22 February 2021

A man who endured four years sleeping rough on London's streets has a message of hope for those who might find themselves in the same situation.

Matthew, 35, got lost in a cycle of prison and homelessness when he moved to London from Yorkshire 10 years ago.

After four years living on the streets of London, he is now residing in a Single Homeless Project cold weather shelter in Kings Cross and says he is determined to get his life back on track.

“When I was on the street, it felt like I was stuck in a time warp," said Matthew. "It’s hard to explain but you lose faith in yourself and other people and days are all the same.

"It’s like time doesn’t pass. Drugs ruled my life and I was reluctant to get help. I didn’t think I could be helped. My relationship with my family had broken down and I had no one to turn to.”

Matthew said he has been through all kinds of weather on the street and some traumatic situations.

"When it's cold like it was recently you're just so tired you can't do anything, the only way you can keep warm is with people's kindness.

"I used to have a sleeping bag, plastic bags, newspapers crumpled up. But you're so tired and hypnotised in a world of drugs you forget the things that keep you warm."

Matthew said he wanted to give advice to anyone else experiencing homelessness.

"Moderate your drink and drugs," he said. "If you don't moderate in those elements you're not going to survive.

"If you can't wash your body at least wash your hands and feet. I've seen too many people get infections and trench foot.

"Always say no if people ask you to do things for money, it can turn really bad. And don't give up, if you don't take yourself to a hostel then they can't help you."

The latest government figures show that 3,307 people were sleeping rough between October and December 2020, with 1,582 people sleeping rough for the first time.

Around one in 10 of those found sleeping rough in 2020 were under 25.

Matthew added: “Since being in a shelter, I can’t believe how far I’ve come. I have somewhere warm and safe to sleep. I feel healthier and stronger than I have in as long as I can remember. My mental health is so much better too.

"The constant worry about where I will sleep and where my next meal will come from has subsided. It’s given me space to confront issues that I buried when I was on the streets. I feel so positive about the future now.

"There are so many things that I want to do but now I am prioritising getting better enough to see my family in the near future when travel restrictions have lifted. I feel so excited when I think about visiting them when I’m better.

"I wish I hadn’t waited so long to get help. When I see rough sleepers on the streets now, I tell them that they should get help when it’s offered to them and they should never feel ashamed. A better future is always possible.”

Single Homeless Project said that 70 per cent of their clients are still in urgent need of basics such as warm clothing, toiletries and food.

Source: MyLondon