Church Housing Trust is proud to help people who find themselves homeless at all stages of their lives. Sonya*, at just 23, has already been through more than most people.
At present, she is working in a paid apprenticeship as a substance misuse coordinator at Catch 22, one of the main services for young people trying to leave behind a past of substance abuse. The majority will have already stopped, or have greatly reduced, their drug use and be on the way to stopping entirely.
Sonya volunteered there for two years before being hired as an apprentice. She works with a number of young people, calling them regularly to get evaluations and ensure they are happy with the support they are receiving to achieve their goals. Only one year before that, she was living on the streets.
As with many former substance users, Sonya’s childhood was chaotic. When she was 14, her mother committed suicide. Faced with an unhappy home life, she moved into a squat with her then boyfriend. They began experimenting with drugs and he became increasingly violent towards her. By the time she broke off their relationship, she had left her family behind, isolated herself from friends, and had nowhere safe to go.
A vulnerable 18 year old sleeping rough, she was surrounded by people she didn’t trust, and risked being robbed. She began combining whatever drugs or alcohol she could get her hands on to numb her to her circumstances. Sometimes she would wake up not knowing where she was.
Sonya spent three years sleeping rough before she began visiting a night shelter, and then got into a hostel for young women with drug and alcohol issues. After 14 months, she was clean and able to move into a shared house for formerly homeless people. It was then that she began her volunteering work.
“It gave me a whole different focus – something to get up for in the mornings,” she explains enthusiastically. “Obviously I’m a bit nervous, but I’m enjoying it.”
She has since gained a Level 2 NVQ in health and social care, and will soon be able to move on to the Level 3 qualification and expand her role at Catch 22. She wouldn’t have been able to do it without a grant from Church Housing Trust, who funded her travel to and from work. She says without the bus fare, she couldn’t have completed the course.
She spent a year in the shared house, and in March accepted her paid role, enabling her to move into her own flat. “When I started, I didn’t know how to talk to people, but other staff told me just be honest,” she comments. She is able to be frank with new service users about her past and how she changed.
According to the other support workers, Sonya’s advice and guidance really makes an impact on both nervous new service users and herself. “It builds my confidence. If I can turn my bad experiences into something good, then that’s what matters.”
She has also been able to reconnect with her family and become closer with her dad, and says that now she is much more optimistic, about herself and in general. “I could have given up at any point, but what’s the point in that?”