Jimmy came to Leeds from another city. He had friends in Leeds who he was staying with, he needed to get out of the other city for reasons he doesn’t go into. The friends he was staying with were drug users, like Jimmy was. It wasn’t long before the inevitable fall out over money and he found himself with nowhere to go in a city where he hardly knew anyone.
Jimmy moved into a lifestyle of sleeping rough and begging to support himself. His coping mechanism for this lifestyle was heroin and crack cocaine. He describes the drugs as the reason for the situation he was in but simultaneously as his saviour, the thing that made him forget how bad it all was. “The worse things got the more gear I did,” he told me.
Jimmy remembers quite clearly when he first met Leeds Simon on the Streets outreach workers. At the time he wondered, “why would they take the time out to bother with people like us.” I was interested in the phrase ‘people like us’ and asked Jimmy how he would have described himself at that time, he thought carefully for a while and replied, “I thought I was a useless, good for nothing, tapping toe rag!”
Much of our work focuses on the realisation that people cannot effect change in their lives when they have these kinds of self images. We work hard at trying to get alongside people, building a trusting relationship that can help to empower them to make positive changes. Jimmy remembers the soup run as a place where these relationships were on offer, “there was food and blankets but there were the people; nice easy going people who had time for you.”
With support from us and other agencies Jimmy finally got to grips with his drug use. He has not used illegal drugs for over four months. He is currently living in a hostel and is soon to move into his own flat. In September he will start a counselling course which is the first step toward his ambition of getting into some kind of support work. His ideal job would be working with drug users or people who are homeless. His driving force is to try and put something back and offer the kind of positive support that he was able to get when he needed it.
Jimmy is already putting something back into the Community, once a fortnight he makes the soup for the soup run. Remembering the days when he used the soup run Jimmy said, “I can’t believe I used to go for days without eating anything.” I’m not sure that the soup Jimmy makes tastes any better than any other we serve at the soup run but I’m sure it has the extra ingredient of the passion of someone with first hand knowledge of what a good job it does!
So how does Jimmy feel about himself now? “I’m a positive, happy go lucky, healthy, stable, average Joe. And that’s how I’ve wanted to feel for a long time!” So there has been a remarkable change in Jimmy, and he’s worked incredibly hard to make it happen. It would be easy to say Jimmy is now a different person, because that’s how it seems. But if you knew him back then, in the not so good days and you were prepared to look hard enough and be patient you could see happy go lucky Jimmy busting to get out!