Expert by Experience

Screaming in a field, homeless and alone, having his food stolen seemed the last straw to Darren.

Darren relaxes over a game of pool

Like many homeless people, relationship breakdown was the start of the downward spiral. After his marriage broke up, “I was an emotional wreck”, he says.  Suffering from depression he just gave up.  He lost benefits because he stopped signing on.  Incapable of paying his rent he lost a three-bedroom house and, unable to care for him anymore, he lost custody of his son.  He slept on his brother’s sofa for a while, and then under a railway bridge.  Not able to take things with him he lost most of his possessions. “It was horrible.”

Eventually he was offered a place at the Chase Hostel, one of several hostels he was to live in over the next two years.  Some people settle into hostel life and don’t look further but Darren “took a reality check. I looked around”, he says, and thought, “I don’t want this forever.”

Luckily he fell in with a nice group of friends and also got involved with the homeless charity Crisis.  He joined an art group, a new experience as he had been into sports before.  But he found he really enjoyed it.

At his last hostel, Axholme House, Darren was with other stable residents who were all moving forward in their lives.  He was well supported, even being on the interview panel for new employees and going as a guest to the Queen’s 90th birthday celebration in London.

He also became a Crisis “Expert by Experience”, giving input and advice to professionals and decision makers on issues around homelessness, a role which he continues to perform.

At last, in December 2016 Darren was offered a flat by Whitefriars Housing Association.  He was given furniture and carpets and began to make a home.   He had never lost touch with his son, taking him out often, but he now had a place where he could have him over to stay regularly.

Soon after that Darren started volunteering at the Coventry Jesus Centre.  The Job Centre suggested it and, having been here previously when in need, he decided to give it a try.  “I hit it off straight away, everyone is so welcoming”, he says. He helped in the Bridge Drop-in with people in the same situation he had been in.  “The kind of people we get I instantly thought ‘I can help these people’.  It was second nature in a sense because I had come from that environment.  I knew the kind of characters that were about so it was more a case of ‘I can do well so other people can do well.’”  The Jesus Centre found him to be a hard working volunteer, seeing the need and getting on with it in all different ways, with people and with practical tasks.

Having also been a volunteer for various other charities Darren was delighted to be employed as Volunteer Co-ordinator at the Jesus Centre in August 2018.  He is using his experience to enable others to volunteer and give to those in need.  With around 70 volunteers to train and support he is making a real difference here.

Looking back on that period of his life Darren says, “I still hurt. I don’t want to remember too much, but I am moving onwards and upwards.  Eventually I want to be a Support Worker in the homeless sector.  I am motivated by the stories I hear, seeing people’s progress and hearing their good news.  It is so easy to get knocked off your feet but by focussing on what you want to achieve you can get back up”.  Darren’s story shows the proof of that.

 

Published 22nd January 2019 with tags: change homelessness make a difference volunteering

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