The joy in Michelle’s face is apparent as she welcomes people into her home, where her partner Trevor is already in the kitchen, putting the kettle on. Michelle’s life has been pretty full on to date, with adoption, addiction, and a spell in prison all featuring – but now, she says, she is happy to just rest and enjoy family relationships anew with her mum, dad and daughter…and fiance.
“I became homeless on my 40th birthday, but to be honest, at the time, I didn’t really take it in. When you’re in the grip of drug use, nothing much matters. I wasn’t eating then, wasn’t looking after myself at all, “ she said.
“I had my own place for 23 years, and although for many years I had struggled with addiction I managed to maintain a tenancy for myself and my daughter Ebony. But when she went off to university to study I felt overwhelmed by what they call ‘empty nest syndrome’. Just looking after me didn’t seem enough.
“Losing my home was really awful, I ended up in a bedsit, I missed my proper place. Things went from bad to worse when, after a year, my tenancy was not renewed and I found myself out on the streets.
“I’d known Trevor for a long time, but we’d only become a couple some months before We decided to move into a tent together to try and support each other. In the summer it was alright, but once it started to get colder I wasn’t sure how I’d cope. I had a melt-down when we were at the Newbury soup kitchen, telling them I couldn’t imagine how I would get through the winter.
“Luckily for us, they listened, and Trevor and I went to stay in a hotel while we waited to hear about whether we might be accepted for Housing First with Sovereign and Two Saints.
“This was such a big thing for us. Drug addiction takes you over, it becomes who you are. So when people say – ‘if you come off drugs, you can have a job, or if you come off drugs you can have a house’ – it’s too much to cope with. The fact is, even if you do get work you can be penalised, Trevor lost a job when he couldn’t show proof of his address, throwing him back into the same cycle again.
“But Housing First gave me and Trevor the support we needed to move on with our lives. An address of our own makes us feel safe and secure. It meant we could properly consider ‘everything else’ – the quitting, how to pay bills, how to get our benefits and the doctor’s surgery sorted. All those things that are blocked out when you are addicted.
“We can’t tell you what a difference the support we’ve had has made to us. Being here, in our little house, away from the people we used to know and the paths we used to walk has been the making of us.
“Sovereign worked with us to find the right house, and Two Saints and the council have been so helpful. I’m completely clean now, and Trev is doing really well too. He’s getting his driving licence back as a step towards what comes next. We have to take it slowly as both of us have lots of health issues after all our years using.
“But we don’t want to dwell on that anymore. We’re so excited for the future. I went to my daughter’s gender reveal party recently. I just loved the fact that I was invited. I was allowed to be there. She wasn’t anxious that I would mess it up, I didn’t feel the need to take something before I went. It was amazing.
“We can’t overestimate how much having our own place has meant. Trev proposed to me on Christmas Day – down on one knee and everything. Who would have thought that we would be here, getting married, a grandson on the way?
“Although I do get scared and anxious about it all sometimes – especially about having the money to pay the rent or bills – I also have a beautiful sense of freedom that we’re doing everything properly and I feel really proud of how far we’ve come.”
Michelle and Trevor have been living in their Housing First property for more than a year now thanks to a partnership between West Berkshire Council, Two Saints and Sovereign.
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