It’s quite surreal being on the streets. I never thought something like that could happen to me.
I became homeless after my marriage broke down. I was married for 14 years and when that ended it wasn’t a good time. I hit the drink hard. I had a very good job as an engineer. It was high-spec work but my head was just in bits so I couldn’t concentrate. It wasn’t fair on my employer or on me, so I left. I was just going to take a few months off but it spiralled from there and I never went back.
To start with I was mainly on the street. Back when I was an engineer I always used to give to people who were homeless and buy The Big Issue, so it’s swings and roundabouts, isn’t it? I’ve been on the streets for the last 17 or 18 years on and off. At the moment I’m sofa-surfing. Now that I’m alcohol and drug-free I’d rather be on the streets than with the wrong people.
Addiction is awful. At the time you don’t really notice it. You survive day to day and everything becomes a blur. Especially when you’re doing heroin, it wipes out all your emotions. I went to jail eventually and got out in February last year. I got clean through determination and keeping myself away from people I don’t want to be around.
Selling The Big Issue keeps you sociable. You’re working, so it gives you self-esteem. I felt I’d lost that, very much so. Thankfully I’m getting back to where I should be now. Slowly. Gloucester isn’t a busy place any more, they haven’t really invested any money in the town so it’s very quiet. It’s difficult but I’m getting one of those contactless machines in the next week or two. So many people tell me they don’t carry cash.
One of my favourite hobbies is building computers. Years ago my daughter came home from school asking questions about computers and it dawned on me that her knowledge was far greater than mine so I started teaching myself. I’m in the process of doing one for a blind friend who I do some voluntary care for.
I’m going to start saving my money from The Big Issue and get myself a little flat here in Gloucester or in Cheltenham, where my kids are based. I’ve got three children and four grandkids and my daughter is so relieved I’m clean now. I haven’t got any certification that shows I can work with computers but once I’m settled and stable I might go online and sort that out.
Interview: Sarah Reid
Photo: Layla Gunter from Evoke CreationsMarks & Spencer Gloucester, Eastgate Street, Gloucester