Cork Simon project 'literally saved my life' says former rough sleeper

Cork Simon project 'literally saved my life' says former rough sleeper

'Some people would urinate on your sleeping bag, as if I was a piece of dirt, others would attack you and try to rob you, not that I had anything to rob'

A man who found himself sleeping rough and suicidal after losing his marriage and family home says a Cork Simon project which helps homeless people find a job helped saved his life.

John, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was grateful for the help and support but said others are not so lucky.

“Some of the lads I got friendly with on the streets and in the hostel have died  — some from drugs overdoses, some by suicide,” he said.

“Getting a job was a great relief. It gave me a sense of purpose, it put hope back in my life. It helped me to secure an apartment and after a few months, I was able to buy a car. It helped me start my life all over again. Only for those people who helped me, I wouldn’t be here today.” 

John told his story as Cork Simon published the findings of its long-term 'A Working Life' research which underlines how a job can break the cycle of homelessness but also how a lack of housing remains a huge obstacle.

Report author, Sophie Johnston, said it's clear that work can be a catalyst for great change but she said housing scarcity, high rents and insecurity still challenge peoples' ability to sustain work.

“The participants in this research are literally working their hardest to leave homelessness behind yet many are still struggling to secure stable housing. It is holding them back in their considerable efforts to rebuild their lives,” she said.

John, who is in his 50s, said his life fell apart in the space of just three months.

“I was just an ordinary working person when it happened to me. That’s how quickly things can go from being ok to losing everything,” he said.

He stayed first with a friend, before turning to Penny Dinners for food, and to Cork Simon for shelter. He slept rough for several months.

“It was devastating. I was practically suicidal. I was terrified. Anything could happen on the streets at night, especially around 3am when nightclubs finished,” he said.

“Some people would urinate on your sleeping bag, as if I was a piece of dirt, others would attack you and try to rob you, not that I had anything to rob. I had a few close shaves.

“There were times when I would walk down the South Mall, to the little park area where you’d see a lot of people drinking and I often thought of just jumping in the river.

“I was in a very, very dark place. I didn’t see any hope.” 

But one morning in the Simon shelter, he engaged with the charity's training and employment team.

“I would invite the politicians to spend one night on the streets, huddled up on a doorway, to see what happens in middle of the night."
“I would invite the politicians to spend one night on the streets, huddled up on a doorway, to see what happens in middle of the night."

A professional truck driver, he secured work on the final stages of a construction project, he got a long-term place in St Vincent’s Hostel, he undertook Safe Pass and driver licence courses, before he landed another job in construction, and then moved to a B&B.

Within a few months, a housing association offered him an apartment in the city, where he now lives. Unfortunately, he lost his job when Covid-19 hit in April.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll get work again, hopefully in the new year. I can manage alright on the Covid payments," he said.

“I appreciate so much what I have. I’m one of the lucky ones. So many don’t make it.

“I would invite the politicians to spend one night on the streets, huddled up on a doorway, to see what happens in middle of the night.

“It’s a lonely, scary, dangerous terrible place to be in. I wouldn’t wish it on everybody.

“Every time I walk around, so many homeless people around the city at the moment, heartbreaking, heart goes out to them.

“When I was at my lowest and I thought there was no hope at all but counsellors told me things will get better eventually, but it takes time.

“I would advise people to hang in there, because it will get better.

“Use the supports that are available. There are people there to help but you must want the help.

“They gave me the hope to give me the want to go on and get a life.”

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