Gary worked in a number of professions, but when he became addicted to alcohol he lost his job. He describes that process as slow, perhaps over two years moving into homelessness. In becoming homeless, Gary also became addicted to drugs.
“I started social drinking and only took drugs at parties or festivals at first. When I became homeless I turned to coke and heroin.
Out on the street you have little else. The drugs give you energy and motivation to cope. Although they’re killing you, you don’t think about it. On the street you live from day to day, hour to hour.”
Prior to moving into Booth House, when Gary saw that drugs were killing his good friend 'age 20 years in 2 weeks', he severed ties with his friend and committed to turning his own life around. His friend died four months later.
Arriving at Booth House two years ago, he made an appointment with the doctor to be prescribed medication to take him off drugs and alcohol.
Gary also needed something to busy his time. He noticed a poster for volunteers at Stepney City Farm so went along. There he discovered his gift. He said: ‘I needed something to do and found a passion for [gardening].’
The farm identified Gary as a candidate to take part in a paid weekend course on gardening/farming.
Gary flourished and was able to bring his considerable skills to the Lifehouse for a rooftop garden.
He still volunteers for Stepney City Farm – as such they allowed Gary to use the farm’s polytunnel to grow items too.
Gary’s pride in his work and that of his volunteers is obvious to see and he proudly gives a tour of the garden explaining what each plant is, how it grows and what he’d like to see there in the future. He explains that the garden was little used prior to the gardening work commenced – now it is regularly used. He says of the produce grown there – it includes, lettuces, beetroots, leeks, strawberries, tomatoes and potatoes – that there should be a really good crop every 12 weeks.
He says of the garden: ‘People thank me for what I do here, but I can’t thank The Salvation Army enough. If it was not for the reception and support I received when I first came to The Salvation Army, then I would have been dead like my good friend but I know he does not want that for me. I have to live for him too!'
Breaking the cycle of homelessness
Gary has moved from the Lifehouse into supported move-on accommodation next door in Victoria Court.
Asked about the future, Gary becomes emotional when he admits: ‘I do not want to become homeless again, because I would go back to drugs. But this garden is a step in the right direction for me. I really enjoy it.’