The people’s stories shown here provide a brief glimpse into the lives and achievements of some of the people who have accepted support and made positive changes in their lives. We applaud their achievements and extend our thanks to everyone who so generously chose to share their story with us and, furthermore, gave us permission to share their stories more widely with a view to encouraging others to access support.
AO grew up in Battersea and left school at fourteen years old. He was bored, inattentive and repeatedly put in after school detentions. Now well read (he reads six or seven books a week) and a self-taught cook he worked in a charity book shop until he was twenty-two, organising and pricing books and earning the charity substantial funds. AO met his ‘missus’ in the charity shop and he finally worked his way up to managing the shop. He became disillusioned with how the charity operated and felt the “paperwork was definitely a bit of a bleep”. He left the job, found another of similar type and worked as a relief area manager until he “fell out with the area manager”. At this point his drinking escalated and he was internalising his anger which he would sometimes vent by shouting at people. Things escalated, going from bad to worse and AO soon found himself in prison, attempting suicide and rough sleeping with interludes of staying with his Mother.
When his relationship with his Mother broke down he became very angry, was not allowed to see her following his arrest but was getting mixed messages as she would tell him the law forbade him, but she would, nevertheless, invite him to sleep on the sofa at her home. This relationship breakdown was followed by the time he spent for years in a cycle of offending, serving prison sentences then rough sleeping. On his last release from prison his solicitor identified his need for detox services and after serving eight months he was released but started drinking again as soon as he left prison. He says “I never reached the bail hostel I was meant to check in at”. He was re-arrested and served a further eight months, after which he was released and referred to alcohol support services. Here he made a change to his life. It took him six months to “get clean and I was clean for five years. I had a flat and a cat”.
Then life took a turn for the worse. With water flooding into the property and other health and safety issues not being resolved AO reported his landlord to the local authority. The landlord served a notice of repossession on him and he was back on the streets. For some months, during which he took several overdoses, he lived rough. He was then involved with support from mental health services during which time he says “my drinking tailed off”. When the mental health unit he was engaging with closed AO found hostel accommodation was his only option but he says “this wasn’t for me” and when he was evicted for being aggressive he found himself living rough again with the police constantly moving him on.
The rough sleeper team put him in touch with Pivotal and he found an opportunity to get some structure back into his life. He cut down on his drinking, sorted out the appointments he needed to attend to get life back on track and eventually engaged with a training course. As well as his accommodation and support, the course helped him gain structure. He has now started painting again and says “using water colours chills me out”. He is keeping appointments and says of the Pivotal scheme where he lives “Here they do their best and sometimes go beyond their duty of care. It’s a peaceful house to be in. You get people slamming doors sometimes … but that’s the fire doors. If you let them go they bang, they slam. Yes, it’s a peaceful house”.
CH has learning difficulties and has struggled with managing alcohol. He lived on the outskirts of Bournemouth for fifteen years but when his parents separated his Mother was evicted from the family home for anti-social behaviour and he found himself with nowhere to live at sixteen years old. He has since been in and out of hostels His previous accommodation to Pivotal was in an unsafe building which was, in his words “falling apart”. There were a number of health and safety hazards in the building and as CH is only partially sighted he did not feel safe. He found Pivotal through a homelessness drop-in centre. Since being in a Pivotal supported housing scheme he’s had help to sort out his financial situation, having previously lost his bank card and says this has been wonderful for him as he was unable to do this himself. His drinking was so bad that he can’t recall much of his life before he was drinking. He knows he wanted to be a professional footballer when he was young and is now very pleased and proud that he has given up drinking.
CH has been in and out of hostels and living on the street, in the night shelter and on the beach. He tells of how he met some surprising and interesting people on the street and was impressed that one of them had four ‘A’ levels. But life on the street was not easy and he “took to heroine”. Unable to work, he also stayed with a friend intermittently and on one occasion stayed in a hotel in Westbourne for a while. Being partially sighted and with learning difficulties CH has found it difficult to work at any point in his life. When he was trying to stop a fight between two people on the street his hand was injured. The medics would not give him pain killers so he started using heroine to reduce the pain in his hand. This has only further compounded his problems and he was ‘sofa surfing … bumming around’ for a while. CH feels “people tend to take advantage of me for money – that’s all they want from me” and that’s why he doesn’t want to stay in night shelters or B&B accommodation any more.
