Archive for the ‘heroin’ Category

The Children’s Society yesterday reported on the numbers of pre-teen runaways increasing (link below) and the risks that these young people face once they have fled their home or care. The report noted that a child runs away from home every five minutes in the UK and one in three of these will go unreported.

As a society we seem easily able to understand the impact that this type of thing has on children and how unacceptable it is that they are left in such a vulnerable position. The report also said:

“Agencies are unaware of the scale and nature of the problem and often fail to see runaways as children in need. Yet the report reveals that a quarter of them are forced to leave, often fleeing violence, abuse and chaos at home.”

For us we know these young people who miss out on a good start in life and then slip through the net of services all too often end up as adults with some fairly challenging support needs. The tough bit for us to swallow is when these people aren’t children anymore ‘as a society’ we seem to think differently. But they are the same people with the same traumatic pasts, they simply can’t be seen as ‘helpless’ anymore even though they are officially vulnerable adults.

A few hundred years ago these people were known as ‘sturdy beggars’, and were punished for begging when they were physically able to work. Today society is still obsessed with people’s physical ability to work and blames ‘choices’ to become drug or alcohol dependent adults or their irrational and problematic behaviour as the reason for their situation. As the above shows we have to get away from the physical and have more capacity to work with the emotional and psychological state if people in this situation are to find a way to reach their own potential.


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If you would like to help Simon on the Streets support homeless people in Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield please check this link to make a donation or here if you would be interested in volunteering

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I’ve worked with Terry for about 2 years now and for most of that time he’s been an entrenched rough sleeper. Terry was in care from an early age and soon resorted to crime – namely car theft and joy riding – to fill his time and stunt his boredom. The outcome of this was a trip to the local Young Offenders Institution where he started experimenting with drugs! After a few years of smoking weed and doing recreational drugs Terry’s mental health suffered and he tried to commit suicide by jumping off a railway bridge. He was hurt, but not dead and was then sectioned by the local authority and diagnosed as schizophrenic.

When Terry was discharged from the psychiatric ward he went into supported housing in Bradford, it was here he started using heroin. He turned up in Leeds and was brought to the attention of our organisation; this was about 4 years ago. Throughout this time Terry had been in and out of hostels, but mainly rough sleeping due to his drug addiction. We, as an organisation, never gave up on Terry. He was often incredibly difficult to engage with and refused to have anything to do with specialist support services. But we persevered and knew that if we maintained contact with him there was always an opportunity for positive change even if in the short term that was simply buying him a sandwich or just a chat. Consequently through long term planning and getting Terry to recognise the need for small steps towards his desired outcomes we managed to secure drug treatment for him which he’s doing fine with and is stable. He’s also just signed for his own tenancy with the local authority and we’re working with Terry to get him moved in and settled.

Jamie, Support Worker

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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!

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He’s in his early twenties. I’ve been warned that he has a history of violence towards workers and that he’s been banned from most services in Leeds at some stage or another. He’s not really engaged with any agencies at all – he’s exactly the kind of person we should be working with. I’ve been asked to try and get to know him. This requires firstly that I suspend my initial impressions and that I don’t judge him based upon what I have been told. Secondly, it requires patience and letting the process take as long as it needs to.


He’s incredibly suspicious to begin with. The first few weeks amount to “hello”, “goodbye” and my offers of a cigarette, which he occasionally accepts. Then we move on to moaning about how rubbish the weather is. It takes a long time for people to get their head around the idea that you don’t have a hidden agenda – that you’re not after something. I eventually win him over one evening when I shout a warning to him across the road and he avoids being unnecessarily arrested for begging.


I suspect that by this point I did develop an agenda of my own – a curiosity about how he got to be this way. The tabloids readily condemn drug addicts as though everyone’s lives were played out in some neutral space – a scientific vacuum where we’re all afforded the same opportunities. In reality you have to appreciate that this isn’t the case. We aren’t given the same chances and often our options decrease rapidly as time goes on. In my experience there’s usually a good reason behind these things.


One day I’m on my way to visit someone in St James’ hospital and I bump into him outside. He’s come into some money and doesn’t have to beg today. I put the hospital visit off and spend about four hours with him chatting and wandering around town. It’s raining heavily so we spend most of four hours looking for shelter, walking through shopping arcades mocking the ornaments that wealthier people than ourselves waste their money on. As the afternoon moves on my curiosity receives a partial answer from a boy who seems as though he hasn’t spoken to anyone properly in years. He was young when he was taken into care after being on the receiving end of some serious beatings. He developed temper tantrums – one foster carer dealt with this by tying him to a bed and whipping him with garden canes. She recorded the sound of him screaming to play back to him as a threat – he was seven years old at the time.


