A Yorkshire dad who feared he would freeze to death in the snow while homeless last winter is to spend Christmas day this year back with family and friends after revealing how a support group got his life back on track.
Michael Morris, aged 44, is a self-confessed recovering alcoholic who became homeless five years ago and admits his addiction cost him his marriage, job and family.
But with the help of Riverside Care and Support - commissioned by Doncaster Council to hep people who find themselves homeless in the town - he is looking forward to a special Christmas this year.
He found help at Riverside’s Wharf House, a 30-bed residency with four emergency beds, providing .supported accommodation, with experienced staff to help homeless people with complex needs.
Today Michael works there as a volunteer, helping manage donations. He writes a gratitude list every night – to remind him to be thankful for a warm bed and a shower.
And, in a bid to encourage others to use the service, he told how he is looking forward to a very different Christmas this year.
He said: “I’m going to spend it with my mum, having lunch with her. At the start of this year my family weren’t even talking to me – none of my family – I’ve not seen my daughter, my son, my mum and dad, my brothers, cousins, nephews – nobody.
"I was such a mess. And now I’m going to be spending Xmas with them. I’m grateful to see my children on Christmas Day, knowing full well that I’ll be sober.”
He added, “For me, the reality was it was the middle of winter, there was snow on ground, the possibility of freezing. I had so much going through my mind, I have children, I have brothers, I have a mum and dad, I have really, really good friends who tried to help but I wasn’t in the right headspace to accept that help.
“The alcohol cost me my marriage, my job, my family. It took everything. I was the architect of my own downfall. I simply couldn’t say no, I was an addict.
“Even when I’ve been on the street, with holes in my pockets, and not bathed for weeks at a time, I was still drinking whenever I could get it. But I couldn’t go on anymore.
“If it hadn’t been for Riverside, I don’t know, I dread to think, it was a very dark moment of my life at that point, I couldn’t stop drinking, obviously I had to sober up to enter the premises and register into recovery – which I did. I needed that support. I needed the roof over my head so I could start the transition back into everyday living.”
He went in and out of Riverside’s services, before lapsing and ending back on the streets. Last year, he was taken to Worksop A and E. On discharge, he made his way back to Doncaster in freezing temperatures and approached Riverside’s Wharf House.
Riverside Care and Support hopes his story will raise awareness of services for people who are homeless in Doncaster.
It operates Doncaster Homelessness Outreach Services, which works directly with people who are sleeping rough or homeless to engage with services and move into safe and secure accommodation. It offers a daily drop-in service at Wharf House for tenancy related advice. The service is part of the No Second Night Out initiative, with access to emergency accommodation.
People can self-refer or be referred to Wharf House via support agencies. Whilst at Wharf House they are assessed to see what specific support they need and given temporary accommodation while their support needs are put in place.
Riverside offers 24-hour structured support plans tailored to individual needs that builds practical and social skills to encourage independence.
Its approach is to work in partnership with agencies, including the council, South Yorkshire Housing, South Yorkshire Police, addiction support groups, and Doncaster town centre management team.
The organisation also delivers access to education, training and employment and operates a policy that encourages former homeless clients to volunteer or work as Grow Trainees within its services, to help the transition back to work.
Outreach worker Lisa Ray said: “It takes a long time to build trust with people who have complex issues. I will offer someone a coffee but I’ll invite them in for it, and say, ‘let’s have a chat’. We are here for the long term and we want our clients to engage with our services.
“In addition to our day-to-day outreach service, we offer a rapid response service to rough sleepers. The public can make a referral to our service via the streetlink app, emailing the Outreach team, or by phoning us on 01302 558014. We offer all rough sleepers the opportunity to engage with support in relation to accommodation, benefits and sign posting to other agencies.”
The Outreach team accommodates on average 76 per cent of those who access the Emergency Bed within three nights. The team's close ties with both public and private sector organisations means a much higher success rate in rehoming than those who choose not to access the service.
Coun Jane Nightingale, Cabinet Member for Housing, said: “Homelessness is a national issue and something that we all need to work together to address. We commission Riverside to help us support homeless people across Doncaster. It is great to see the difference they are making in the borough to help people, like Michael turn their life around.
“Homelessness is a complex issue and there is no one thing that any agency, organisation, volunteer group or individual can do to eradicate it. By working together and provide not only the support and care but by also by helping to build self-esteem we believe that we can go some way to ensure that no one needs to be homeless.”
If you find yourself homeless or know someone who is then refer people to the Rapid Response Team: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01302 558014. Visit the official web site at www.riverside.org.uk