‘You’re only two steps away from being homeless’ - Norwich rough sleeper whose wife was killed by drink driver turns his life around

Rob Sampson, who is now working back in the kitchens.

Rob Sampson, who is now working back in the kitchens. - Credit: Archant

Rob Sampson's life is something of a miracle.

George Finn (LEAP Marketing Officer) and Rob Sampson

George Finn (LEAP Marketing Officer) and Rob Sampson - Credit: Archant

If it had not been for a delayed train and a perfectly-timed phone call, he would be dead.

The former chef's wife was killed by a drink-driver, triggering a spiral of depression, rough sleeping and drug addiction that led to the moment when he stood on a platform at Norwich station.

But at this dramatic point in his life his luck began to change.

The train did not turn up on time and he got a call offering him a place at a hostel.

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It was a turning point for the 48-year-old and it led to him getting involved with the social enterprise LEAP.

Now, almost three years later, he will be returning to his old sleeping spot at Norwich Markets to help run a food stall for the organisation.

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Mr Sampson said: 'I'm a firm believer that you are only two steps away from being homeless.

'And when something major happens in your life, it all depends on how you handle it. I handled it the wrong way.'

Mr Sampson said he was 'sent over the edge' by the three-month custodial sentence given to the driver who killed his wife in 2012.

It caused him to sink into a deep depression, and after losing his house in Cambridge he moved to Norwich in 2013 as a rough sleeper.

But today he is a changed man and has been volunteering with LEAP for the past 10 months.

Through its trading arm, The Feed, it helps train disadvantaged people – including the homeless - in catering.

For Mr Sampson, who had worked as a chef since he was 15, it gave him the perfect opportunity to get back into the kitchen.

And now, he will be playing a key role in The Feed's newly proposed stall on the market, where he will be preparing food.

'The very fact that I used to sleep next to the market stall did shock me a bit,' Mr Sampson said.

'If it was not for LEAP or the Feed, I would be dead or in prison.'

The organisation has set up a crowdfunding campaign to try and raise £20,000 to bring the food stall idea forward.

It will give disadvantaged people the chance to build their confidence with the public and learn new skills.

• To support the crowdfunder, visit: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-feed-on-the-street

• Need to talk? Call the Samaritans on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.org

How you can help the homeless

LEAP is one of several organisations across Norwich helping the city's homeless population.

And it is vital that such groups receive all the support they can in order to help bring homelessness to an end.

Norfolk Police and local charities have already said this week that giving money to rough sleepers on the street is not the answer.

Instead, people are advised to donate to organisations offering long-term solutions to the problem.

They include:

• The People's Picnic - Run by volunteers, it provides free home-cooked meals to the homeless every Tuesday and Saturday in the city. Search for the group on Facebook.

• St Martin's Housing Trust - Norwich's leading homeless charity, it runs multiple hostels in the city. www.stmartinshousing.org.uk.

• The Benjamin Foundation - The charity provides accommodation and support for homeless young adults across Norfolk. www.benjaminfoundation.co.uk

Homelessness is a 'complex' issue

Derek Player, general manager of St Martins Housing Trust, said homelessness was a complex issue.

His comments followed claims earlier this week that there were a number of rough sleepers refusing accommodation.

He explained: 'When they do come into one [a hostel] they have to face up to their responsibilities and address some of the issues that brought them onto the streets in the first place, and not everyone is ready for that.'

He said that buying someone on the streets a coffee or a sandwich was 'perfectly acceptable'.

Rob Sampson, who spent several months sleeping rough in the city, said he found it difficult to ask for help at times. But he stressed it was vital that people not only asked for help, but were prepared to take it.

'It is not a lifestyle that anyone wants, but it is something you get used to,' he said.

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