How I changed my life: from sleeping rough to gradual rehabilitation
The number of people sleeping rough in Birmingham is slowly but surely reducing. But to affect real change, it takes the time, care and support of many. This is the story of Steve* and how he moved away from his life on the streets...
Steve had been sleeping rough for over six years with his dog, Charlie. He had multiple and complex needs including substance misuse issues.
Steve would speak to staff from Birmingham City Council’s rough sleeper outreach team, but he wasn’t ready to move indoors. One of the problems was that he was worried about what would happen to Charlie if he changed how he lived.
Throughout September 2018, he met with the team. However, now it was different. The council could offer accommodation from its own housing stock that was specifically suited to rough sleepers, like Steve, who have pets. They had also joined up with charity, Dogs on The Streets (DoTS), who could provide health care for Charlie and advice about taking care of him through any changes. This was vital step to building trust and their relationship with Steve.
In October 2018, though extremely anxious and nervous, Steve moved into a guestroom in one of the council’s sheltered housing schemes. Staff there continually provided Steve with support and after a number of interventions, much perseverance and a number of personal donations of essentials like clothes and personal hygiene products, he began to trust them.
After receiving funding from DoTS to get copies of his birth certificate and driving licence, the sheltered housing team helped him to open a bank account, complete a housing application and the relevant benefit applications and they helped Steve to register with a GP.
After being accepted on to the council’s housing register, by November, he had viewed and accepted a property. He moved into his first tenancy in seven years in December 2018.
While the council helped Steve to set up utilities, payments plans, food bank support and showed him how to report any necessary repairs, DoTS allocated a vet to help look after Charlie, as well as dog food and medication.
However, it wasn’t as simple as just getting Steve and Charlie housed. Ongoing support was needed to ensure he felt comfortable enough to remain in the property.
While he had been sleeping rough, he had at times been begging on the streets in the city centre and Charlie had posed a risk to the public. The housing team worked with the police to ensure that any issues were cleared up.
When Steve spoke to staff about his problems with drugs in January 2019, staff referred him to CGL (Change, Grow, Live), attended appointments with him and supported with his follow up treatment when changes had to be made.
Steve said, “It was really hard to decide to be part of the program but once I did, there was no going back for me and my dog, Charlie. At times, it was really difficult. Getting used to being indoors was a huge challenge, but with the support of the staff I managed through it.
“I was in a guestroom for 15 weeks. When I got my tenancy, I was so grateful. It meant a new beginning. I was helped to set up payments for rent, all of my bills and with the furnishing of my flat. I still have support and visits but I’m getting the right help and discovering my independence. I'm not fully recovered from all my time on the streets yet, but I’ve had 14 months of having my own place and I'm getting there thanks to all of the help and support I’ve received.
“I would tell everyone who was in the same situation as me, to trust in these guys. They really do what they say, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Steve continues to live in his tenancy, attends all of his own medical appointments and is working at improving his management skills.
As the next stage of his rehabilitation, Steve now enjoys reading and regularly visits his local library. Staff provide support as and when it’s needed and hope to encourage him to take part in more social activities and courses to help him pass the time, make new friends and continue on this positive journey.
*All the names used within this article are not real and have been replaced to protect the individual’s identity.
This blog was posted on 27 February 2020