First of all let me start by saying its a privilege to be able to speak my mind and share my thoughts on this matter, which I’m sure mirror a lot of past and previous CHESS tenants have experienced. Secondly, I’m sure before embarking on this seemly small task that it will be no easy thing to relay the emotional journey, with honesty, without bringing to the surface negative thoughts. However it’s for a greater purpose, in order to provide an accurate and hopefully interesting account of the journey i’ve come through, these last couple of years.
Before I came to CHESS I’d had been living practically rent free, courtesy of my ex-English teacher of all people, for roughly 4 years. Prior to that I’d lived with my mother in Chelmsford before she’d asked me to leave, because of the strain, both financial and emotional, that I was putting her under.
Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have access to the support I have now. Nor the experience and understanding of my problems at that time and instead began a new rut of depression, avoidance behaviour and frequent use of cannabis in an attempt to fill my time and cope with the emotional and mental warfare I was experiencing, coupled with paranoia and low self esteem.
After 4 years of staying as a lodger in Writtle, with practically no employment aside from part-time gardening work – which did dramatically improve my mood at the time with the infrequent agency work I obtained – I reached a new level of psychological dependence on cannabis, and had begun funding this addiction with money I was stealing from my landlady, with the help of a pin code which I had previously been entrusted with. I had begun to steal increasingly in this way, falling further into this shameless and impulsive habit to fund my growing drug problem.
After continuing this for several weeks I was eventually exposed, when a bank statement with multiple transactions was brought to light. As a result of this, I was asked to leave with 4 days notice, and this fully brought home the shock and shame of what I had been doing. It was at this point I had truly hit a new low in my life, and felt the despair and confusion of my actions begin to engulf my mind. Two powerful emotions and thankfully enough of a wake up call to decide that I needed to stop smoking cannabis for one, and secondly make a decision to change the way my life had become.
After a trip to the council, to explain my situation, I was pointed in the direction of CHESS, a homeless charity I had until then, been completely unaware of, and it was with a mix of emotions mostly anxiety about what I would be met with, that I began my journey of recovery.
After I arrived at CHESS, belongings and mother in tow, I was asked to complete a couple of painless forms, mainly to assess me and any potential risks I posed. After this I was introduced to a few members of staff who were very welcoming and approachable and was informed to my amazement and appreciation that there was a room available that I could move into within a few days.
The next few days I spent trying to pull myself together mentally and avoiding any possible confrontation with my soon to be ex-landlady and her son who had also lived with me. After a few nights spent hiding in my room, I returned to CHESS for my first night and once again was met with the same pleasant atmosphere and welcome that would become a regular thing.
After staying at the shelter for a week, I’d had a new way of living filled with structure (regular support meetings), hot and varied meals, and lots of time to reflect on my past existence – and this experience was to shape the next year right up until present.
I’m going to have to cut this short now, as I’ve only got a day to finish this piece of writing, and its already spiralled into a full blown biography! So, in order to bring this to a close, i’m going to end this on a few positives that have come out of my stay with CHESS and the events leading to it. I’ve managed to keep my tenancy with CHESS now for over a year, and in that time achieved a vast amount, with the help of the dedicated and patient staff and my mentor, who I was introduced to through CHESS. I’ve now begun looking towards a career in youth/care work, managed to make huge differences in my diet and lifestyle, vastly improved my mental health through therapy and involvement in local charities, Open Road and Interact, and now see myself in a much more balanced and healthy way.
That’s not to say I haven’t had any setbacks, but thankfully I’ve always had the support there waiting. If there was any message I want to get across through this confusing yet painfully honest memoir, its that charities like CHESS are crucial, especially in times like these with increasing homeless rates, and the work they do does not go unnoticed. Also mental health needs more awareness and action in general, as far too many people both young and old slip through the cracks of society to end up homeless and trapped in circles of destructive behaviour, further increasing the stereotypes of homeless people we all know and have encountered.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to my story, hopefully it will help inform and empower organisations that deal with people like me, and if not well hey I suppose it has a bit of entertainment value.