How moving to Ipswich helped me turn my life around, says former homeless man

The man, known only as David, has said that coming to Ipswich has helped him turn his life around. P

The man, known only as David, has said that coming to Ipswich has helped him turn his life around. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

It might not seem like the most likely place to make a fresh start and begin to turn your life around after a period of desperate hardship. But one man left homeless by a family breakdown has spoken movingly of how starting a new life in Ipswich saved him from a bleak future.

The man, known only as David, has said that coming to Ipswich has helped him turn his life around. P

The man, known only as David, has said that coming to Ipswich has helped him turn his life around. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

David, not his real name, arrived in Suffolk penniless after losing his home and ending up on the streets in the north of England.

Even though he only slept rough for a relatively short period of time, it was an experience David - aged in his 30s - “wouldn’t wish on my own enemy”.

“People treat you like dirt,” he said of his days on the streets during the summer of 2018, which left him badly sunburnt after falling asleep in broad daylight.

After getting help from homelessness services in the north of England, he was given accommodation which he shared with others - but felt he was associating with the wrong people.

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However it was when he met Julia Hancock, business manager of the Selig (Suffolk) Trust - which runs Ipswich Hope into Action and Ipswich Winter Night Shelter - that things began to look up.

The pair met while Miss Hancock was visiting a Christian retreat in the north of England and David spoke of his desire to move and start afresh elsewhere.

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Even though he had his sights on moving to a major metropolitan city, Miss Hancock asked: “Would you consider moving somewhere here?”

She was able to find him space in one of Hope into Action’s houses which are used to support two to three people in a vulnerable situation.

Moving to a Hope into Action house in June and then into another one in October, David has not looked back.

He quickly found work and, with the help of Miss Hancock and an “empowerment worker”, built a new life for himself.

And he even now volunteers at the Winter Night Shelter to help others in a similar situation turn their lives around.

“If it weren’t for coming here, I don’t know where I’d be,” he said.

“I’d probably be in a gutter. If people like Julia didn’t do what they’re doing, people would just be on the streets.”

Asked why he felt the Suffolk town was the right place for him, he said: “There are just more opportunities round here.

“Coming down here has opened my eyes and a lot more doors. It has changed my life.”

Part of the reason for his success is down to the support network for homeless people in Ipswich.

Miss Hancock said projects such as Hope into Action and the Winter Night Shelter are part of a “ongoing attack on the problem”, along with the Ipswich Housing Action Group, the Chapman Centre and others.

MORE: Dramatic fall in rough sleeping in Ipswich is revealed

Supported with extra government funding, it is a team effort which has helped Ipswich drastically cut its number of rough sleepers - by catching people early and giving them support before they are forced out onto the streets.

David said: “If I ever need help, then I just ring my support worker or Julia.

“I now wake up every morning with a smile on my face. I’ve never smiled so much in my life. I don’t look back, I keep looking forward.”

Full of gratitude for the support Mrs Hancock and others have given him, his ambition in life now is to help other homeless people.

“I’ve been on the streets and I’ve been in shelters. I want to give back,” he said.

“One day I’d like to set up my own shelter.”

MORE: Don’t give change to homeless people - give it to charities instead, outreach workers warn

He warns that homelessness “can happen to anyone”, adding that those who have not experienced it should “think themselves lucky”.

He added: “You need to think of who’s surrounding you and who are your family.

“It doesn’t matter what you’ve got. They’re just material things.”

MORE: Open up your home to prevent rough sleeping, Suffolk residents urged

His message to those experiencing homelessness today is: “If you’re going through hell, keep going. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.

“You need willpower. You just need to grit your teeth and do it.”

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