One evening I was walking home and recognised his black and white jumper lying in the street. I took it home and washed it. When I returned it to him the following day he started having a go at me about how the clean jumper was going to spoil his begging routine. Then we both burst out laughing, I don’t remember seeing him again after that. In the time I’ve worked for Simon numerous people I’ve known have died but there was something that particularly disturbed me about his death. His body was found in the street soaked through with rain. He’d died from an overdose. The coroner’s office contacted his next of kin who refused to identify the body. They said that they were glad that he was dead. He was in his early twenties and it didn’t seem like he’d ever really been given a chance. The tabloids always leave that part out.

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Shane told us about his situation and how heroin had played a major role in his problems.  He recalled when things reached their worst.  He found himself on a wet and cold night in Leeds city centre with nowhere to go.  He bumped into someone he knew who said he had somewhere they could sleep.  He took Shane to a back-street with some cardboard propped against a wall as a shelter.  They spent a freezing night under wet blankets.  After a mostly sleepless night Shane then went into a fast food restaurant where the toilets offered a hand drier to try and get dry and warm.  Physical discomfort now overtaken by the embarrassment caused by people looking.


Shane described how he felt through all of this:

‘Drugs become a need not a want. If you ever have time or money beyond that you end up doing more drugs so you can forget how bad things are, when you should be seeking support and going to appointments.  You know that you have broken trust with all those who cared about you.  You know people see you as scum and you are always getting hassled.  And for me when things were really bad all I wanted is to be sat in my own place with a cup of tea – that’s what normal meant to me.’


Me and Miss Brown

The first time we met it was love at first sight,

She captured me right there and then,

Her beauty embraced me completely despite,

Being renowned for the ending of men.

A temptress well known,

Pure seduction’s her aim,

Till she has you crushed under her thumb,

Her seed has been sown,

All you’ll play is her game,

Till your mind, soul and body lie numb.


Shane, 2006.

B wing.  HMP Leeds


Since leaving prison Shane has recently moved into a flat and things are going well for him.  He has realised his hopes of normality (and often has a cuppa in his flat) and is now building different aspirations and plans to realise them.

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Early life and first introduction to drugs

Matthew was born in Leeds in the late seventies. He had a good upbringing and a loving family, and went to a good school.  He suffered some bullying due to a cleft palate but feels this was not severe. 


He first got involved with drugs at around the age of 15.  He used drugs only at weekends, and his use was very much recreational in nature.  Initially using cannabis, then ecstasy, then LSD, by the age of about 18 Matthew first tried heroin.  Again, he was just using heroin very occasionally, and only smoking it.  The use was not problematic, he could afford the drug, and was not sacrificing anything else in his life to pay for it.  He was not involved in crime, and exhibited no lack of functioning in other areas of life.  At this time Matthew was working in an electronics factory and doing very well, having been promoted to supervisor.


Problematic drug use

At around the age of nineteen, he found out that his mother was having an affair.  This was hugely traumatic for many reasons.  He had always viewed family life as very important and had never imagined that anything would happen to change this.  His mother had known that he knew about the affair and had asked him to keep it from his father.  On the one hand he experienced terrible guilt for not telling his father, but on the other hand he was acutely aware how much he valued his relationship with his mother.  He felt split between them in a situation that had no feasible solution.  It was whilst trying to deal with this trauma that he started to use more and more heroin.  The comforting, warm glowing sensation had once been a desirable occasional escape from day to day life.  It was now fast becoming a necessary alternative to dealing with the indecision and guilt surrounding the impact of acting or not acting on the information he had.


Matthew did not realise he was addicted to heroin until one day he tried to go without it.  Even then he wasn’t sure what the problem was.  It was a friend who explained that he was suffering from withdrawal symptoms.  This was a turning point as he now had to use heroin every day, and in order to get the same effect he had to use more and more.  His inability to function properly had a knock-on effect on his ability to work.  For a few months he managed to hold it together but was eventually sacked because of his poor attendance and timekeeping.  This then brought completely new issue – with no income and no real ability to work how would he pay for heroin?? 


At this point he disclosed to his dad that he was using heroin.  His dad immediately threw him out of the house.  Matthew managed to stay at a friend’s house.  He had now started to commit petty crime in order to fund his heroin habit.  His dad was quite supportive and took him back at home a couple of times, but the problems he brought with petty crime and his association with ‘undesirable’ types made it impossible for his dad.  He was thrown out another couple of times.  Matthew now realises his dad was really trying hard to support him through this period.


By this time he was now injecting the heroin.  Smoking heroin gives the same effect as injecting it, but using it habitually causes the body to build up resistance to the effect of the drug.  This means the body comes to require more and more heroin to achieve the same effect.  Injecting means that the drug is used to maximum effect.  The same amount of heroin injected will give greater effects than if smoked.  Most heroin addicts cite this as the reason for moving from smoking to injecting.


