I’m the youngest of four children. Only after my mother died, when I was twelve, did the age gap become a problem. With my siblings being older, not only had they left home but they were more emotionally mature and better able to cope. My father took the loss of my mother hard. He disappeared for a few years, leaving my brothers to care for me.
School was difficult. Everyone was walking on eggshells; no one knew how to deal with me. Looking back now, I realise that I used my mother’s death as an excuse for the pattern of bad behaviour that developed. It was an excuse to seemingly get away with anything. The school didn’t really know what to do. Expelling me wasn’t an option because it didn’t seem appropriate given my situation. Since I already had a Saturday job working on Johnny Buttons’ haberdashery stall, a decision was made to expand this into a form of work experience on market days. On other days I attended school. My absences meant I was way behind other students and teachers found my attendance in class a hindrance. So instead, I had to work outside the office of the head teacher. Being on public display increased my isolation and ramped my poor behaviour up a few notches. It reached a head when I painted ‘WAYNE’ in giant letters on the school path. Not a smart move, seeing as I was the only Wayne there – perhaps it was a cry for help ...
I started mixing with a large crowd of kids; I felt safe with them – they were an extended family of sorts. Aged fifteen I was arrested and put in front of a judge. My father, who had by now returned, looked on in dismay as I was remanded in custody and sent to Feltham Young Offender Institution for three months. The future wasn’t looking bright. So for my own good, aged eighteen, my father sent me to London to work with my brother Paul. I excelled in the industry of heating and ventilation and life was going great guns until the age of thirty-two when my father died. Two weeks later his brother died; a week later my grandfather died. I didn’t deal with my emotions properly, instead masking them with alcohol. What followed was my slow decline. First I lost my driving licence, therefore losing my job. My other brother stepped in and offered me employment. Then when a relationship failed I turned to binge-drinking, which led to work problems. I was aware of the problems creeping up on me, but ignored them until it was too late. At which point I metaphorically hit a big button on the back of my head, that once pressed meant I was off – running away from my problems.
I headed back to Harlow penniless. It felt like the right thing to do – returning to your roots where you had good memories. Without anywhere to stay I spent a night in the waiting area of the Princess Alexandra Hospital. The next morning I went to the library and googled ‘homelessness in Harlow’: one of the top results was ‘Streets2Homes’.
I knew it was open until 2pm but, being apprehensive, I arrived at 1.30pm. To my relief everyone was amazing. Advice was given as to where I could go and get a hot meal, a sleeping bag and tent – sleeping in the woods was a better option than sleeping rough on a bench.
The next morning I returned at 9am. For the next few months they gave me food and support, something I repaid in kind by volunteering.
Within three months (because of my Harlow connection) I was housed. Shortly after I got a job – all down to Streets2Homes. Without their assistance I don’t know what I would have done. This was five years ago.
In August 2015, just as things were going well, my girlfriend and I split – I was left with nothing. I hit the button again – destination Norfolk. For the first week I slept on the beach in a tent. If challenged, I explained that I was writing a book on coastal life; they soon left me alone. There wasn’t the level of support there for the homeless like I’d received in Harlow. I turned to the Salvation Army instead, who found me a bed in shared accommodation. I got a job in a bar. I thought I could handle the temptation of alcohol, but it got the better of me. Things spiralled out of control, the culmination being eight months of solid drinking. Running away from my problems wasn’t the answer any more. I returned to Streets2Homes, the one place I knew wouldn’t judge me. Kerrie, who runs the charity, said it was good to see me again, but not under the circumstances. You could see the shock on their faces – I was barely recognisable. I’d lost a lot of weight and my appearance was masked by a long, unkempt beard and hair. On this occasion I knew that things needed to change. With help and support from groups within Harlow I’ve sorted myself out; I haven’t drunk anything since that day seven months ago.
As much as people knock this town, it includes some amazing people. People who, when I’ve been at my lowest, have helped me the most.
At forty-three this marks a new chapter in my life. I’ve a roof over my head and, having experienced first-hand the help of Streets2Homes, I think this might be my new vocation in life; helping others through what I’ve experienced.