Gerry became homeless as a teenager after suffering abuse. He has also survived attacks, alcohol misuse, illness and adversity. After turning his life around, Gerry, 53, is now a project volunteer, peer digital champion and locum worker at St Mungo’s. This is his story.
Gerry is an ex-service user and now a project volunteer at St Mungo’s
10 October 2019
If I’d carried on drinking, I’d be dead
I left home at 17 after being abused as a child by a family member for about seven years. I turned to drink and drugs. I wanted to escape – escape the abuse, escape my own head, escape my life.
If I’d carried on drinking, I’d be dead. At my lowest, I was drinking a litre of vodka or brandy every day. I’d drink eight or nine cans of lager or bottles of wine. On top of that I’d take drugs. I was self-medicating every single day.
My brother died at the age of 45 with liver failure and it could easily have been me if I hadn’t got help from St Mungo’s.
I bunked off school until I was caught by the truancy officer but no-one ever asked me why I was going off the rails.
At 17, I bought a train ticket to London and just took off by myself. I only had a few coins in my pocket but I knew if I stayed near my abuser, one of us would wind up dead.
I was drugged and attacked when I was homeless
I was homeless for about five years in the 1980s, mainly around London’s West End. That was one of the worst times of my life.
I slept at train stations, on benches, on the streets, anywhere I could.
I was terrified and bewildered. I really thought I was going to die. I was drugged, attacked and raped repeatedly. I didn’t complain to anyone, I just got on with it. Who could I tell anyway?
I regularly sold my body because I was so desperate for money. I took my life in my own hands every day and I never knew what was going to happen. That’s why I carried on drinking and taking drugs because I had no hope, no reason to live. I didn’t want to think and the bottle stopped me thinking.
In 1990, I was diagnosed with HIV, but I had no help to deal with it. It was simply another trauma I dealt with on my own.
In those days I thought a HIV diagnosis meant I would die but they gave me medication to control it and it got better over the years.
St Mungo’s saved my life
I contacted St Mungo’s in October 2017 – on the anniversary of my brother’s death – but it took me three attempts to get the help I desperately needed.
I went to Hackney Recovery Services twice, but turned round and walked away as I just couldn’t face it.
Thankfully I plucked up the courage and I haven’t looked back.
They introduced me to different activities every day, such as mindfulness, sport, talking group therapy, Abstinence Emotions and creative writing.
For the first time I was able to talk about the abuse I suffered as a child. I’d never spoken about my emotions before; the fear, the anger, the pain, the rage, the frustration. I got it all out.
I had 14 months of healing and it’s honestly the best thing I’ve ever done. I would urge people in similar situations to do the same.
I’ve made lifelong friends and we go for a run, or play badminton or tennis instead of having a drink.
Volunteering at St Mungo’s gave me a purpose
I wanted to help people like me so I started working with St Mungo’s as a project volunteer. It’s given structure to my life and a reason to get up. I almost leap out of bed but not quite as I’m getting on a bit! At the age of 52 I finally found my purpose in my life.
I was asked to become a Digital Skills Tutor which boosted my morale no end. I’m not a genius at IT but I had taken a couple of courses and I wanted to share my skills. I’m now a peer digital champion.
Some of the people who’ve been in prison have never even come across a mouse so I show them how to set up an email address, fill out forms and help write a CV.
I can relate to the people I teach because having experienced abuse, homelessness and addiction, I know what they’re going through. Homelessness can happen to anyone.
I’m now paid to work at St Mungo’s
I’ve just secured paid work as a locum hostel worker at St Mungo’s. I’m doing that part-time so I can still run digital sessions at the hostel.
I’m looking forward to getting my first pay packet and feel really proud of what I’ve achieved.
It’s a testament that I’m still here, lots of people I knew didn’t make it.
Since I walked through the doors of Hackney Recovery Services, I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol and I’ve no interest in drinking ever again.
It was the greatest decision of my life to seek help from St Mungo’s and I’m in the best place of my life. I’m one of the rare lucky ones to come out the other side.
Housing homeless and vulnerable people has always been a key part of what the housing association sector does. Across the country, the sector delivers a wide range of services. Find out more about the work housing associations do to help end homelessness, and how we are supporting this.