Homeless man tells how charity turned his life around

editorial image

A formerly homeless Luton man is sharing his experience of sleeping on the streets, to help highlight the rapidly growing issue of homelessness in Bedfordshire, having been helped by a local charity.

Dean Smith (38) is now turning his life around thanks to support from Emmaus Village Carlton, after weeks of sleeping rough in Luton and Bedford. He is one of many people who have experienced being homeless in Bedfordshire, with the latest statistics showing the rough sleeping rates increasing year-on-year.

Following an unsettled period living in poor quality shared housing, Dean found his mental health deteriorating in his late 20s, which eventually led to him becoming homeless. He said: “My life was out of control at that time. I was drinking a lot and I took drugs too, because I was unhappy. Then I ended up on the streets, sleeping in doorways for shelter.

“I was trapped in a vicious cycle. I knew I should try to find a job, but had nowhere to live. Sleeping rough was really difficult; I felt so sad every day and knew deep down that I needed to change, but I didn’t know where to find help. My confidence was at an all-time low. I shunned my family and friends, cutting myself off from the world.”

Eventually Dean was introduced by outreach workers to local homelessness charity Emmaus Village Carlton. He said: “I looked round, met the people and liked it straight away. I moved in the following week, and I’ve been happy ever since. At Emmaus, I now live with like-minded positive people. I’m not around the drink and drugs, and I’ve been clean for over three years now.”

Emmaus Village Carlton supports 42 formerly homeless people by giving them a home, meaningful work in a social enterprise and an opportunity to regain lost self-esteem to help rebuild their lives. Funds are raised through their Home Store charity shop and bistro in Carlton, with local people donating unwanted items for resale

During his two years at Emmaus, Dean has found the stability he needed to rebuild his life. Dean said: “Emmaus are putting me through my bricklaying qualifications. I’ve done my first year and I’m just about to start my Level 2 NVQ. I’m also learning to drive at the moment; I’ve just passed my theory test so when I’m qualified I can start looking for jobs. I feel positive about the future - my life is back on track.

“When I think back, I had nothing, and now I’ve got my life back. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and that’s so true with homeless people. Having been homeless myself, I know that homelessness can affect anybody. Everyone you see on the street has got a story and every story is different.”

According to a report published by Crisis this year, it is estimated that nearly 160,000 households are currently experiencing homelessness across Britain, with a predicted 76 per cent rise within the next 10 years.

If you have been inspired by Dean’s story and want to help, contact Emmaus Village Carlton to find out how you can get involved. It can be as simple as donating your unwanted furniture, old clothing or bric-a-brac, or picking up a bargain at their on-site Home Store charity, enabling them to continue their vital work with homeless people across Bedfordshire.