My name is David. A couple of years ago I was street homeless, unable to read and write. Now I’m working as an apprentice for St George, a construction company. I never would have believed this.
My problems with reading and writing were part of the reason for me becoming homeless. I got into rent arrears and other utility debts as I struggled to manage the paperwork and was facing the courts. My challenges with reading also meant I found filling the forms out for jobs difficult too. I was living in a tent, for 26 months, but one day I came back to find my tent burnt down. I lost everything – all my clothes, pictures and letters from my children. It was devastating.
I‘d lost trust I used to wear my cap, look down and try to hide, but SPEAR’s rough sleeper outreach team helped me out of my difficulties and found me a home. I would visit the team regularly for a hot drink and food donations as I was still struggling. With support from the different staff and volunteers at SPEAR, I was able to gain the help I needed to read the paperwork and also gain the confidence to try and learn to read.
The Education, Employment and Training Team put me in touch with a lovely volunteer called Gill who’s a retired Head-teacher. At first I was nervous, as I’d struggled at school. But Gill showed me she was caring, that she wouldn’t laugh at me and would go at my pace. We met once a week and she taught me how to sound out letters. From that I learnt to read words, and within a year of working hard at it, I was able to read sentences.
Alongside this all happening, I joined the Service User Involvement Group at SPEAR, introducing me to other SPEAR clients. We went on day trips etc. and talked about our experiences. These service users, volunteers and staff at SPEAR were understanding – they didn’t judge me. I did the accredited Peer Mentoring course at SPEAR so I could help others who had been homeless. I contributed hundreds of hours of volunteering – particularly at summer fairs where I gave out leaflets, talked to the public and helped on the stall. Yes I had the confidence to talk to the public –maybe I talked to you.
Before being homeless, I’d had some jobs in ground work and gardening. But it became more difficult as you started to need to get your CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) card to be employed. As my reading continued to improve, SPEAR persuaded me to think about taking the CSCS certificate. I didn’t think I could do it. I was scared to do the exam and I thought I’d fail. They persuaded me to keep going – not to give up. They told me how proud they were of me. That meant a lot to me. Eventually I passed this exam – it was an amazing day, I leapt out of the room! But I didn’t stop there. I also had to pass my Health and Safety certificate and this required further study.
I found out that one of SPEAR’s partners St George had an apprenticeship scheme. I went for a volunteer day there at their Ealing site. The staff showed us round and talked about the different roles they do. The SPEAR team encouraged me to go to an interview for a groundwork job. I was incredibly nervous, but I knew I had to go if I wanted the job. The guy who interviewed me was impressed by all my knowledge – as I said I had worked before becoming homeless and had learnt lots on the job. He realised I understood the practicalities of the job and with my CSCS and Health and Safety certificate alongside this – I was in!
‘Yes, I got the job and now here I am working in a full time apprenticeship this Christmas! Now it’s not just SPEAR who feel proud – I feel proud too. Not only that, I can make my family proud too.’