I have been on a journey for the last two and a half years with On the Out. A journey that gave me life, a life that was never my own to begin with, one that was already written for me by my parents, siblings, carers, social workers and doctors. I have spent over 24 years in institutions. From the age of 4 until I was 16, I was in the care of the authorities and placed in about 20 different homes throughout the Northwest. I then went on to spend a further 12 years in the prison system. I came out of each experience with the authorities in a worse state than I was in originally. I had no family, I had no one with whom I could go to because of the way their help expressed itself. I was sexually abused, mentally abused, emotionally abused and then turfed out at 16 homeless with a vague promise from my mother to the authorities that she would look after me.
3 days it lasted before it broke down due to my own attitudes towards life but also that my mother and stepdad were addicted to alcohol and were very violent to their children and each other. I was easily led at this stage and my attitude at the time was `no one cares so why should I?`. I was now feeling much more detached from my “FAMILY” and this in turn made me detach even more from society and my surroundings. I went on very quickly to use drugs as a way to self-medicate as all other interventions didn’t work for my issues, as you can’t stop your own self-hatred based on others` criticisms of me. I was conditioned by these people put in charge of my care. In front of up to 20 people at a time I was told this and that about how I would never be any good, be in jail all my life, never amount to anything. I believed every word they told me because there they are perfect right? I needed to change, I needed to adjust, I need to stop making false allegations about brutality from staff. Everything I did, said and thought was wrong and the people taking care of me were professional were perfect and knew best.
These same people beat me and abused me so you can see maybe why I had so many issues. Their predictions came true but what was it that made me? Their conditioning of me or my own decisions? I’m still not sure. What I am sure of today is that two years ago I came across On the Out as I was suffering from panic attacks trying to reintegrate back into society after another lengthy prison sentence. I asked for help with getting to appointments because of my social anxiety and the difficulties that brought. I was nearly breached on my probation licence agreement with not attending set appointments. I wasn’t attending appointments as regularly as I should have due to the severe anxiety public outings caused.
I was met at my home by an On the Out worker who would initially help me find my way to and from probation appointments. They started by coming to my home to meet me one week and the next week meeting me at the bus stop, then meet in town and then eventually they would meet me at probation. After a few weeks of this routine I had enough confidence to make that journey by myself. I made that journey by myself for 18 months after that. I saw what On the Out was doing and for me I could see that these people were like me but in a different kinda way, a way that made me feel like I had something to offer and that I could have real meaning in life I was supported in other ways too, I got my very first home secured through On the Out. I secured my own job with On the Out. I am now a Company Director and have founded LIFEHAB, supported housing for lads just like me.
Michael Bradley, Director of On the Out, CEO of Lifehab, Development Manager
In June 2018 I was forced to leave my home due to fears of violence and had to make my way to the Manchester city Town hall to present as homeless. After my assessment I was given a room in temporary accommodation but had nothing but the clothes on my back and a small bag filled with my most valuable possessions. It was a long way until I next got paid and i was already worrying about where my next meal was coming from and how long I’d have to wear the same clothes before I could wash/ replace them. It was then that the friend I was with pointed out the volunteer led advice corner in the town hall and the small group gathered around the table. I was introduced to Helen Brown, Michael Bradley & Tina Dixon and got to know about what they do, not before they attentively & sympathetically listened to my circumstances.
I had been homeless a couple times before and thought I knew all the support services which were around but was pleasantly surprised to meet the OTO team. They helped those leaving an unfair judicial system to reclaim their lives through peer support, shared experience & advocacy for equality regardless of one’s past. They seemed different but I still held reservations about what they were about due to some past experiences (distrust & hopelessness are the first things you learn when made homeless unfortunately). I was quickly surprised and not just a little guilty over my ‘charitable prejudices’ because before the week was out, I had enough food to last till payday, a whole new outfit & a bus pass to save my feet the many miles they were accustomed to walking every day.
All this was given without thought of reciprocation and simply because it was what they do. No obstacle course of hoops to jump through or forms to sign was constructed before me and I think if I had said farewell then and there, they would have been happy to see me off, glad of their work. This was why I decided to start volunteering with OTO.
I started out by attending the drop in that the team do every Monday at the Town Hall to help anyone facing homelessness by handing out their leaflets and talking to the folks waiting on their homeless assessments. Unbeknown to myself I was already starting to chip away at the aforementioned reservations because when I talked to someone and heard their worries I could confidently point to the corner and say, “If you want some help, they are the people to talk to”.
Confidence. Something id not felt for a while and here I was certain in what I knew. They genuinely helped people however they could.
Over the following weeks I got to shadow the rest of the team and see first-hand their “grass roots” approach to support work. They took particular detail to not telling people what to do or where to go and actually accompanying them on their journey. Sign-posting was the taboo unless absolutely necessary. If they could take someone to where they needed to go/ support them in what they were doing, they would.
As soon as I was ready to step up my game, the team showed me how to do referrals to help homeless people find accommodation or more suitable support services and booked me into several training courses to help me gain the skills & structure necessary to deal with whatever issues would arise. It wasn’t long before id bought a diary to put in all the numbers I was acquiring for the various agencies and helplines that came with the line of work OTO do. At first it was daunting getting to grips with the ever-expanding list of charities and what their criteria were for whom but after the initial anxiety I could see it all for what it was. Tools of a trade to help people who needed it.
It was empowering. Id, like many people, grown accustomed to not being able to help those I could see suffering around me. Even before I had become homeless and was in steady work, it left a very sour taste in my mouth walking away from someone on the street even if I had made sure they could afford a hostel & food for the night. It was band aid therapy. Temporary and only conductive to helping someone live a little more comfortably on the streets. Now I have the knowledge and means to stop and go through some options with the individual that could mean they could be on their way to never having to rough sleep again or go a day without a hot meal.
Another couple weeks go by and I got another surprise from the team. I hadn’t mentioned before but I suffer from a few different mental illnesses which for now leave me unable to work a standard job. It was why I spent what time I could manage volunteering as I cannot handle the normal parameters of a contracted occupation. OTO had been more than respectful of that and urged me to only do what I could with regular check-ins for my wellbeing and offers of sessions with the in-team councillor (also a gentleman who gives his time for free). So, you’ll understand how the next surprise was quite the shock to me when Helen Brown, our glorious leader, gave me a laptop and a minimal hours paid contract... I had a job! I HAVE a job!! Support Worker I call myself in glee. A third & fourth gift is inherent in this and they are big ones. Independence & Pride. I’d been given the means and funds to go out and make a difference with passion & assertiveness.
Last and most certainly not least there is one other thing that OTO have done for me that sets them apart from all the rest. On the 11th of January 2019, through the grace and generosity of OTO, Big Change & Manchester City Council, I was given keys to my own privately rented flat. Words cannot describe the gratitude I hold for the above and their tireless work to make this happen.
Confidence. Purpose. Empowerment. Independence. Pride. Gratitude.
This is what On The Out means to me.
Lenny Conway-Perez, Support Worker of On The Out