Couple speak about life on the streets before finding happiness in Ipswich

Phil and Donna came to Ipswich after experiencing homelessness.

Phil and Donna came to Ipswich after experiencing homelessness. - Credit: Archant

A former homeless couple have told how love helped them make a new life in Ipswich away from drug and alcohol abuse.

Donna and Phil, who did not give their last names, found each other at a time of crisis, having followed similar paths from their family home to the street.

Phil, 44, was born in Ipswich and raised in the Suffolk village of Knodishall.

He left home at the age of 13 and fled to London where he was rough sleeping.

“I just couldn’t handle family life, the structure I was put under,” he said.

Phil developed a drink and drug problem, and started selling the Big Issue for cash.

“The drugs block out the mental scars,” Phil said. “When you are on drugs you feel happy, but when you come down you are back to square one. It’s a repeat cycle.”

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He lived this way for three years, but he said he was shocked into change when one of his friends died of a drug overdose at the age of 22.

“He took a hit of heroin,” Phil said. “I thought he had gone to sleep, I woke up the next morning and he was blue and lifeless and that scared me. I thought ‘that could have been me’. That gave me the wake up call to sort myself out.”

Phil spent time working at fun fairs before moving to Colchester, where he stayed in a night shelter.

It was in Essex that he found Donna, who he had previously met through work.

Donna, 34, was raised in Yorkshire by adopted parents and attended boarding school.

During college she took up a job on a chat line, and at the age of 19 she ran away from home to live with a client in Brentwood.

“My adopted parents didn’t let me find out myself about life,” Donna said. “So I moved to Essex and learnt how life was. It was my escape.”

Donna later moved into a hostel and formed a relationship with one of the residents, which turned violent.

Tackling her own drug misuse issues, Donna was placed in a women’s refuge and went on to sleep on a friend’s sofa in Colchester.

“My head was so messed up, I didn’t know if I was coming or going,” Donna said.

When Donna and Phil were reunited in 2007 they made a pledge to support each other to combat their addictions.

In 2009 they moved into a flat in Ipswich - drug and drink free - and three years later they got married.

The couple volunteer at the Ipswich Soup Kitchen and are this year helping at the Ipswich Winter Night Shelter.