Ray* has been at King George’s hostel in Westminster for just four months, and says that football is one of the things keeping him off the streets for good.
When he was homeless he bounced between prison, hospital, and rehab for five years. Each time he left prison, he had nowhere to go and didn’t know who to turn to. He would return to sleeping rough, and to dull the reality of his situation, he would start taking drugs again.
Most recently, he slept rough for two months before deciding to end it all. This time, after coming out of hospital following his suicide attempt, he was provided a room at King George’s.
The support he received there made him freshly determined to leave behind old habits. He began attending regular football sessions funded by Church Housing Trust, although he says he “isn’t normally an outdoor person. Football isn’t something I would normally do: but it’s good for keep fit.”
It’s also become vital to improving his mental health, and acts as an alternative to old habits: “If I wasn’t doing this, I’d be doing drugs, thinking about drugs, trying to get money for drugs.”
On this sunny evening, there is a larger match happening between King George’s residents and service users from nearby scheme The Passage. Ray appreciates the bigger group of people being there; for him, it’s a valuable chance to socialise with others who have had similar experiences to his own.
He adds that their coach Manoj, who Church Housing Trust funds to run the sessions, is great company and an excellent teacher. Of the six sessions Ray has attended since his arrival at King George’s, some have been just the two of them in the chilly rain.
In the summer sunshine, it couldn’t feel further from the reality that many of these people have faced, trying to survive night after freezing night in shop doorways, in close proximity to the grandiose profile of the Houses of Parliament.