"I was fostered as a baby and when I left the care system at sixteen the social services put me in a housing block where 36 of the 37 flats were for ex-offenders. They’d come round once a month with a food parcel but that was it. They gave me a five hundred pound leaving care grant and kitted my flat out but when they came back the following month all my furniture had been stolen, I’d lost two stone and I had a black eye. Two blokes that were running the building abused my girlfriend in front of me. I was bullied, I was forced to sell drugs and I was beaten. I’d never done drugs before. I’d never even swore before, and they stuck me in a place like that.
Back then things were different in the care system. It was all just ticking boxes. I wish they had reached out to my foster family and told them what was happening but they never did. After I got out of those flats I even went on the Trisha Show and Kilroy to talk about it. I think things are a bit different now. They do look at things a bit closer, especially after all the big incidents like Baby P, but looking back I do think that if social services had helped me more then I wouldn’t be in the situation I am now.
I went to stay in Cornwall after that with a friend who had got really involved in surfing and I never went back to Yorkshire. I was working full time as a chef and competing in surfing festivals and that’s where I met Rachel on the beach in 1997. We were together for thirteen years and she was the love of my life, but nine years ago she suddenly died when she was twenty-eight.
She’d gone down to the do the laundry and when I went to find her she’d stopped breathing and turned blue. She had an undiagnosed hole in the heart. I tried to do CPR but I didn’t really know how to do it. They took her to hospital in a helicopter but by the time she got there she was dead. She was seven months pregnant with a baby boy. After Rachel died my head just broke down. I just didn’t have the answers for anyone. She was my soul mate and I got completely lost. I got heavily into drugs and I just went off on one.
About three years ago I knew I had to stop. I had a friend in Plymouth and so I came here to try and sort myself out. I spent eighteen months in the Restart Program and I’ve been clean now for two and half years. After the program finished I went to stay on my friend’s sofa but the landlord repossessed his flat a few weeks ago and we had to leave. I’ve had my dog Tank nearly four years now but there’s only one place in any of the hostels in Plymouth that will take dogs so I’m on the waiting list for one in Bristol that does. I also know what some of those hostels are like and to be honest I’d rather be on the street than in there. Until then we’re sleeping in a tent behind a cottage out of the way where the police don’t bother us and we don’t bother anyone.
I like the fact that people can tell I’m a bit more bright eyed and bushy tailed that many people on the street. I feel sorry for other people out here because I know how hard it is to have that habit and still try and make plans for the future. I’m blessed that I haven’t got that hold on me anymore. So if I make more money than I need for me and Tank to eat then I’ll give what’s left to those who need it more because I understand the necessity of it for them. It’s not always a choice. It’s just not as simple as that. It’s like medication. When it gets hold on you, you can’t function without it. It’s horrible.
I’m doing everything I can to be normal now. I’m in touch with my family again on Facebook and I’m saving £20 a week in a credit union. After 13 weeks that should be enough for a deposit on a bedsit. I’m on the basic ESA and I know I could try and get more but I want to be functional and get back into work on my own. When I do I’d like to work with the youth and use my story to help them stop making the same mistakes I did."
Dave, Plymouth, Devon.
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