Crisis Skylight Newcastle is a learning and activity centre where homeless and vulnerably housed people take part in courses to help them cope with problems in their lives and improve their chances of finding work.
Among the people who have come through the centre in recent years is Ray, who became homeless as a result of a long-standing gambling addiction.
After moving out of his daughter’s house, he slept rough for two nights on Tyneside before moving into a hostel. Working with Crisis, helped him new ways to manage his addiction and get his life back on track to the extent where he now has a part-time job and his own flat.
Here he tells his story:
“It come to a head where I was actually living with my daughter and a granddaughter. I was like wasting money and it came to a head where we sat down and had words. It came to a realisation where I was really spending their money and the grandchildren’s money which would have been board money, I was taking money out of their mouth to feed my habit. And she ended up just saying ‘Dad, I love you and that but you need to go’.
“It was the first time I was actually homeless, I’d never slept on the streets or anything.
“I remembered there was a church over Jesmond where I used to work that led into a back estate and there was empty buildings there. I slept there for one day and on the second day I got chased off by another gentleman, it must have been his pitch. I went down to the housing advice centre and explained to them that I’m not as street-wise as people on the street, there’s no way I’d be able to cope. That was when they put me in the hostel.
“I think I was more in shock than anything, it just seemed like it was just a dream, I was just going to wake up and it would be a dream.
“It was round about this time last year. The first day wasn’t too bad, it was dry, the second day it was absolutely bucketing it down with rain. I was absolutely soaking when I turned up at the housing office. After that we had five or six weeks of really cold weather.
“It’s frightening because, for people who haven’t been in that situation, I thought: ‘Oh well, find somewhere dry and just put your coat over the top of you and get some sleep’. But you can’t do that in Newcastle because there’s so many homeless people in Newcastle, you find a dry place and the chances are it’s already taken. It’s intimidating – if you’re not already streetwise and haven’t been on the streets, you don’t know anyone on the streets.
“The hostel was just these big corridors full of little rooms, there’s all these little rooms. If noise comes from one room, you can guarantee at least another six or seven would hear it. If you left the door open, God knows who was going to stick their head round the door. I was only expecting to be there about two or three weeks, six weeks at the top. I thought if I’d be there six weeks they’d offer me a house or a flat. There was no way I was expecting to be there for a year, that’s for definite.
“It was a proper culture shock. I spent a total of seven months over there before I’m in the dwelling I’m in now. We all had like a room each but we all shared the dinner hall – I was mixing with all sorts of people, all just living within feet of you.
“When you start to talk to people which you do over a matter of time, they’re the sort of people I would never, ever have mixed with in my lifestyle, but once you start to talk with them, you do realise that they are just human beings. I took a left turn some point in life rather than a right one, and that’s what they have all done somewhere down the path.
“It’s not a nice thing to say but it’s the way I was brought up. The only time I’ve seen an alcoholic was if someone came to us from the pub drunk. I didn’t even know pill pushers existed, you know? At the same time, I’d never ever pre-judge someone. There’s a lot a lot of good lads who, like I say, have just gone down the wrong path.
“But the main problem is in places like that is the boredom. There’s a lot of people who just sit there and drink. You’re not supposed to bring it in but of course they sneak it in, you’ll always find ways of sneaking stuff in. But there’s only so much places like them can do for you.
“I went to Crisis Skylight Newcastle around August last year.
“A friend told me to go because he was going up there and he mentioned there was a job club there. I got inducted there and went to the job club, and a member of staff came along, introduced herself and asked if I was from the hostel. I said yeah and she said ‘if you’ve got any problem or any questions, just give us call’ and she gave me her card.
“Another member of staff knew I had problems with computers and stuff like that. She made sure I’ve got a little bit extra so now I can send away for jobs and things like that. I’m learning to actually send by email, where I can put their address in to send and things like that.
“I’ve got help with my debts too, because they all built up and caught up with me.
“The gambling addiction I managed to sort myself, mainly because I had a friend who went through the same as me. He’s four or five stages ahead of me and the advice I got from him was absolutely brilliant. It’s coming up to a year now since I’ve even ventured into a betting job. I can walk past a shop and not even get an inkling to go in.
“The help I’ve had from Crisis has been unbelievable.
“When I first started I didn’t even know how to turn a computer on, I didn’t even know where the on off switch was. Now I go there and I log on, I go on the website, check the job website and check indeed and stuff like that. If there’s any jobs I can go with I’ll automatically send me CV off cos it’s already in with my emails.
“We had a work employment week there where I took the mock interviews and there was also a thing where you took your CVs down and there were employers down and they’d tell you the best way to present your CV.
“I took the mock interview which I flew through. I had a proper interview the next day and I got offered the job. But then I was supposed to be waiting for a phone call from the supervisor and they texted me to say the job had been taken.
“I was disappointed for a couple of hours – but then I thought, at least I know one thing, if I’m going for a job, I’ve got all the confidence thanks to Crisis. I’m not scared of interviews again – I used to be petrified of them, but I’m not scared now. I can give a good interview.
“There’s a lot more to Crisis than people realise. They’ve got help on virtually every aspect that people need help on. They’ve got job club, they’ve got a football team, they’ve got an art group, it’s not just based on ‘oh I’ve got money problems, I need this, I need that’ or ‘oh, I’ve got housing problems, I need this, I need that’ – they’ve got all that on top but they’ve got other things, you know?
“Normally I would say I’d like to get closer to family and that but I can’t get closer than I am now. We’re a lot closer now than we’ve ever been – what I’ve seen and what I’ve been through, there’s no way I want to be a situation like this again in my life.
“After all the things I’ve seen and witnessed in the past- I’ve probably seen and witnessed more in this last year than I have the last five years.
“Now I’ve been working as a cleaner for the last two to three months.
“I got a place now, put a bid in and got accepted; things have really progressed since then. It’s given me a platform to build on – it was all ideas before, now I can actually make things happen.
“Every time I’m in the town I see guys from the hostel and I think what a lucky escape I’ve had – it could easily have been me back on the streets again if I’d fallen into the same trap as the others.”
* People can support the work of Crisis Skylight Newcastle through the charity’s Christmas Party fundraising campaign which runs from December 8-14. More information is available at www.crisis.org.uk/christmasparty .