“We’re now back in touch and my nieces are 10 and 12-years-old. I was worried what it would be like going to see them and if I’m honest, it was hard for me. If nothing else though, it makes me want to change my life for the better.”
Steve, 44, has been staying in his current flat since May 2013. A one-bedroom apartment in east London, it is his first settled, private sector accommodation since childhood.
He was supported into the accommodation by the team at the social lettings agency, Real Lettings, after seven years in shared homelessness accommodation in south London. Prior to this, Steve's life was a tragic story of addiction, prison and rough sleeping. He says it all began when he was just 10 years old.
“My family was living in Shepherd’s Bush, in west London, when I was growing up but then my mum moved us out to live in Mitcham after suffering from domestic violence,” he says.
“Unfortunately, when she moved in with her new partner, he was just as aggressive with her. I didn’t think it would affect me but it did.
“I skipped school, I got into trouble and I ended up going in and out of prison. Then at the age of 26 my dad died. Two years later, my mum passed away from cancer and two years after that, my sister died of complications from MRSA.”
Steve lost almost his entire family in four traumatic years. Breaking up with his long-term girlfriend forced him further into his drug use problems and as he fell into the grips of a severe heroin addiction, friends became harder and harder to find.
“A lot of my mates were taking drugs as well but they were doing things like cocaine and not heroin, like me,” remembers Steve, today free from heroin and slowly working his way clean through a methadone prescription.
“They didn’t want to associate with me so I ended up in a crack house for six months just down the road in Fulham. I started to suffer from depression and mental health problems because of the drugs and soon in was in specialist psychiatric care.”
This would prove to be the last time Ricky would speak to his brother and family. Six months after leaving Springfield Hospital, he was back in Fulham and this time on the streets. Over the next few years, he would actively seek arrest, knowing the prison was the only way he could secure a roof over his head.
On and off heroin, Steve desperately wanted to start afresh in a private property but never had the means or the support he needed to do it until Real Lettings came along. And as well as a home, the team also gave him the opportunity to plan for the future, for the first time in years.
Steve said: “I was at my lowest ebb when I was on the streets. I didn’t have a social life at all. None of my old friends wanted to see me and I lost touch with everyone.
“I remember walking down the street, looking into people’s windows and becoming jealous at people sitting in their homes, with their TVs on and talking to their families. At the time I was sleeping rough in an abandoned warehouse and I didn’t know how I had even got there.
“When I came out of prison I was helped into shared accommodation but it’s now that I have my Real Lettings home that I can feel at home – it’s lovely.
“I am now hoping to do The Knowledge to become a taxi driver. It will take some time but it’s all I want to do. I want to prove to people that I can become someone and support myself. I feel ashamed when I think about how my family may think but I’ll be proud once I’ve been accepted to do The Knowledge. It will be the best day of my life.”
*Steve's name has been changed to protect his identity