‘I’d been living on the streets for two years before I came to Booth House. By then I had been taking heroin for 16 or 17 years.
It sounds like a cliché, but it all started out pretty gently – getting together with a few friends, having a few drinks. Then it was a bit of weed here and there, going out, taking the odd E. When I moved onto heroin.
To begin with I would take it maybe once a month or so. It gradually crept up from there until I needed to take it every day just to feel normal. I also liked the way the heroin helped me to block out thoughts I’d rather forget, like the sexual abuse I had suffered as a child. That was an added bonus though, not the reason I started to take it. To me it had just seemed like a social thing, a way to relax with friends and have a bit of fun.
A few years after I started taking heroin I was a bit of a mess and I lost my job in a warehouse at Euston Road Station. After that I had major financial problems because any money I did get was going on heroin. Eventually I was so broke that I ended up living on the streets. I suffered from quite bad social anxiety, which meant that while I could receive phone calls I couldn’t make them. Without internet, and too anxious to use a phone, I couldn’t contact any of the agencies that might have been able to help me, including the benefits agency.
Then one day I started to get bad stomach pains. I thought it was heroin withdrawal, so I kept taking more and more. Then one day I just collapsed, with blood coming out my nose, out my mouth, blood everywhere. I was taken to hospital and it transpired I had a stomach ulcer that had burst. In a funny way it was the best thing that could have happened to me, because the hospital put me in touch with social services and the Drug Intervention Team. I went back on the streets, but this time I really wanted to get clean. After being found a few times on the streets by HOST (Homeless Options and Support Team, Tower Hamlets) I was called for a meeting at Booth House. I moved in the same day.’
‘The support offered by The Salvation Army at Booth House is fantastic. They helped me to stay clean, and they suggested other agencies that have helped me too, like NAFAS (an addiction service in Whitechapel).
‘There is so much to get involved with at Booth House that you’re never just hanging around or bored. I played in goal on the Booth House football team and we played matches at least once a week. We had a good team – we won the Partnership Trophy in 2012 and beat the Parliamentary football team in June.’ The Partnership Trophy is an annual event for homeless men and women supported by The Salvation Army across the country to come together to raise awareness for homelessness and celebrate their achievements. Matt says ‘it was great to talk to people from all parts of the country, and no matter where we came from we were all in the same boat.’
‘The keyworker that organises the football helped me get signed up for a 5 week training course which was held at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. It was a football course for the final few people trialling for the England homeless world cup team; I got to the final 10 out of 150 people. At the end of the 5 weeks I was awarded a certificate for Level 1 football coaching. That’s what I want to do now – teach young people how to play football, how to treat officials, and to set a better example than the footballers they see on TV. Although I didn’t get to play for England it was still a very worthwhile experience to help me communicate with young people, it gave me the confidence to do that. I couldn’t have done any of that without The Salvation Army staff. They have been so friendly and supportive.’
Matt went on a course which trains recovering addicts to help suffering addicts. The course helped Matthew feel more confident communicating with others and importantly helped him realise that he needed to prioritise his own recovery before helping others.
Pete from Stepney Salvation Army ran ‘music jam’ sessions at Booth House, in which residents were taught to play the ukulele and guitar. ‘I’d never played an instrument before,’ says Matt. ‘We got together every Wednesday and played a few songs, it was a really nice social thing to do.’ The group gave performances at Stepney Salvation Army Church which Matt says ‘helped with meeting people. We weren’t the best in the world but people were very encouraging.’ He says he enjoyed ‘the harmony of people working together. When you take drugs you get a buzz, but when you’re playing an instrument with other people it’s better than anything’
Matt also benefited from a woodwork course while at Booth House, which gave him the skills to make a prayer box for the centre. Residents place their prayer requests into the box for the Chaplain to include in the centre’s prayers. Matthew is proud to have left behind such a legacy at Booth House as one of the most significant things he feels The Salvation Army has helped him with is his faith.
“When I arrived at Booth House I hoped there wasn’t a God because I felt I had done a lot of wrong, but now I have found forgiveness and work to help others.
Specialised programmes to support people to be ready to move on to live on their own
Matt moved out of Booth House and into a Housing Association flat. Salvation Army key workers helped Matthew fill out the application forms to the Housing Association and secure a grant to furnish his new home. Matthew is currently looking into DIY courses to help him look after his flat and is keen to start his Level 2 Football Coaching qualification.
The Lifehouse Chaplain helped Matt get in touch with his local Salvation Army churches in East Ham and Stepney which he now attends.