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  • Date: 06/06/2023

Concrete peer mentor overcame homelessness and addiction to give back to others as a volunteer

A volunteer at Concrete, our charity that is on a mission to make homelessness history, has opened up about his journey battling homelessness and addiction this National Volunteers Week.

Peer mentor Jamie ‘hit rock bottom’ six years ago after personal loss and a relationship breakdown saw him turn to drugs and alcohol. He fell in with the wrong crowd and ended up sleeping on the streets.

In 2019, he came to Concrete, who provided him with a safe place to stay, alongside tailored support, to help him turn his life around.

Jamie is now living independently and able to support himself, but he continues to give back to current customers through the charity’s peer mentor programme. He’s shared his journey and opened up about what volunteering means to him.

“I started hanging around with the wrong crowd when I was younger," explained Jamie.

“I’d been through a lot, including a relationship breakdown. This sent me into a spiral of drinking. The people I hung around with knew I was in a bad place and completely took advantage of that. They pushed drugs and alcohol in front of me constantly.

“I had my own place in Smallthorne, with a housing provider, but I ended up losing it due to everything that was going on. I moved in with a family member for a while, but we had a falling out and that broke down too.

“I ended up homeless and living on the streets. It was only when someone recommended a local organisation that I managed to get a roof over my head for a short period of time. When I turned 25 in 2019, I aged out of that service and had to find somewhere else. That’s when I came to Concrete.”

Jamie started working with the charity, who gave him a place to stay and matched him with a Service Coordinator. This is a staff member who works directly with people who have faced homelessness and other complex needs, to offer support and guidance as they work towards a new chapter.

“Different personal issues meant that I was still on a really dark path. I had hit rock bottom. I didn’t want to be here and I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“My breaking point was when people started barging into my room for money and threatening me with knives. I’d had enough. I knew I had to get off the drugs. I basically had two choices – either turn my life around or end up dead.

“I remember barricading myself in my room for three days. I sweated everything out of my system – for me it was the only way. I was just so dependent on drugs to help me feel normal. I sat in my room alone for three days with no one coming in or out. I felt sick, I had headaches, it was terrifying, but I look back on it now and see it as being absolutely worth it.”

As Jamie continued on his own journey, he wanted something to fill his time in a positive way. He heard about Concrete’s peer mentor programme, where current and former customers of the charity volunteer to support others who are just starting on their journey.

"My Service Coordinator could see that I was bored just sitting around doing nothing. I was frustrated and angry – I wanted something that would keep me busy.

“She told me about the mentoring programme and I got in touch with the team. It was amazing. It filled my time, kept me busy and gave me a real sense of purpose. This was crucial because in order to help others, you’ve got to feel good about yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup – if you don’t feel good in yourself, how are you supposed to make others feel better?

“Through mentoring I’ve gained self-worth and also a bit of personality. It sounds strange, but you come across so many different people doing this, that you take different things from each person and learn from them. I’m still Jamie, just a new and updated version. I’ve grown and I absolutely love it.

“Peer mentors are such an important part of Concrete. We volunteer our time because we want to use our lived experience. We can relate to what customers are going through and we can really empathise. We’ve been there.”

Jamie currently volunteers at Concrete’s 24/7 male scheme, where he offers advice and support to men impacted by homelessness, addiction and other complex needs.

“If the men need support, or just fancy a chat, I’m there. I also talk to them about mentoring and talk about my journey to show them what is possible.

“I feel like my presence makes a huge difference. I’ve had men who didn’t really speak to me when I first got there, to now coming to chat to me each time they see me. It’s brilliant.”

As well as the benefits to the customers, Jamie says that mentoring has had a really positive impact on him too. He's now living independently and credits volunteering as a huge turning point in his journey to a new chapter.

“I’m learning so much. I learn about how the systems work and the day-to-day tasks that the team pick up. It’s so interesting and I’m so glad I can build up my knowledge and experience.”

“My life is completely different now. I’ve got a two-bedroom house which I’m currently decorating. I have my own money. I can pay my bills and I don’t have to constantly worry about people coming to my door. It’s a relief. I have a daily routine and a real sense of freedom.

“There are still challenges and there probably always will be because that’s life. You just need to accept them and carry on.”

Find out more about Concrete's peer mentor programme here.