All is cold, all is dark
Our Christmas Campaign highlights the loneliness of homelessness and that with support, people can have a fulfilling and joyable life.
Interview by Tim Renshaw
I am sat with Coleen and we are talking about her story which took her from family life to rough sleeping and, eventually, back to her own wonderful accommodation. If success is measured by the barriers you have to overcome then Coleen is one fo the most successful people I know.
"I have this memory of you coming to the project looking just skin and bones with a sad, fighting look in your eye that warned me not to say anything negative. I listened to the warning. It was after you'd tried rehab and it all went wrong and suddenly you were a full part of street life again."
As she listened to my description she started to smile and then broke into laughter. The laughter is because she can say "That was then, look at me now." Coleen wants people to know there is always a story before people become homeless, and it's never a happy one.
"For me it was domestic violence. Lots of domestic violence. I drank to cope, it helped me face each day. Then they took my kids which was the best thing for them, but I couldn't stay once they had gone. I couldn't live there so I left."
Tears rolled gently down her cheek and she wiped them away. When I asked if she's okay she gives me one of her well-known defiant looks and says, "Of course I am!" She is robust and tells me to get on with the interview.
Once she was homeless she drank more. "I drank to forget and then I drank because I couldn't remember, which was awful. Most of the time I'd sleep on someone’s floor but sometimes it had to be on the street. I had a regular spot I’d go to. In the mornings I’d be shaking and need to drink. And then it’s about survival.
People try to help but you can’t hear the good stuff and I used to think ‘You just don’t understand.’ So, I’d say ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah…’ and just get on with it.
And then they told me I had 6months to live and that did it. It was hard, really hard, but I stopped.”
Coleen did more than stop. After far too many years on the street she turned it all around. She built a home, she joined our Just Works Programme, is employed and her children are part of her life again.
Coleen works in the city centre and sees people she’s known for years who are still homeless and caught up in addiction. She chats to most of them and tells them that life can turn around for them too, but she does it with an empathy that holds together an understanding of how difficult those first steps are and how much help there is to take them.
And above all her encouragement comes with experience, “I did it, and if I could do it so can you.”
With your support we can help more people like Coleen to move from sleeping bag to fulfilling and enjoyable life. Support our campaign now.