away for years, I came back to a job in Norfolk hoping that being close to my family and the city I love would help me with my alcohol and drug problems.
I was staying in B&Bs and when my work contract ended in January 2016 I decided not to look for another job immediately and instead wait for the sale of my house to go through.
When I received the money from the house, about £25,000, I spent nearly all of it on cocaine and alcohol in less than six months.
I was not in a good place.
I was also struggling with money for accommodation. The team at St Martins Housing Trust was great and referred me to a number of organisations and I was quickly offered a place in a hostel in Wymondham.
Unfortunately, due to my drinking and behaviour being out of control, I was evicted after three months for threatening someone with a knife.
It was a really good hostel and would have been a great opportunity for me if I could have just stopped drinking.
But for people with the disease of addiction ‘just stopping’ is not so simple.
From there I spent time sleeping in my ex’s car and in a tent. I then thought getting a job again would fix me. It didn’t and I lost the job after eight weeks due to poor attendance.
I was then back in the car for two or three months and drinking heavily every day.
• My problem
Denial of the problem is a big issue. It was why I didn’t break out of it.
The first time I really thought I had a problem was probably when I was 22. I had a problem with drugs and I thought if I stopped doing that drug, speed, I would be alright.
But when bad things happened like my sister died or I had relationship difficulties, instead of dealing with it like a normal person, I just drank more alcohol or took more drugs.
Then 15 years ago I thought ‘I really do have a problem here’ and I tried to get support from drug and alcohol services but things would go really wrong.
I would not show up to work for two weeks at a time.
I’m good at my job and there is a shortage of skilled engineers so I was lucky in that respect - I didn’t lose my job.
Sometimes my wage was £2,000 a week. I would think, ‘how can someone earning £2,000 a week have a problem?’
But then I ended up sleeping rough in the doorway of Norwich Debenhams in February 2017.
• Where I slept
I was drinking to blackout nearly every day.
I would go out and steal wine and guzzle down two bottles within 30 minutes. I just remember it being a miserable time.
One night in Debehams doorway I was there with a guy in a wheelchair and we were attacked by someone who had been out drinking. He came up and said he wanted to help. The he kicked my friend and he started calling us scumbags and a blot on society.
I pushed him and whacked him.
When I was on the streets I was waiting for a meeting with the council. I knew what I needed to do, I had approached the housing team. I hated being in that situation and I was trying to get out of it.
I went to Salvation Army every morning. You get a free breakfast, you can also wash your clothes there and have a shower. I used that resource for months. I also used the soup kitchen at Haymarket every day and St Stephens Church.
• The day I stopped drinking
The day before I was meant to meet the council about getting off the street I had a stinking hangover and I was thinking ‘don’t have a drink, don’t miss the meeting again’ but it was hard.
I was waiting around with nothing to do and I thought one bottle of wine will make me feel better. I went into M&S to steal the wine.
I had a feeling someone was watching me inside M&S. I nicked a bottle and the security guard collared me.
I was on bail for a knife offence from the Wymondham hostel so I could have been remanded if they charged me.
A PCSO arrived and the security guards were really nice. He said ‘get yourself to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting’.
Then I thought ‘something has saved me there from drinking that wine’ and I have not had a drink since.
I made the council meeting and have now been housed in Mile Cross. I’m also taking part in courses with the Norfolk Recovery Partnership.
Looking back I’m lucky to have survived the drinking. I was knocked over by a car, fell off a wall and split open my head.
In 2015 I was found unconscious in the street having been robbed.
• Don’t judge us
I think rough sleeping is horrible but the problem is you can not grab someone off the street with a drug and alcohol issue and say here you go, here is a nice council flat. It is a very complex problem.
There seems to be a bit of an undertone in Norwich that it should be stopped here with banning orders but you are removing those people from services they might need.
No one I know in Norwich has ever suffered from aggressive begging. I get asked all the time and they are polite.
When looking at or working with a homeless person try not to judge.
Remember we are a human being with feelings and there are mainly good people behind the mask that is being portrayed.
Quite often, it’s hard to admit when you’ve reached rock bottom and need help so a bit of compassion is always good.
No one in this world is perfect; we all make mistakes at some point in our lives. Some of us can cope, others don’t, and that makes us human.
• The man in this article now visits schools to do talks with St Martin’s Housing Trust as part of their Reality Check programme. If you would like Reality Check to speak at your school contact St Martin’s Housing Trust on 01603 667706 or email firstname.lastname@example.org