A 38-year-old man living in Oxford is keen to share his experience of homelessness and mental health to inspire others who may be faced with similar challenges.
At the age of 16, Darren started suffering with his mental health and became homeless on and off for 12 years. On Saturday 10 October, World Homeless Day and World Mental Health Day coincide, and Darren, now supported by homelessness charity Emmaus Oxford, is keen to share his story to help inspire others.
As a teenager, Darren’s mental health issues started to emerge: “I was quite young when I began struggling with my mental health. I ended up leaving home but didn’t have anywhere to go. I remember my first night sleeping rough even now, 22 years on. I slept in a car park, on the floor. I didn’t have anything to sleep on and was just wearing my jacket.”
Soon, sleeping rough became all Darren knew: “Sleeping at the side of bypasses and in hedgerows became normal for me, but I quickly realised that I preferred sleeping in more visible places. That way, if the worst did happen and someone tried to intimidate me, it felt like I could shout for help.”
Occasionally, Darren stayed in hostels, but didn’t receive the support he needed for his mental health: “A lot of the services available to people who are homeless only give you a certain amount of time to stay there. It felt like it was patching over the problem instead of actually solving it. You can only paper over the cracks so much before they start to show again.”
Emmaus Oxford provides people who have experienced homelessness and social exclusion with a home for as long as they need it, daily support to address any issues or problems, funded training and the opportunity to gain work experience in the charity’s social enterprise.
After moving into Emmaus Oxford in October 2018, Darren began to feel more secure: “Straight away, the team at Emmaus supported me with my issues and organised counselling sessions. Since joining Emmaus, I can feel my mental health improving each day, which is a great feeling to have.”
The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown has had a negative impact on Darren’s progress with his mental health, but the support of an Emmaus community has helped him: “The lockdown was really tough. I found that my anxiety went up during that period and I missed working in our store. Myself and my fellow companions found other things to do to stay positive like decorating our community home and deep cleaning our shared kitchen. Being at Emmaus Oxford allowed me to keep busy during that time, which really helped.”
To regain confidence and self-esteem, Emmaus Oxford provides work, training and learning opportunities to the people it supports: “I help to run the charity store van service, collecting and delivering furniture for customers. I’ve also been given the chance to gain some qualifications and have an NVQ Level 2 in Storage and Warehousing. I’ve not done much of that sort of thing in the past, so it was a great achievement for me.”
When Darren is ready, he hopes to find work and his own place to live: “I don’t want to go back to hostels or sleeping rough. I want to take my time and Emmaus lets you do that. I’d like to do more training and build up my CV, so I have something to take away with me.”
Now with the support he needs, Darren wants to let other people know they can get help too: “Emmaus has helped me progress and achieve things I didn’t think were possible. I’ve finally got a place to call home, for as long as I need it. For anyone reading this in a similar position to what I once was, please know there is help out there for you.”
The purpose of World Homeless day is to draw attention to homeless people’s needs locally and provide opportunities for the wider community to get involved in responding to homelessness. To find out more, visit www.worldhomelessday.org
If you have been inspired by Darren’s story and want to help, visit www.emmaus.org.uk/oxford/support-us to find out how you can get involved.