I first met Chris at a Housing Justice seminar at the Greenbelt festival where he stood up and shared his own story of rough sleeping and addiction (see this previous post ‘The best speaker at Greenbelt 2011′). Since then we have become friends and done a number of talks together.
The booklet weaves together my reflections on working with homeless people, along with Chris’ own powerful personal story. He writes about roots of homelessness, the reality of homelessness and his recovery from homelessness.
The following excerpt written by Chris is taken from his section ‘The reality of homelessness’:
“As Big Ben’s chimes ran out across London to indicate the start of 2003 and people celebrated with family and friends all hoping this New Year would bring happiness, health and joy to their lives, I sat alone in someone’s flat surrounded not by friends or family but empty cans of beer and bottles of spirits.
I had been asked to leave the rehabilitation house which had been my home for seven months because I had started drinking once again over the Christmas period 2002. Within weeks, the people who had let me sofa-surf ran out of patience with my drinking and behaviour. It was not long before I found myself with nowhere to sleep and nobody wanted to associate themselves with me.
This is when I started sleeping rough. I was now properly homeless. Like many people living on the streets today I felt all alone. I no longer saw myself as a member of society, it was like I had become de-humanised, I had no care for the world around me and I had lost the ability to love myself. I lived hour to hour, drink to drink. The one thing I did care about was the thing which was killing me and that was the drink.
When I did sleep it was never for a long period. You become so vulnerable alone at night. Many times I would be awoken by someone trying to rip my blanket or sleeping bag from me. Sometimes members of the human race (the general public I mean) thought it would be fun to urinate over me or want to kick or punch me.
I witnessed lots of sadness during my time on the street. I would sit and listen to other rough sleepers stories of how they had become homeless. People who became friends would talk about deceased members of their families or loved one, break ups of marriage or a loss of work and other emotional break downs in their lives. Yes of course addictions to drugs or alcohol are key factors for homelessness. But then what are the reasons for addiction? Look deep into the eyes any rough sleeper and you will see the tale of sadness they hold within.
I have come to understand that living as a rough sleeper and an addict I felt dead from within. I was what I call spiritually dead or spiritually bankrupt. My soul had become separated from God – but that did not stop me questioning and blaming him. How could a caring and understanding God let me suffer so much? I would cry out to him to let me die but he didn’t seem to hear me. After three years of living life on the street I had given up hope of ever finding myself, life or love again. I decided on some drastic action.
I walked into a petrol station and poured petrol all over myself with the intention of setting myself on fire and ending my life. I did not manage it…I was sectioned for three months and was sent to Littlebrook Mental Hospital for attempted suicide.”
In the subsequent sections, Chris talks about his recovery from this extreme situation and the role that a local church a played in helping him get clean, sober and come to faith in God. As he puts it:
“I sometimes hear ex-addicts and homeless people say how they ‘found God and it changed their life.’ I don’t think we find God at all. What I do think is that he comes and pulls people like me up from a life of loneliness and sadness and heals us from within. I did not find God, he found me.”
If you would like to buy the booklet, it is available for £3.95 from the Grove Books website.