Slipping into homelessness

As Matthew lived in the local area, he eventually managed to get a council flat.  About eighteen months later, suffering threats of violence from some nasty characters in the area, Matthew was forced to flee from his flat.  All the people that Matthew knew lived in the area that he was forced to leave, and looking for support, he ended up in the city centre, where he had access to support services. Dealing with his drug issues was imperative for Matthew.  Doing this was exceptionally difficult;  the longer time went on he increasingly took actions he would later regret;  all his relationships disintegrated further and further;  his self esteem became lower and lower; he increasingly adapted to this different, arduous lifestyle…and the more normal it all became to him.  Looking back, Matthew recognises that at the time, one of the reasons that the support services were unable to help him move on with his life was because he was not ready to take this step.


All the chaos, hardship and distress served to reinforce Matthew’s desire to take more heroin – to cloud the pain and suffering.  In short, he felt that he could not cope, either physically or psychologically without heroin.


Life, or just existence as it was at that time, continued.  He had no home to go to, and was unable to dedicate a full day to securing housing (a full day being part of the necessary process), because heroin withdrawal symptoms would start, meaning he would leave before the process was completed, in order to get more heroin to stop the withdrawal symptoms.  Homeless, with no practical options left, Matthew began to sleep rough.  He also began to sell the Big Issue.  This helped enormously.  He could now make enough money to get by without having to commit crime, because drugs were his only expense.


Entrenched rough-sleeping

Soon after starting selling the Big Issue, Matthew met and befriended Wayne who was also sleeping rough.  Their relationship became something quite rare amongst rough-sleepers and very problematic drug users, because it was solid.  Most ‘street’ relationships are built on short-term gains and marred by people cheating one another making them very short-lived and without trust.  His relationship with Wayne was different.  They looked out for each other in every sense and shared what they had – which wasn’t much.  The many problems associated with the life of a rough sleeper were to some extent made easier by virtue of the relationship with Wayne.  Having a release from the acute emotional isolation that comes with homelessness made the physical hardship bearable.  On more than one occasion an offer of a hostel space was made to one of them which they refused because it would mean leaving the other sleeping rough alone.  In this way the relationship which was undoubtedly a positive in his life, was also a complicated one, because it meant he did not move on from living on the streets.


Matthew and Wayne managed to maintain their position for a couple of years.  The bad things in life were very bad, but having someone to trust and share with made it bearable.  Then Wayne became ill and died.  He had an infected heart valve, caused by the drug use.  At this point Matthew knew that it was vital that he changed his life, got out, stopped the drug use – but knowing this and feeling able to do it are two very different things.  Wayne’s death made Matthew realise just how vulnerable he was, especially as Wayne had always been the fitter and healthier of the two.  The loss of Wayne also made him realise how isolated and alone he was – Wayne was who he would normally turn to in such a traumatic situation but now there was nobody!


Once again Matthew’s coping strategy was to take more drugs.  Heroin- the cause of so many problems also seemed to be the only solution to his predicament, or at least it numbed him, helping him to forget for a while.  Leeds Simon Community had known Matthew throughout his time as a rough sleeper and had always managed to engage with him.  As at that time Matthew was very resistant to change, the best the Community could do was to continue to engage with Matthew, and work with him to try to reduce the harm of his lifestyle.  The Community, staff and volunteers, were always using different techniques and strategies to try and motivate Matthew to change.  It was at this point when life got even more difficult for him that he started to consider these ideas about change.  This was a very slow and sometimes frustrating process, but gradually Matthew was beginning to decide that his life could change if he made it happen.


Then Matthew became ill and was admitted to hospital.  He was seriously ill.  As a complication of his drug use he had developed a large, deep abscess leading to septicaemia.  To treat this he required months in hospital with intravenous antibiotics.  At this point Matthew knew that he was ready to change.  He was prescribed methadone, a substitute drug used as part of treatment for heroin addiction, in addition to treatment for his other health problems. 


During this time, the Community were offering support to obtain housing upon discharge from hospital and – what Matthew values most – emotional support, ensuring that he felt valued and included in his care.  In this way, he was given an opportunity to add structure to his life, to reflect upon where he was coming from and to plan where he was going to.  Far from an easy journey, relapse occurred three times but on all three occasions Matthew was determined to get back on track and the Community never gave up on him. 


Daring to look to the future

Today Matthew is living in a hostel, he is stable and drug free.  As he puts it, ‘he has got his life back’.  He is in regular contact with his family again and receives ongoing support from the Community.  His aspirations for the future are to move out of the hostel into his own tenancy, to become independent, to re-learn the skills he needs to live and to get back to work. 


Although things are going well, Matthew is aware there is still a long journey ahead of him.  He sees the role that the Community can play in this journey as vital,  “Everything I’ve achieved is down to me, but without you guys I’m not sure I could have managed it!  But just because I’m not on the streets anymore it doesn’t mean I don’t need support.  The thing about Simon is you know they’re always there for you, when other agencies are looking for reasons to move you on or stop supporting you Simon keep on going, keep on saying ‘don’t worry we’re here for you’ and they are and that’s vital ‘cos I’ve seen loads of people move out of hostels, start using drugs again and end up right back at rock bottom!”

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