Mind the Gap: why we must prioritise prevention

David Ramsay is Change Lead at Homeless Network Scotland.

I’m sitting here at my desk in Glasgow and the weather is dreadful, I’m day-dreaming. My thoughts drift back to the many times I’ve been out in the rain with nowhere to go. These are the times I must not forget as we try to change the system that isn’t working.

I think of what I could have done differently and also what other people could have done to help.

I grew up on a housing estate on the south side of Glasgow, the early 80s with not much to do. Everyone around me was involved in some sort of trouble, either in school or with the police. This is the path I would follow.

Memories and photos are what defines the past, and how people remember the good and not so good times. The photos I don’t have are what sticks out for me. There’s a ten-year gap in my life and I feel this is a waste. Why did it happen?

Okay, where do I start…? I’ve always been a happy person and good around people. So don’t let the smile hide the hurt someone is feeling while trying to navigate this system.

I became involved with social workers from the age of 12 to 16, then I moved into the prison system until the age of 25. I became homeless at 30 due to my relationship ending, as I was struggling with my addiction again.

I couldn’t believe that becoming homeless was like going back to prison. My mental health was at rock bottom, and I couldn’t see any way out. Now I would have to fight my way through another system and all I was looking for was a house.

I had countless workers from all different health care providers without success. Why? What was being missed?

They were good people and really nice, they just never understood me or what I needed or wanted from them. They never asked me either.

I now believe they were delivering a service which had one aim – contain the issue, as long as it doesn’t get any worse it’s okay. I would rather they’d supported me to prevent things happening in the first place.

Maybe I was being offered what I needed but couldn’t see it because of all the barriers I had put up…was this worth a thought or was this my way of coping?

These barriers started to lift once I came into contact with people who believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.

I became surrounded by people who encouraged me, challenged me in the right way and supported me when I needed it.

And how my life changed.

The first thing I noticed was I started to feel a part of something. I became more involved in my family, attending more family get-togethers. I was more involved with the community I lived in and I felt I had a place as a citizen of Glasgow. I felt alive for the first time and I was 38 years old.

I started volunteering with the Homeless Network with the aim of changing the current system. I can’t forget the feeling I had when I felt I was punished for not having a home.

I was in a new relationship and managed to bag myself a job after volunteering for a few years -my life was amazing.

The question is how many people are out there who are not receiving the support that is right for them and who have the ability to achieve the same as me?

When someone takes on the responsibility of a job which involves people, they must believe in themselves and others. Work with people and help them identify the strengths they have and give them the opportunity to explore themselves.

This is what happened to me and the results speak for themselves.

Employed: yes. Married: yes. And now I own my home.

Change is possible through prevention – if people are offered the right support at the right time and opportunities are available to them. Believe people can and want to change and they will believe you can help them do it.