Steven, who lived rough along the East Coast for more than ten years, had grown so used to life on the streets that he had started to abandon all hope of a return to mainstream society.
He had friends. He had a routine. He had even learned to cope with the many dangers that come with sleeping rough; of serious ill health, bitter cold and the constant threat of violence.
He had, by his own admission, fallen into a rut that was very hard to escape from. Plenty of people saw him – some even took time to attack and humiliate him – but it took a chance encounter on Skegness sea front with a member of Framework’s Street Outreach Team to convince him to seek the help he needed.
I’ve been spat on, urinated on, kicked and abused by people in the past – mostly drunks on a night out who want to take their frustrations out on people. If you are in your sleeping bag you can’t defend yourself so you get used to just covering yourself with it in case you are attacked. The level of abuse for rough sleepers is terrible.
The former family man and member of the Territorial Army began his descent into homelessness after the sudden death of his mother more than a decade ago. He stopped paying bills, stopped paying his rent and was very soon forced to leave his flat in his home town.
He explained: “I just walked out one day and walked away from it all. I had nowhere to go so I started roaming around the East Coast. I began sleeping rough, first in make-shift shelters and then in tents. I learned to survive very quickly because life on the streets is very hard.”
Steven is living proof of how rough sleeping and homelessness can happen to anybody. In the past he had been happily married and gainfully employed in specialist construction sites around the world. He is neither an alcoholic nor a drug user but knows only too well the perils of rough sleeping.
“There are good days and bad days on the streets but you’ve always got to be aware of the dangers and know how to look after yourself. I’ve been spat on, urinated on, kicked and abused by people in the past – mostly drunks on a night out who want to take their frustrations out on people. If you are in your sleeping bag you can’t defend yourself so you get used to just covering yourself with it in case you are attacked. The level of abuse for rough sleepers is terrible.
“You also have to do the little things, like keeping dry, looking after your feet and stashing your tent somewhere out of sight in the day so it doesn’t get stolen or vandalised. Above all you have to buddy up with somebody you trust so you can watch each others’ backs, look after each others’ stuff and pool your resources. If you don’t then you can get into trouble very quickly.”
Steven’s first contact with Framework came in January on the sea front at Skegness, where he was spotted by one of the charity’s street outreach workers, whose job it is to engage with and offer practical help to rough sleepers. He has since received help from multiple partner agencies and organisations, including Lincoln’s Nomad Trust.
Framework helped to find him a place at his current home – a supported accommodation unit in Alexandra Road run by the Salvation Army. He can stay there for up to two years while he prepares himself for independent living with extensive training and one-to-one support.
Steven, however, is keen to move things along a little quicker than that and has already started volunteer work in order to better prepare himself for future employment. He is now getting regular access to medical and dental care and is in the best possible place to continue his recovery. Whatever happens he has no desire to return to life on the streets.
He added: “If I hadn’t had that meeting [with Framework] I don’t really know where I would be now to be honest. I suppose I could even be dead. I have lost quite a few friends on the streets over the years through illness, drugs and alcohol so I know what can happen. But I am happy with how things are going now. It can be hard to do when you have been on the streets so long but when chances like this come along to better yourself you have to take them. My hope for the future is that I can be self sufficient and live independently again. I’d also like to return to work.”