Having attended detox and worked with the mental health support team he is pleased to be living in a Pivotal scheme and says he is grateful for the help he’s getting. He has stopped drinking and using heroine. He feels he is getting support to apply for a passport as he needs identity documents and living at the scheme is giving him confidence. He’s started going to the gym and his Mum pays for the subscription for him. He now plans to continue gaining confidence and as this builds up he would like to move to independent living – “I’d love to live independently now. Hopefully I’ll move to a flat from here. I feel alright here. Yeah, it’s safe here”.
C started life with an alcoholic mother and by the time she was two years old she was living in a heroin addict’s house. She was physically abused by her mother’s partner and admitted to hospital on one occasion with serious injuries. When she was nine her mother left and she lived with her father and his partner and says “my step-mum played cruel mind games with us … she used to tell us we were possessed and do séances with us”. Her teenage years were turbulent and at nineteen C began a trail of leaving home, hostel living, street living and drink and drugs use. She was in London and this went on until she was twenty-three.
At twenty-three her usual female only hostel accommodation was full one night and she was referred to a mixed sex hostel. This was new to her. C says she was “naïve, promiscuous and [it] increased my drugs use”. Whilst at the hostel she was attacked and sexually assaulted. She says “I was beaten up twice and this made me unwell mentally”. In 1995 C was admitted to hospital on a twenty-eight-day section order when the day centre were trying to support her. Very unwell and upset she tried to escape but was returned to hospital. Although the day centre tried to secure her release into their care she was released into the care of her parents. C took herself back to the streets of London. She reflects “I became very violent … I also met my first real partner, T. I was twenty-six. He robbed a guy who was ex-army, discharged from the army with mental health problems and trained to fight … T had to go missing for a while”.
Without her partner C “was in a very bad state of affairs … I had scabies and nits”. Subsequently she was volunteering in the day centre where she met a man who physically abused her. Discovering that she was pregnant she ran away. Her parents rejected her and she slept at Waterloo Station, trying to keep herself and the baby she was expecting warm in the best ways she could. C feels her vulnerability at the time led her to make some bad decisions and she entered into another relationship for “protection”. Her daughter was born whilst she was living in a bed and breakfast hotel in London, after which she was moved to a flat and became pregnant with her son. In an abusive relationship yet again she escaped with her two children and no support.
C tried to find her initial partner, T, but learned he was in prison. “At the same time, I trusted a friend to look after my daughter and she disappeared with her. The police found them. She had been calling my daughter by a different name … a boy’s name … my daughter was scared”. Her children were then taken into care and she says “I deteriorated”.
When her partner, T, was released from prison their relationship resumed “he was more mature after he’d been to prison”. She feels she put him first, ahead of her children, at the time. The children were living with their grandparents. C came into some funds unexpectedly. Having not been claiming benefit for years she was awarded a back-payment. She and T were sleeping at Waterloo and within a week they had spent the money on drugs. Tony died beside her of an overdose and C says “I fell apart”. She went into a new relationship and had two more children but her partner was violent and abusive and she left him. Her children were taken away and C says “I wallowed in self-pity in a flat with my kids’ toys”. She tells of how she was “reclusive … left the lights off all the time … drank into oblivion … the drinking led to me having a miscarriage”.
Finally some support was offered in hospital when a social work liaison officer suggested she should go into treatment. In 2012 she did. At the treatment centre she was assaulted so she was then moved to Bournemouth. C felt she “couldn’t hold onto my sobriety or clean time”. C relapsed four times before she decided to attend meetings.
The support at meetings changed things. She met her current partner and has, slowly, rebuilt her life. She now has contact with her children and has had help to deal with the loss of T. With her current partner she moved into a flat and “after being clean for three years we had a parenting assessment, the children visited and social services supported us with accommodation. In 2017 my children were returned to my care”.
C says she is “proud to say I now work for Pivotal. Life is completely different. My past makes me a humble person. I’m never in a place to judge. It’s a weird world really”. She says with satisfaction “I can provide for my children … I’m a ‘present’ Mum. Regardless of what I’ve experienced I enjoy being sober. I can say ‘I loved and I lost’ and now I enjoy giving back to our clients and helping them”.
Calvin, who started work with us around five years ago, is now our Bournemouth Senior Manager, ensuring current support contracts and the outstanding quality of the service we deliver to our clients with complex needs is maintained. These needs range from substance misuse to mental health to sex working and, in Calvin’s own words “a whole host of other issues besides”.
