Preventing Homelessness in Reading

Meet Daniel*

I’m from a small family from a nice part of Reading with just an older brother. Both my mum and dad were single children so I had no cousins, aunts or uncles. I was always very detached from my mum which has to lead to problems in later life and my dad was always distant with me.

I went to a good local primary school, I loved sport and playtime, but in the classroom I felt different to the other children. One example I vividly remember:

My teacher Mrs Allen* asked the class to write the alphabet in their exercise books, I wrote large letters, one letter per page, working my way through the alphabet. Mrs Allen saw what I was doing and held my book up and ridiculed me in front of the whole class. All the other children had written the full alphabet on just one page.

I went off to secondary school where I was only interested in ‘mischief and sport’. Academically though I wasn’t in the bottom sets, but I had trouble with social situations and forming relationships. There was an AV room at secondary school and I’d hide myself away in the cushions in there.

My older brother was very different to me, very driven; he had two paper rounds and also helped stack shelfs in the news agents. I had one paper round and would just dump the papers… my life was about maximum reward for minimum effort, I realise that now and I need to own that about myself, that’s no one else’s fault.

Drugs were always around at secondary school. But I wasn’t interested at first. I wanted to be a footballer and play for Tottenham. But at 15 I tried LSD and started to binge drink. No one ever made me take or do anything I always did it because I wanted to.

I started to go to a club in town where older men played pool and Ecstasy was readily
available.

At 16 I left school and got a job as an apprentice with a building company, earning £35 a week which was a lot of money at the time. I was bored and a bit cheeky. One of the older men played chicken with me once, holding a lighter on my arm to see how long I could stand the flame against my skin and I wouldn’t give in.

I admit I was a bit of rascal; I was in and out of jobs. I went for jobs where there was a chance of making cash on the side to pay for my lifestyle. I was taking party drugs and wanted money for clothes to go out, I wasn’t what I’d consider an addict or alcoholic at this point.

I got a job in a warehouse, and worked with someone who’d smoke heroin in our break times and I asked to try it. In fairness to him he always said no, but I’m inquisitive and wanted to try something new. I was part of a gang of lads outside of work and I wanted to impress them and be the first to do heroin. I was hooked immediately.

From 1995 to 2005 I was in and out of jobs. I tried to give up drugs and alcohol; sometimes I managed it for a week or two. But as soon as I had a drink it led me back to drugs.

I realised I’d had enough of Reading and needed a change; I was now on a prescription of a heroin substitute.

I moved to Bristol where I had a friend. I was still drinking heavily but it was a fresh start, just what I needed. I had great plans I was going to get a 9-5 job and DJ in the evening. In the space of a week I found a job and somewhere to live, sharing a lovely house with people from all over the world, but as in my earlier life I still found it hard to connect with people. I isolated myself in my room for a month, only going out to buy alcohol.

Inevitably I lost my job and was facing street homelessness. I told myself people from where I was bought up don’t end up street homeless. I saw an ad in the paper for a job in sales in a tropical location ‘only the best need apply’ it said, I went along for an interview, I was petrified, but I got the job!

It was commission only, based in Asia and it came with an apartment, the view was amazing especially the sunsets. I took my prescription of heroin substitute with me but was drinking a lot, which was very much the culture of the job. I was 31, my mind was in a good place, and that really helped me. The weather was good and I was away from Reading, Bristol, family and friends – the things that had a detrimental effect on my mental health. I was in a good place despite drinking too much.

Then I had a falling out with one of the business partners. My work had started to decline and he told me I was going home. He got me a flight, but I refused to go and the police were called to deport me.

I went back to my parents’ house and quickly got a job in sales and was doing well. I made good money but was selling samples from work on the side to make cash. And as usual the decline started, I began drinking even more heavily and was not turning up to work appointments. I had a massive relapse ending up back on heroin.

Desperately unhappy, I drove to the river with drink and pills and tried to kill myself.
I didn’t succeed. When I came round I’d left the radio on, so the battery in the car had drained. I called my dad, I didn’t tell him I’d tried to kill myself and just asked ‘got any jump leads’ he said ‘no’ and slammed the phone down. I passed out again. It must have been my brother or parents that found me. I was taken to the Crisis Unit at the Royal Berks Hospital and then to Prospect Park Hospital (for people who suffer from mental illness). At Prospect Park they helped me realise living at home wasn’t helping my mental health and in turn my drug addiction and alcoholism, that was when I was referred to Launchpad.

My Launchpad home was the ground floor of a shared house. Life was still chaotic, I needed my own space I didn’t want to be around people like myself anymore or live the rest of my life like this. I’d come to the realisation I didn’t want to carry on taking drugs. I came from a nice part of Reading my family had worked hard to provide for me.
I started to really engage with Launchpad and all the other services that could help me, for example; IRiS, the drug and alcohol treatment service. I attended them properly now for the first time, not just because I had to. Because I was engaging, Launchpad moved me on a step into a self-contained Launchpad flat. Life was so much better. I was ready to go away for six week to rehab and do it properly. I was so lucky being with Launchpad, what made a real difference was I had a home to come back to; some of the people at rehab were essentially homeless. I know I couldn’t have given rehab my all if there was uncertainly about where I would live after. A home really was the foundation of my recovery. I returned to Reading after a successful 6 weeks, very vulnerable and mentally unwell but clean. Launchpad were so patient with me.

I diligently continued with the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step programme and surrounded myself with friends who are a good influence, mostly from the recovery community; they have become my support network.

I continued to work with Launchpad and living in my Launchpad flat. Attending every week the Launchpad Alcohol and Substance Misuse group. Eleanor who ran the group then asked me to take over the group every week, I was genuinely touched, it was a chance to give back. I ran the group for a while but then got scared. Some of the Launchpad clients that came weren’t very stable and weren’t making progress as quickly as I’d hoped and I felt responsible. I should have reached out for help but I didn’t and I stopped.

I’ve been given some great opportunities in my life, but now realise somethings weren’t meant to be.

I suffer from anxiety and depression. I desperately want to get a job, I’m not in any debt I have much better relationships with all my family now.

I’m 41; I have my own privately rented flat. I’ve been to Thailand volunteering for a detox charity. I’m two years clean, not even smoking and I’m looking forward to the future. I’ve taken up sport again and am addicted to running which I love and hope to run and fundraise for Launchpad in the near future and continue to give back.

* To help protect the privacy of those we help names have been changed