Meet Gary

 “I’m sure that without my home, I’d be dead”

My childhood was fairly messed up. I was in children’s homes from a very young age because my dad was an alcoholic and it wasn’t safe for me to be at home. At the age of 14, I was diagnosed with mental health problems, which also didn’t help my family life – my parents just didn’t know how to help me.

Although I felt loved at home, l think it was the right move for me to be taken away. 30 years ago, children’s homes were very different, they were very hard places to grow up.

It didn’t stop me dreaming of the future though. My granddad was in the navy and all that I wanted to do was follow in his footsteps, so at the age of 16, I went to join up with the Army, but because of asthma, I failed my medical. It crushed me, I went into a downward spiral. It was as if my life had been taken away. I got into drugs, I was in and out of psychiatric units, and prison – for 15 years, that was my life.

When I got out of prison at the age of 27, I moved to Nottingham to get away from my problems in Brighton but decided to move to London on 1 January 2000 and that was when I was on the streets sleeping rough. I was on drugs, I wasn’t taking any medication for my physical and mental health, and the relationship with my family didn’t exist – it was as low as I got.

The streets were never safe and I had to keep my wits about me but I had managed to survive for two years. One night I found myself sleeping at Baker Street tube station where I woke up with my legs doused in petrol with about five lads over me, waiting to set fire to me – that’s when I knew I had to get off the streets. I was so scared knowing that I could have died that night.

Luckily, on the same night, I saw a St Mungo’s night reach worker, who helped me get a space at a Salvation Army hostel. I was there for six years and had already had a flat fall through so I was starting to feel like the world was against me. Don’t get me wrong, I was very thankful for the roof over my head but I longed for a place that I could call home.

On March 13, 2007, my life changed. My key worker showed me my current flat in Peckham, which was provided by Wandle through Clearing House. When I finally got the keys, I felt wonderful. I went in the flat, sat by the bay windows, and told myself – my life starts now!

Within one month, I started to come off the drugs, furnished my home and celebrated my birthday. It was a good month! But that wasn’t all. I had always known that I was gay, but coming from a council estate background, the language of the time made it very hard to come out to friends and family. All my life, I had been living a lie but then I met a man called Andrew, who I’m still with.

Everything started to improve because I had a home. I was able to look after myself, stay clean and I had the stability, and sense of meaning that gave me a chance to accomplish things, rebuild my family relationships, and meet my partner. I truly can’t thank Wandle enough because I’m sure that without my home, I’d be dead.

Having a home to call my own gave me security and a sense of wellbeing – I finally became a member of society. The work that Wandle does, supporting homeless people and families, is wonderful. Without an organisation like it, so many people won’t be able to get the chance that I have had.