My name is Michael, and this is my story. ‘Shelter from the Storm’ (SFTS) saved my life. That seems quite a dramatic opener but it is so true it is for me a mandatory prerequisite to any narrative that I give in support of this brilliant, worthwhile and much needed charitable organisation. I am so pleased add that this is a story with a really good outcome.
Not so long ago I was living a very comfortable life. Approaching my mid-60s, in good health, and using my skills in corporate research and project management, I was able to pick and choose my contracts, travel extensively and enjoy life fully. I lived in a small studio in a very affluent part of North London, on a peppercorn rent that I had negotiated a long time ago. Life was good, and having recently come out of a long-term relationship, I was certainly lulled into thinking things would remain the same for some time to come.
Here’s a thing – you often hear it said that many of us are one pay cheque from difficulty and two pay cheques from disaster. Believe me – it’s very true! A perfect storm of difficulties and disasters were about to enter my life. My landlord passed away and very quickly the property went on the market and was sold. Simultaneously my contractual work slowed, and then stopped as part of reorganisations and cutbacks – too many eggs in too few baskets were bring the chickens home to roost, as it were.
What followed for me was a sadly well-trodden path travelled by so many who become homeless. Moving from rented properties, to rooms, to hostels – then using friends places – and then finding empty places to bed down in – and along the way shedding possessions, but above all losing feelings of security and not seeing a future.
By a stroke of luck, the Salvation Army referred me to SFTS. It was the most warm and friendly welcome by a team of dedicated professionals and volunteers. A clean and safe place to sleep, shower and eat – and I mean eat well. Really well-cooked meals taken with all the guests in the dining room – a great sense of community which I really valued.
But wait a minute, Michael, I hear you ask. You said at the outset that SFTS saved your life. How did that happen?
Well, one of the major milestones in my life was about to pop up. SFTS offer more than just a bed, a meal and a shower. There is a range of support to help guests including looking for and finding work, encouraging study, searching for more permanent accommodation, and also giving emotional and phycological support to those that request it.
I took the opportunity after a month or so of having a check-up with my GP. Why not I thought – after all I was nearly 65 and here was the time to examine my health. To cut a long story short, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The process of GP referral to a hospital, a whole set of blood tests, MRI scans, PET Scan, diagnostics, consultations, took about a month during which time I was able to discuss my progress every week with the shelter Psychotherapist who gave of their time generously and with much understanding. The SFTS staff were very supportive, and through the process I had learnt that I had been lucky – very lucky. My cancer was localised and treatable. It was caught early!
That is why I owe my life to SFTS. Had I not been a guest there I would not have bothered with a full check-up. It would not have been something that I would have considered with the way I had been living before. I certainly would not have had the free facility of a private professional psychotherapeutic perspective! Can you imagine the cost of that on Harley Street!
So how does the story end. SFTS referred me to a supported housing association, and that is where I am now. I started my treatment there with the enormous help of a cancer support charity, and SFTS gave an open invitation to join them for evening meals as a former guest. Four years on and through a programme of radiotherapy and hormone treatment, I am clear of prostate cancer. Of course, the NHS check me over every six months and will do for the next four years. I am fit, healthy, and now looking to move onwards. Most importantly I am here to tell the story. A story that ends well.
Thanks Shelter from the Storm.