Simon recalls that he had a difficult childhood; “I can’t remember much before I was 5 or 6. It’s just flashes.” His account of his childhood shows clearly how his early experiences influenced his development. With courage, strength and support he has turned his life around, but it has been far from easy.
At the age of 6, his dad – an alcoholic who was violent towards both Simon & his mother – left the family. To make ends meet, his mother was busy working 3 or 4 jobs and as a result, wasn’t around very much.
When he was 8 years old Simon found the dead body of his best friend’s dad, who had hung himself. Following this early trauma, a year later one of his school friends died.
At 14, his stepdad confided in him that he wanted to have a sex change. When his mum found out, they split up and he left them with £50,000 of debt. “I had to grow up really quickly”, Simon recalls.
Despite this traumatic start to life, Simon was a fantastic rugby player and played for his local club. When he was seventeen, he was due to be scouted by Saracens, Bristol and Gloucester – but he missed the match because he had been up late drinking the night before. Simon had begun smoking cannabis at the young age of thirteen and by age fifteen he was already regularly “partying and drinking”.
As an eighteen year old Simon was introduced to heroin. Luckily, he was able to stop after 6 months and he worked hard and bought his own flat. He dabbled occasionally in heroin, but it did not adversely affect his life, and at the age of 23 he met the mother of his son.
Unfortunately, by the time he was 26, he got back into heroin again and this time his addiction took control of his life. His partner couldn’t handle his addiction and left Simon when he was 31. He then began selling heroin and was arrested when he was 36.
Simon made the most of his two years in prison by completing various courses. After he had been released, aged 39, he lived in a 12-step program dry house in Bristol. He attended lots of recovery groups, his confidence grew, and he even spoke on the radio. Then he relapsed and was kicked out.
“I got complacent and arrogant. I took my eye off the ball. It was no one thing that caused it. I thought I was ready but I wasn’t.”
Simon moved into a property in Exeter, this was the first step. As Simon’s progress was good he was moved into a ‘move on’ property. Unfortunately, this was short-lived as he relapsed when another resident moved in who was selling drugs. After he was evicted, he sofa surfed and then ended up rough sleeping for a month.
“It was horrible. I lied to my mum every day. I made up something different each time I asked for money. I must have had thousands of pounds from her.”
As he was beginning to feel hopeless and suicidal, the Outreach Team started working with him and moved him into a shared room in the Bunks at Gabriel House. The next day, he started on a methadone script: “All I needed was a roof over my head and a script. I was so grateful for this opportunity.”
After three weeks, he moved straight into a bedsit in the hostel, and then two months later into a move-on property in Exeter. The staff were amazed at the progress he made in such a short space of time. “I felt free. I felt that I had achieved something. It was the closest thing to being back to normal living.”
Because he was doing so well in his recovery, he struggled with his housemates who were very noisy, disruptive and entrenched in the drug-using lifestyle. “They don’t respect the house. They’re not ready to live here.” Five months after he initially moved he was accepted onto the Tenancy Ready Scheme.
Simon feels that the Tenancy Ready Scheme has helped him continue to make positive changes to his life: “I have a sense of pride back in me and it’s given me focus, hope and self-worth. I feel more able to open up with my keyworker and be honest. I’ve been able to tell him things that I haven’t been able to anyone. My willingness to help myself is back. I’m beginning to be less fired up and I am more reliable. I’ve been able keep in touch and build bridges with my family. I’ve got a sense of purpose back. I’ve really enjoyed working with my keyworker. It’s amazing what the scheme has done.”
There are two achievements from the last 6 months of working with the Tenancy Ready Scheme that he really wants to celebrate. Firstly, he is no longer on methadone. “I am now opiate free! I feel cleansed, my body feels like it’s coming back to life. It has previously held me back but now I feel free. I feel very emotional. It feels like a release, like a weight has been lifted from my body. It’s a huge thing for me. Working with my keyworker as I have been reducing my methadone script has helped hugely.” Secondly, he is having face-to-face contact with his son again. “Family means everything to me. He is my number one. My dad left me and I want to be there for my son. I’ve missed some important years of his life but now I am there for him. I saw him only once in 3 years and previously hadn’t seen him for years. I’ve now seen him several times this year already.”
It is astonishing to see the progress he has made, especially considering the fact that only 18 months ago he was homeless and using heroin.
The next step for Simon will be moving into his own social housing flat through the Tenancy Ready Scheme. He feels that the wait has helped him develop more patience. “Looking back, I am glad I didn’t move on straightaway because I needed to settle first. I’ve moved too quickly in the past and that’s where things have gone wrong.”
Simon is looking forward to having his own space where he doesn’t have to share with people who are in the lifestyle that not so long ago he used to be part of. He feels that once he is living in his own home, he will have the stability he needs in order to keep making more positive changes to his life.
“I want to spend more time with my son and family. I want to be able to invite them to my own home and have them stay over. I don’t have that privacy where I am living and it’s not the kind of environment that I want my family to see me in. I want to get back into work, even if it’s just part time. I want to start a teaching course and train to be a teacher. I want to meet more like minded people and have a sense of normality again. I have been through so much and I feel that now I am ready to give back to society.”