Calvin feels an important point to highlight at this stage is that around eight years ago his own needs were very complex. He was a dying, intravenous heroin and crack cocaine addict who stood six feet tall and weighed eight stone. Resigned to what he calls his “lot in life”, and subjecting himself and those who loved him to a life of pain and misery, he was given chances. He was given many chances by many people. He now looks back on the chances he had with much gratitude and believes we’re in the chance game. He says “We give lots of them. Often it doesn’t work at first, yet we persevere just as professionals persevered with me. My God did they have some patience! We see successes and failures in our projects, yet the road to sustained and maintained success or stability – i.e. abstinence and recovery from substance misuse or recovery from crippling mental health issues – is littered with failures, and from them we grow”.
Calvin shows how, “here we assess a person’s needs, start the process of support to develop new life skills or re-learn those that have been lost, and provide people with appropriate move on options to second stage accommodation where the basis of these new skills can be further built on”. He explains how working with Pivotal (previously PAS Ltd) was his first paid job for over five years so he was excited, yet nervous, to be back in an employed post. From there the skills he had acquired from his previous nursing days as a mental health nurse were identified and he started as a support worker on days. Over the past two years he has succeeded in more promotions going from support worker to senior support worker to managing two project and, most recently, becoming the Senior Manager for the Bournemouth area.
Calvin speaks of how he sees potential in everyone he comes across, especially those who use our services, and how he works within a highly skilled team of individuals of whom he says “I am in awe of them. Our values at Pivotal – passionate, caring, creative – they resonate strongly with me. It’s what has got me to this point in my personal and professional life. Professionals that have helped me along the way possessed these qualities and when I felt like giving up they never did. That’s what we do, we never give up. If something doesn’t work, try something different, think again, keep trying, never quit. One day that hopeless addict just might be your boss so you’ve got to show them that respect!”
Calvin acknowledges that living in times of austerity, red tape and bureaucracy and supporting others throws up many challenges, yet he is proud of his team and their professionalism, experience, knowledge and innovation in getting the right help for the right person at the right time. Working closely in partnership with a whole host of local agencies, they constantly do more good for more people, often with amazing results.
DA was homeless for four months prior to coming to Pivotal. He says it was “a rough life”. At fourteen years old he feels he was a “normal kid doing normal things”. At fourteen life changed following a row with his Mother when she told him he was not the son of the man he had always known as his Father, she didn’t know who his Father was and she wished she had never had him. DA tells of how this “blew my head apart” and ever since he’s been looking at lots of people and wondering if they are his Dad and he “started hanging around” with a lot of people older than himself who had known his Mother and wondering if they might be his Dad. He got into drink, drugs, crime and prison and from then progressed to using hard drugs and a lifestyle of drugs and crime. He was in prison twenty six times between the ages of sixteen and thirty six and life went “pear shaped” because prison release meant he had nowhere to go, that took him into crime and then he was back to prison – “it just kept going”.
DA says “I met a girl a few years ago and had a flat”. He was clean for two years and tells how “we were making plans then … soul destroying … it was all gone” when the relationship broke down and “my Grandad died (I was always grateful to my Gran and Grandad) I went back to using drugs, lost my job and was back on the street again, back in the circle … Pivotal has given me stability again but compared to where I was it’s pretty devastating that I’ve done the hard graft and got clean before and now here I am again. I don’t get it”. For support to work DA says “you’ve got to have everyone singing from the same page for people like me, people with mental health and addiction”.
He goes on to say, “Addiction, God it’ so hard. I will do it again though – get clean. You can get lost in the ‘system’. This place gives me a bed, stability”. Many places can set you up to fail. For DA Pivotal “takes me off the street and I’m detoxing again. I’m doing it all myself. You need to know why you’ve done things. Looking in from the outside people can be judgemental but if they take time to listen they might understand a bit more. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate what people have taken time out to give me. They don’t even know all about me here. I’m not daft and I’m good at looking after myself. I’ve got less baggage than some people. I’ve got more life skills than some people in addiction. I’m less maintenance than some … being here, if you engage you’re only here for six or seven weeks so it gives you a bed”. Being at Pivotal, DA says “frees up space in my head rather than when I have to think about which doorway I’ll sleep in. I’d like to move on to live with mates who are now clean”.