About four years ago, Lee Devaney had no job, no home, no family that would see him, and no prospects of a bright future.
He spent 12 years on the streets, surviving on donations from churches, day care centres and the occasional labouring day-job.
All that changed when he was discovered by Barnabus, a Manchester-based charity dedicated to helping the homeless.
Talking to MM, the 44-year-old from Didsbury described his ‘harrowing’ experiences, admitting that he eventually was forced to just accept his situation.
— Barnabus Manchester (@BarnabusMcr) December 7, 2015
“I left home because my father said ‘if you’re old enough to get into trouble on the streets, you’re old enough to live on your own’ and kicked me out,” he said.
“I was a bit of a drinker. I used to drink two or three bottles of vodka per day, as well as a bottle of cider.
“That made me sleep when I was homeless, but in the early hours of the morning you start to feel the cold because it’s wearing off.
“And when you’ve got no money left you have to embrace that.”
Despite his situation, and the fact that he desperately needed to find a way of earning, Lee refused to beg, but instead sought help from community centres and people he knew.
“I would never beg, I have never begged in my life, nor shoplifted for that matter,” he said.
“I didn’t go down and scrape around people for change, I would never do that.
“I went to various churches, and they would give me a bus rider ticket so I could get around, and food and such. They would never give you money.
“I used to go to people I knew in Didsbury, and occasionally they would help me out with the odd tenner or so, or even put me in a B&B, just so I could get off the streets for a night to get warm.”
All of this changed when Lee exploited a long-held passion for gardening and began volunteer work at a garden centre, managed by Barnabus.
Itn was at the garden centre that Lee met Carol Price, the charity’s Development Manager.
Carol and the charity worked with Lee to get him set up in accommodation whilst he carried out his volunteer work. They contributed to his finances whilst he looked for work.
— Barnabus Manchester (@BarnabusMcr) November 14, 2015
Now, four years on, Lee has successfully qualified as a forklift driver in a factory, working there whilst carrying on his volunteering at the garden centre.
“Right now, Barnabus still help me out financially if needed,” he said.
“Because I get paid monthly, if I’m still struggling a bit until the next pay day they sort me out until I get the money through, as well as clothing. Once I have my money I can just go straight back and repay it.
“I work at the garden centre for a few hours in the afternoon, come home, get dressed into uniform and go straight to my other job for a 12 hour shift, without sleep.”
“I used to do four jobs, with two volunteer works including teaching kids with dementia how to do gardening.
“It may sound daunting working so many hours, plus doing so much even though I wasn’t being paid, but I was giving back to the community what they had given me when I was homeless.”
Lee is now completely sober, enjoying his work and establishing a strong relationship with his two children, and couldn’t be more relieved to not be on the streets.
“The streets would kill me,” he said.
“It’s getting colder every year, and the rain makes everything so much worse.
“If I can go every weekend and see my kids, I will do it. It’s not their fault the way I ended up.”
Lee attributes his turnaround solely to Barnabus, who have steered him away from a life in the sewers and on track to a strong future and family.
“If I won the lottery, I would give them half the money straight away,” he said.
— Barnabus Manchester (@BarnabusMcr) October 28, 2015
“What they have done is an amazing thing for all homeless people. If their doors hadn’t been open, I don’t know how I or anyone else like me would have survived.
“People get clothing, showers, and all sorts. If it wasn’t for them, and all their help getting accommodation, I would be dead.”
Barnabus started out 23 years ago as just a group of people who handed out food to the homeless. Now, they offer lifelines to over 600 homeless people per week.
They receive no government funding and rely on donations to make their work a success. To find out how can you help, click here.
Image courtesy of Alex Proimos, via Wikipedia, with thanks