Person sitting alone in Arsenal football stadium

Ziggy's story: Using my experience for good

I come from Poland where I had a fairly normal life growing up. I was raised by my grandparents. They were not rich but shared with me the most important feeling which is love for another human being. I played football and spent time with friends like a normal teenager.

Losing my grandparents

When I was 16, my grandma was diagnosed with leukaemia.

Knowing that my grandma, the one who raised me from the day I was born, could die at any moment broke my heart, but I knew that I could not show my despair in front of her. I used to travel to the hospital every day after school or football practice just to spend more time with her as I knew that each day could be her last.

My grandma was in and out of hospital and was doing well, but and then life hit us again. My grandpa was diagnosed with brain cancer when I was 17. I left school and stopped football practice to care for my grandma. I fed her, washed her, cooked for her and chatted with her whilst my grandpa was in hospital for a year until he died.

Unfortunately, knowing that my grandpa passed away made my grandma weak. She died three weeks later. I had to prepare everything for their funeral. My mental health was very poor; I was anxious of going out and scared of what was going to happen to me. I turned to alcohol as my coping mechanism, ignoring my bills and everything around me. I had some money left as my grandpa had life insurance, so I used it to move to the UK and there I spent it all.

Developing addictions to block out the pain

When I arrived in the UK, I rented a room and was lucky enough to find a job in a warehouse where I made new friends. We rented a house together and I felt happy because finally I had some people around me again.  We worked together and drank together after work or on our days off. One of them introduced me to cannabis. It made me feel better and blocked some of the pain I was feeling. When cannabis was not enough, we decided to take cocaine and pills and I ended up being addicted to tramadol, alcohol and cannabis. My addictions caused me to lose my job and I could not pay my share of rent. My “so-called” friends told me to leave their house. None of them were interested in helping me. They were there when I was intoxicated and had the money but left me when I had nothing.

On the day I was due to leave, I got drunk. I wanted to hurt one of them and didn’t think about the consequences. The police were informed, and I was arrested at the house with a knife in my pocket.

I was placed in bail accommodation for the period of my trial. I received a suspended sentence and community service.

Homeless and frightened with nobody to turn to

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay at the bail hostel and because I didn’t have a home or any income, I became homeless which was further compounded by the fact I knew very little English. I did not know where to seek help; I did not know where to go or what to do with myself. I slept in the bus station or empty buildings for about two weeks before I was found by an outreach team who sent me to Bradford Nightstop and after two nights I was given a room in a Centrepoint hostel.

Turning my life around

That was the time when my life changed. I received a lot of support from staff members. They enrolled me in college, taught me English and supported me with my mental health.  I was at the hostel for around five months before I moved into a lower support service with Centrepoint.

My support worker asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I did not have much ambition so just responded, “I don’t know, any warehouse job”. They encouraged me to raise my sights as they could see a lot of potential. They supported me for three years until I was independent enough to move on. I started kickboxing training; I went to college where I undertook NVQ Level 2 in Health and Social Care and my key worker found a placement for me as a trainee substance misuse worker. After a year, I was offered a part-time job there and not long after that, I got another part time job as a health trainer for the NHS where I managed a caseload of clients with health barriers such as: anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, bereavement, lack of confidence, financial difficulties, diet and fitness.

I converted to Islam in 2013 after researching different faiths. The Islamic faith has been keeping me on a straight path for years.  I truly believe that God is testing us throughout our lives. For me, it means God loves us more when sending a tough test upon us.

Today, I am 29 years old, doing my NVQ Level 3 in Health and Social Care and working as a support worker in supported accommodation for homeless young adults or those at risk of homelessness.

Using my lived experience to help others

I try to use my personal experience to help others in similar situations. Things are so different for me now. I used to have no home and now I have a four-bedroom house (with a mortgage of course). I have been happily married for  two and a half years and we are awaiting the birth of our first child in March. I am so grateful for all the support I received from Centrepoint.

The last thing I would like to share with everyone is what I learnt years ago while being supported by Centrepoint. You can do whatever you want with your life: make “real” friends; work hard and stand up when life knocks you down because you can do it!

Disclaimer: Bradford City Centre Project were the original homeless charity supporting  Ziggy until Centrepoint took over when BCCP reduced it's service provision. The staff members who supported Ziggy from the start were then transferred to Centrepoint.