World Homeless Day: 'Going to jail was a blessing in disguise'

Emmaus Image copyright EMMAUS
Image caption Dave, 31, was addicted to painkillers from the age of 15

A father of two who has struggled with prescription drug addiction from the age of 15 says prison helped him turn his life around.

Dave, 31, from Cambridge, topped up with over-the-counter remedies, turning to shoplifting to fund his habit and spending two years sleeping rough.

He said he was referred to homeless charity Emmaus after his addiction was taken seriously in prison.

"It's strange, but going to jail was a blessing in disguise," he said.

Speaking to mark World Homeless Day, he said he was diagnosed at 15 with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a chronic disease that would eventually cause his spine to fuse.

Image copyright EMMAUS
Image caption Dave has found a place to live and a job in the cafe at Emmaus in Cambridge

Initially prescribed strong painkillers, starting with paracetamol and ibuprofen, he quickly moved on to opioids, including codeine and morphine.

"I realised about eight years in that I had a dependency, and by that time it was too late. I was an absolute mess," he said.

Dave lost his job and access to his children, and began sleeping rough.

He said he often got the train at night "as it was warm .. and I could wash in the toilets".

He was "in and out of jail six times", he said, and on his release "became very deceptive - hiding things, lying."

"No-one in my outside life knew about my addiction, but in jail I was treated like a heroin addict," he said.

"I was put on methadone and haven't touched tablets since.

"I know I have miles to go yet to rebuild my life, but when I was homeless I couldn't always see as far as the next day, let alone years and years, but now I can and Emmaus has played a huge part in that."

Image copyright EMMAUS
Image caption The Cambridge branch helps more than 40 homeless people at a time get back on their feet

A violent attack while on the streets led him to be referred to the charity, in Landbeach, near Cambridge, which provides homeless people with a place to stay and the opportunity to work and learn new skills.

Spokesman Daniel Sabberton said Dave's "positive outlook for the future" would inspire others to deal with their issues.

"There is help out there, but everyone is different. It's about finding the right path," he said.

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