Dave, 31, is turning his life around following an addiction to painkillers from the age of 15, and suffering a relationship breakdown, multiple prison sentences, and two years sleeping rough.
On World Homeless Day, Dave is taking the opportunity to thank Emmaus Cambridge for helping get his life back on track.
“At the age of 15, I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, which is a chronic disease that will eventually cause my spine to fuse and make me walk with a hunched back. I was prescribed strong painkillers in my early teenage years, starting with paracetamol and ibuprofen, but quickly moved on to opioid painkillers including codeine, co-codamol, tramadol and morphine, amongst many others.”
Opioid painkillers are derived from opium and are prescribed to help people manage severe or chronic pain. While highly effective, overuse or misuse can cause addiction.
“I realised about eight years in that I had a dependency, and by that time it was too late. I didn’t know what was happening – I would take medication for a couple of days and when I would stop, I’d be an absolute mess. I spent years thinking I must be severely depressed all the time, when really I was having withdrawals and didn’t know.”
By his early 20’s, Dave had a partner, two children, a nice home, car, and a good job as an extraction engineer, but was still struggling with his addiction.
“It got the point that prescriptions weren’t enough for the cravings, and I started to buy my own over the counter pills. I became very deceptive then – hiding things, lying, lying again to cover up a lie. I had all the behaviours of a drug addict – the weight loss, ups and downs, missing work, and no money even with a full-time job.”
Life changed for the worse when Dave discovered his partner was having an affair which resulted in a fight with the man and saw him go to jail for two years.
“Strange but going to jail was a blessing in disguise because no one in my outside life knew about my addiction, but in jail I was treated like a heroin addict. I was put on methadone and haven’t touched tablets since.”
But when Dave was released, he was homeless, had no job, and had lost access to his children.
“That’s when life started to go really downhill. I moved about while homeless and would often get the train after 7pm when there were no ticket officers as it was warm, I had somewhere to sit, and I could wash in the toilets. I started to shoplift to get by, and along with not going to probation once a week like I should have been, I was in and out of jail six times.”
Dave came to Emmaus Cambridge following his last time in jail and a violent encounter while sleeping rough.
“During the most recent time homeless, I was attacked and robbed during the night. I’ve had a lot of scraps in my time, but I thought I was going to die that night. I gave them all the money I had straight away, but they continued to stamp on my head. When it was over, I went to Jimmy’s night shelter who later referred me to Emmaus, telling me it would be the best decision of my life. I haven’t looked back since.”
Emmaus Cambridge supports up to 44 people at a time who have experienced homelessness by offering a place to live for as long as needed and the opportunity to gain new skills in its second-hand shop and Joan’s Coffee Shop in Landbeach. The combination of a supportive living environment and work experience allows people to regain their self-esteem, confidence and dignity so they can begin to rebuild their lives.
“You get back as much as you put in at Emmaus and I quickly settled into the Cambridge community. I work in lots of different areas in the shop, café and warehouse – it’s all a bit alien sometimes as I’ve never done café work but I’m more than happy to get up in the morning and work alongside the other people who live here.
“I’m going to take my time at Emmaus, continue to rebuild the trust with my children and family and hope to eventually get back into my trade as an extraction engineer in Cambridge. I know I have miles to go yet to rebuild my life, but when I was homeless I couldn’t always see as far as the next day, let alone years and years, but now I can and Emmaus has played a huge part in that.”
If you or someone you know is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, please visit: www.emmaus.org.uk/gethelp.
To find out more about the work of Emmaus Cambridge, please visit Green End, Landbeach, CB25 9FD.