I was born in Ballinaugh in County Cavan Eire – a small rural village with a post office, a pub, a school, a police station and a church. I’m 52 and I’ve got 7 brothers and 5 sisters. I’m the youngest boy but I’ve 2 younger sisters. I left school at 15 and started work – my dad always chose the work I did and my first job was selling clothes in a street market 6 or 7 days a week – I earned £25 a week which I gave to my dad. My mum and dad separated when I was little but they didn’t divorce – we don’t do divorce in Ireland. Mum left and we all lived with Dad. My dad deserves a medal – another man would have put us in care, but he just got on with it. All my brothers and sisters worked and we all did our bit to support each other. We didn’t own our house so we needed to find the rent etc. I worked at all sorts of jobs – Cavan Crystal, pubs, hotels, kitchen porter. At 17 I joined the Irish Army, I was a Gunner, a 3-star Private. I loved being in the Army – the best job ever but I had to leave at 22 for medical reasons.
I came to London to Canning Town and I’ve been on the road ever since. Sometimes sleeping rough, sometimes I’d find work and get a room. If you’re homeless and stay in the same place too long, the police will pull you over and question you – they’re allowed to – they always give some reason – you look suspicious or whatever. I worked as a fork lift truck driver at M & J Timber merchants in Canning Town and as a security guard at Ford in Dagenham for four and a half years.
In 1997 I lived in a Franciscan Monastery in Plaistow. I was a drinker then and the monks would look after me – pick me up out of the gutter. They gave me work to do. I was so happy there, life was simple. I helped with gardening, shopping, cleaning windows for people. I left in about 2001, it felt like it was time to move on – to take responsibility for myself again. I got myself a room above a launderette in Mare Street but the other people in the house weren’t my kind of people so I left after 7 months. More moving around followed – a few months here, a few months there – a bit of work, a bit of job seekers – nothing for very long.
On 10th December 2012 I went to Suriname in South America. It was supposed to be a lovely holiday visiting a friend. I had a great time, then it all went downhill. My flight back was February 13th 2013 and I was arrested at the airport. I was set up, someone planted cocaine in my baggage. I was jailed for 15 months. I can see now what a fool I was- an easy target. Prison in Suriname was pure hell! I suffered a lot of discrimination because I was white. I didn’t speak the language – they speak Dutch and a kind of Creole. I didn’t have anyone – my family weren’t allowed to send anything. The Dutch Embassy gave me a tiny bit of money each month for soap and stuff. It was just awful and at times I could barely cope.
I was released from prison in 2014 and lived on the streets of Suriname for 2 years working at anything I could find and surviving in any way I could. One of my brothers managed to contact me and paid for my fare back to London – that was in March 2016. All this last year I was rough sleeping in Tottenham. I contacted the local MP David Lammy and he referred me to Shelter from the Storm.
I’m moving into my own place soon, in Canning Town of course! It’s nice here at the shelter – Cookie has been a diamond, so supportive. Everyone has been so kind and supportive, I’ll miss them. I still do volunteer work and when I’ve left I’d like to come back to the shelter to volunteer here, to help other homeless people.
People think my life has been hard but I don’t see it that way. We all have difficulties but we can’t give in to them, we need to face them full on and fight them. Every day is a new beginning and I’m looking forward to the future. It can only get better – I’ve been through hell already!