Max's story | Depaulcharity

Max's story

"I didn’t have a great relationship with my biological father. When I was 12 it got too much - it was either call the authorities, or leave."

"I left and didn’t tell the authorities. I stayed with family and friends and only slept rough a few times. Staying with people, you feel in debt to them. I was always overcompensating.

"I did my best to be the perfect guest, cleaning and helping out. My nickname became ‘Mr Smiley’. Friends thought I was perfect, ‘Mr Superman’. Some people I stayed with asked me for money, more than what it cost to stay in a bed and breakfast. I had to stop staying with certain people. I never let them know what was going on. I had never heard the term hidden homelessness. 

"There wasn’t always a place to go. When I slept rough, things felt very vacant. I had my own little bench I used to go to. It wasn’t a time to sleep, but reflect on everything in life and how I got to that point, with no-one around me and only my sleeping bag. 

"I was still at school. The thing with growing up and not wanting to be at home was that I was always looking for ways to get out and be constructive. I would study a lot. I did 18 GCSEs. I did a lot of extra curricular. I ran track for London and got involved in theatre. 

"In year 12, a pilot scholarship programme started in my year. It was for low income families to go to uni in America. I applied and got in. After finishing my A-levels and a deferred year, I went to America to double major in neuroscience and theatre. At university, I had a room with a lock and a door.

"Having your own room with a lock and a door - it feels like your own space. But I had to come back home before finishing my major. My little brother needed support and I wanted to be there for him and my mum. I tried to stay at home, but it wasn’t working.

"This time I was sleeping rough a lot more. It wasn’t the same as before, I was older now. No-one had my back. The people who did weren’t in the same country as me. It was very lonely, scary and I was sleeping with three eyes open. Sleeping rough, it’s not just sleeping rough. It’s not sleeping at all. 

"I needed to reach out for help, and it was charities that helped me. I went to a youth centre. Initially, there were too many people and too much energy and I got scared off. But they offered drama sessions so I came back. My anxiety started to decrease.

"They put me in touch with Nightstop. When I got to Nightstop I was 'Mr Smiley' again. I used Nightstop for a couple of months. At Nightstop I felt safe. They DBS check all the people you stay with and it feels like you’re invited into a family home for the night. The families go to such extreme lengths to make you feel at home. 

"One of the people I stayed with was so so welcoming. She showed me how to ride a bike. When she found out I had Jamaican heritage, she cooked me curry goat, rice and peas. Another family talked to me at such great lengths about my aspirations. 

"The families I stayed with tried so hard to make a welcoming connection with you. These services go well out of their way to help people like me. It’s because of them I am where I am now. If I didn’t have them and I had to sleep rough for one more night I don’t know if I would have made it. 

I have now moved on to permanent accommodation. I have a room with a lock on a door, a washing machine, a shower and I use it just because I can. I have an amazing job going into schools to do seminars on skills to succeed. 

"Now I have the security and comfort, my biggest struggle is I have the space and time to go over all the things I’ve been through. Sometimes I find it hard to get out of bed. It is my biggest struggle, which in a way when you think about it is beautiful."

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