Lee Dale found himself homeless in 2009 at 30 years old. A relationship breakdown meant he had to move back in with his mother, who died three months later.
Wracked with grief over his broken relationship and his mother’s sudden passing, he contacted the landlords who told him that because he’d been staying in the accommodation for less than 12 months, he was not eligible for housing. That is how easy it can be to lose the roof over your head.
Lee had to gather what he could carry and was given two weeks to empty his mother’s property of all her possessions. With nowhere to store them, they were discarded. “Imagine being told that you can only take a few things with you in a carrier bag and that you would be living on the street,” he said. “Would you know what to take? I didn’t. I don’t have any of my mother’s possessions, no photo albums, no mementos, just memories.”
Lee found himself rough sleeping in the Moorlands for the following eight months. Not only did he have to adapt to a horrible situation in a community he never thought he would find himself in, but he was still grieving.
He contacted the Rough Sleepers team and met them in Hanley, where more support was available. He slept rough for another two months, losing more and more touch with reality. Things got worse.
“I contacted the mental health Access Team based at the Hope Centre in Hanley and they allocated me a support worker for crisis assessment,” he said. “They had tick boxes and graded people’s responses between 1-10. Their questions made me dive into traumatic thoughts and my mental health became worse. I ended up at another hostel for 18 months.”
Lee was still suffering with grief and loss, as well as the trauma of what had happened to him. He found himself in an environment of despair. He said: “I was put in a communal living situation where everyone had very poor mental health and a lot of problems. I was very scared and there were often fights. I was surrounded by drugs and eventually I became addicted to heroin.”
Having an addiction was the last thing Lee needed, and he began an opiate replacement treatment plan. He left the hostel in 2012 after another 18 months because he felt there was no way out for him there. “It was perpetuating my misery,” he said. “I felt like I had been put into this horrible place of no light and no path.”
Lee engaged again with the Rough Sleepers team and was taken to a hostel in Walsall. It was a similar story and Lee left after another four months when he returned to Stoke and reengaged again with services. He was introduced to Restart, a charitable organisation with over 50 properties in Stoke. Lee said: “Unfortunately, at the time I was put with other people who had the same drug issues, so I ended up addicted to crack cocaine as well as heroin and became suicidal.”
Things finally changed when Lee went to One Recovery Staffordshire in Newcastle and paired with a support worker, Kevin, who got him an interview at Brighter Futures’ Furlong Court, which offers accommodation and support for people with alcohol and/or substance misuse problems.
Lee said: “It’s a 24-hour staffed unit, where people can live independently but I had four welfare checks per day. I lived there for 12 months while I addressed my substance misuse. I beat my addiction and began Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with Healthy Minds. I was able to be referred by a doctor. This was a real achievement because my time living on the streets had meant I had forgotten how to communicate effectively. I came across as agitated and short tempered and I didn’t trust anyone. But Kevin went with me to see a doctor and was able to translate my method of communication in order to get me a referral.
“I began to improve from my very first session of CBT. My lived experience had warped my view of society. I learned techniques to counter my negative thoughts – it took six months and I still use those techniques today.”
After Furlong Court Lee began a Brighter Futures two-year resettlement plan while volunteering at Expert Citizens. He is now off opiate replacements and has started a paid job as a Community Development Coordinator at Voices of Stoke.
“I’ve been doing the job for seven months and I’ve helped to improve the system with my experience. Things have improved so much since I became homeless; the Homelessness Reduction Act was introduced in 2017, which placed more duty of care on hospitals and prisons etc.”
Over the past 12 months Lee has been involved with training for A&E staff at the Royal Stoke University Hospital, sharing his experience.
“I once took an overdose and ended up in A&E. I was released 36 hours later with an appointment to go for a psychological assessment at 9am the next morning. Homeless people find it extremely hard to keep appointments, so I didn’t go. Thanks to our work with A&E staff, now they have a system in place which ensures no one is referred outside for a psychological assessment, it’s now done at the hospital. The staff said they wouldn’t have thought to do that if they hadn’t heard my story.”
Lee, now 41, says perceptions of homeless people need to change and will only change when others understand. He said: “It’s like life is going on around you at 100 miles an hour and no one notices you. You feel so far removed from society that it’s like an out of body experience. I’ve seen people walk past when a homeless person has been having a seizure right in front of them. You become invisible – but you’re not hidden, there’s no such thing as ‘hidden homeless’, it’s almost like people have become desensitised so much that they no longer see you.
“Homeless people can have learning disabilities, poor mental health, addiction issues, offending behaviour – these are not ‘popular’ issues, so unless you have been through it or read a story like mine it can be hard to understand.
“But homelessness can happen to anyone, from all walks of life, at any age. I met a doctor, three Royal Marines and a political refugee from Mexico. I feel privileged to have met these people and had interesting conversations. I’ve actually come out of this whole experience as a more well-rounded individual.”