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There’s one guy who’s always at the Project and I never get to talk to... we say hi as we pass on the street cos we recognise one another, but I haven’t a clue even what he’s called...
Today I got to talk to him. Andy. That’s his name. He’s a twin. But he’s homeless and his brother lives in a big house with his wife and kids and has a right good job. Mad isn’t it.
Like loads of us, by the time he was a teenager both Andy’s parents were dead. Less said about the care system the better. He chose the wrong girl, his brother chose the right one. That’s what Andy thinks. He says his brother’s girl pushed him to do well coz she wanted the house and car and money. Andy’s girl was an addict and was violent. He eventually got away from her when she attacked a copper.
He pitched a tent near some railway lines and went into a cinema every day to get warm. He used to tell the ticket bloke that he’d just been out for a smoke. He went into a hostel but it didn’t work out there. Then he found the Archer project.
The Project helped him get a flat. He says he owed a lot of money but has got himself straight now. He’s even got a mate living with him so he’s not on the streets.
He’s right proud of himself Andy is. He says he’s not been in trouble with the coppers for five years now and he’s going to be volunteering at the Project soon. He gets bits of work though them like putting Christmas cards in envelopes and gets paid for it. He also helped write a book through the Project. He can still get a bit cheeky and has had warnings about his language and jokes ... but he says he wants to stop that so he doesn’t get himself into trouble again.
Glad I got to talk to him, top lad is Andy.
There aren’t nearly as many ladies use the Archer project as men – or if there are they’re not there when I’m around. The ones that are there aren’t as easy to chat to either ... get the feeling they don’t trust us blokes too much.
Can’t blame them really. Some of the things they’ve gone through while sleeping rough... drunk or not how can men think those sorts of things are ok.
I see them making really good mates with a few though, bonds that won’t be broken... it’s like new families are formed from total strangers within the Archer community. And it is a community, you know? Yeah we argue and disagree all the time but we’re there for one another every day. Doesn’t matter where you’ve been overnight... we’re all back the next morning to have breakfast together, shower (separately ha!) and to do our washing.
"So I was asked to help with the Sleepout a few weeks ago with the staff and some people who’d come to raise money for the project. We slept outside the front of the Cathedral. It was well strange.
The public seems to feel safe there ... which is good I suppose or they wouldn’t do it... us regulars at the project didn’t know what to expect really. We didn’t go to sleep, we stayed up and talked to Tracy and the volunteers all night.
They were a right good bunch of people who slept out. They all raised sponsor money for the project an all. They weren’t snobby or owt, they actually wanted to listen and understand. They were good. There was something on inside the Cathedral at first. When people came out they were right shocked to see us all in sleeping bags outside. One bloke came over and said he’d like to volunteer on Christmas Day serving lunches.
Some people had brought cakes and buns and we got soup and hot drinks and then breakfast. It was funny seeing all the people walking round like zombies the next morning having slept on a hard floor in the cold, an it was right cold that night. We do it all the time before the Project helps us get somewhere to live and don’t think about it, but it was a right shock to them people.
I sometimes think people think we chose to be homeless. Well we don’t. We don’t do it coz we want to, we just don’t know what else to do. We’ve nowhere to go and no one who cares. I think the people who came to the Sleepout understand more now. Finding the Archer Project is the best thing that can happen to anyone in Sheffield – I know cos’ it was a while before I found it."
“I bet you think that someone should be able to recall their life so far... But when you’ve been homeless for lots of years and drunk (or worse) for most of them its not always that easy.
I was talking to one bloke at the Project over breakfast and I couldn’t make head nor tail of his life. He’d been raised by his Nan but at 15 the story got real confused for me.... I was chatting to him for quite a long time you see and it changed a lot. He’d been to a catholic school, but then he’d not been to school at all. Later on he had a PHD. He spoke really well so I think he must have been educated to some level. He also showed me a book where he was writing down his life story and his handwriting was real good too.
When he told me his Nan had died not long ago I really felt for him. For lots of us there’s been just one person who’s always stuck by us in some way. But then he started telling me she was rich but hadn’t left a will and so he had a solicitor who was working for free for him so he have the money she wanted him to and get off the streets.
Lovely bloke though, and what a story. I hope he manages to get it all down.”
"You know you’re doing well at the Project when you’re allowed to volunteer. You’re trained and treated like staff then. God it’s a good feeling! It means you’re somebody in your own mind. You’re getting somewhere.
We’re allowed keys to the laundry and to supervise other service users doing their washing. We can help look after the stores so it’s all tidy like and everything’s in its place so it can be found. We can work in the kitchen and learn skills we could get a job with. We can even work on reception. It’s fantastic!
We learn so much in our training ‘cos we want to learn, it’s not like school where you have to go and be talked at. Here they take time to explain and make sure you understand and because you’ve been a service user yourself you understand what they’re telling you. Tell you what though - it makes you look at things differently. I think that’s why you feel so on a high, like you’re somebody ‘cos it changes the way you look at the Project and suddenly you start understanding what the staff have been telling you all along.
They keep you on track mind and that’s a really good thing! If we slip we have to be told because once you get to this stage there’s no way you want to go back to where you started. We don’t always think it’s fair at the time, but we get it and that’s why we’re allowed to be the lucky ones who volunteer along with members of the general public."