Ben became homeless at 15 and for the remainder of his teenage years, he moved between hostels, B&Bs, shelters and rough sleeping. At 19, Ben was placed into a Centrepoint hostel and from there a Centrepoint self-contained flat where he met staff members that were to have a lasting impact on his life.
Now 47, Ben is a father and teacher. It’s been a difficult road, and he doesn’t think he would have made it if it wasn’t for those staff members. Lana Moore, who was his key worker all those years ago still works at Centrepoint managing a young parents' service. Ben is still in contact with her decades later; testament to the power of that relationship.
A turbulent childhood
As a child, Ben struggled to find consistency between his parents.
“My mum was very strict and my dad was the opposite,” he reflects. “I used to stay with him every two weeks. Those very different schools of upbringing created confusion for me.”
At the time, Ben was also being bullied at school and the hurt manifested in anger at home. He stopped going to school which created friction with his mum.
“My mum was struggling as a single parent with two boys,” he reflects. “It wasn’t easy for her and I’m able to see that now, but back then I was just angry.”
Eventually, the situation became untenable and Ben went to live with his dad. At the same time, his schooling broke down.
Ben looks back now and realises that his dad really didn’t know how to parent. Initially, this meant freedom, but looking back, he now realises it was neglect.
“My dad never worked and spent most of his time in the pub. He never really provided for me. It wasn’t his fault, but he just didn’t understand what it meant to be a parent. He hadn’t had it modelled to him.”
Homeless at 15
It wasn’t long before social services intervened and at just 15, Ben was moved into a hostel for the homeless.
“I was too old to go into a foster home, by then I was 15, 6’2” and 17 stone, Nobody was going to try and put me in care so I ended up being the youngest person in the hostel. I remember that time being really difficult. All my possessions were in a black bag, I had to fend for myself.”
Ben’s unresolved trauma played out in angry and aggressive behaviour. This meant he was continuously moved on for breaking the rules. In fact, he moved over 15 times over the following four years. It wasn’t the stability a teenager needs and just aggravated the situation further.
Space to breathe
At 19, Ben was referred to a Centrepoint hostel where he had a key worker called Mercy who he remembers as being amazing and progressive. “She cared about what she was doing. There were dedicated staff there who understood how to work with traumatised young people. They got me out in good time and from there I moved into a self-contained flat at a Centrepoint service in Camden."
It was here that Ben met staff members Theresa and Lana. These two individuals were to have a huge impact on his life.
But when Ben first arrived at the service, he was volatile and angry; he is the first to admit that he wasn’t an easy person to work with.
“I was like a volcano when I got there, he remembers. "I had so much rage in me and I put them through so much, but they never gave up on me.”
Lana, who still works at Centrepoint, confirms this.
“He was so angry when he got to us and reading his case notes was quite frightening. I don’t think anyone had really given him the time before, but we gave him time and patience and the confidence to rise above it.”
Lana used difference techniques to find ways to support Ben to reduce his anger.
“Ben did not value himself, he would often put himself down and say he wasn’t intelligent because he had left school early without gaining qualifications. In his sessions, I would point out all his strengths and encourage him to do the same. Gradually, he started to build back his confidence.”
A positive influence
This approach clearly had a huge impact on Ben. Talking to me over two decades later he says,
“There was nothing that Lana did that didn’t stick with me. I put her through hell, but she was always there to remind me of my worth. She always told me ‘Ben you’re good. Ben, you’ve got potential. Ben you can do it.’ Theresa was a woman of action too. If I said I was struggling with something, she would just bring me into the office and sort it out there and then, letting me use the computer or the phone. They were like mothers to me. They understood me more than I understood myself. If they weren’t there to support me, I’m really not sure if I would have made it. I don’t think I’d be here with a career and a daughter without them.”
Ben is still in contact with Lana over two decades later.
“Sometimes I don’t speak to her for a few years and I have to dig out old phones to find her number]," he laughs. "It feels like a blessing to still be in contact with her. She’s wicked."
Finding his path
Ben has come a long way since moving out of Centrepoint. He is settled in his own home, has a child and teaches Electrical Engineering at a college.
“I love my job. It’s wonderful being able to have a positive influence on young people’s lives. For me, that’s massive. I really love to see people doing well, especially if they’ve had struggles. I’m one of the lucky ones. Some people don’t make it if they’ve been through what I went through and I really love being able to give back. I can help them do what I wish I could have done earlier in life. For me, that’s living the dream.”
His advice to other young people is quite personal to his own story.
“Stick with your education. I thought there was no going back for me when I stopped going to school at 13. I thought I had no future and that nobody cared. But you should never give up. Keep the fire burning inside yourself. Even when it’s just a smouldering ember, just find something to keep it burning.
Ben recently spoke about his experiences at Centrepoint's fundraising event Sleep Out. He talked about the impact that staff members like Lana had on his life, saying "I really don't know if I'd be here if it wasn't for people like her. I'd most likely be in prison or worse." Lana was in the audience and says she was moved to tears by his words. "It meant a lot to hear him talk," she says. "It reminds me of why the work I do is so important."
Ben made it through despite his difficult start and although he was helped by those dedicated staff members, it was also down to his incredible resilience. Hats off to you Ben!