Gary is now an inspirational advocate who uses his own experiences to campaign for a change in attitude to and support for the homeless. He attended our first group of sessions.
"I never imagined I would become homeless. But after the breakdown of a relationship of seventeen years I was pretty broken. I had always been a family man with no other plans and I didn't know what to do. I went on a drinking binge for three years and I lost everything.
When I became homeless I found I didn't count. Government legislation discriminates against some people. For instance various categories including women with children or ex prisoners have to be rehoused but single men or women don't meet the criteria where anyone has a duty to care. I believe that there should be equal rights and that everyone who needs help should get supported.
In my case when I hit rock bottom it took days for me to get the paperwork sorted so the Salvation Army could help me. In the meantime I had nowhere to go and was forced to sleep on the streets for four nights. I stayed with the Salvation Army for eight months until I got a bunch of people from there to come with me and protest. I stood on the council steps for weeks until I got somewhere to stay.
For the last two years I have been campaigning for a voice for the homeless. It is about fairness but also I want the public to realise that homeless people are not all drug addicts and alcoholics. That is just a drawer to put them away in, out of sight, but people need to see the bigger picture before they make judgements. They need to ask what made them turn to drugs or drink. There is a personal tragedy behind every homeless person.
The way the legislation deals with homeless actually causes more of these problems as broken and vulnerable people end up on the streets with other street drinkers and addicts. I know that once you are down you get stuck in a lifestyle and even if you want to sort your life out, it is hard to escape. The problem is only going to get worse. The recession and planned benefit cuts will mean there will be a lot more street sleepers in the near future. There is lots going on in Bradford for the homeless but it is charity led and church led.
Everyone at Bradford College has been fantastic. The lecturers were great and the students did us proud. Some of the learners had never touched a computer before so the students did a lot to help them. I had used Adobe before but I have learnt so much now that will really help me in the future.
I am going to bring out my own street paper called Hidden Voices in 2011. It will be all about housing the homeless in Bradford. I made permanent connections with the students who have all volunteered to help with the street paper. Lucy took what I had and did a layout for me that has really transformed it and made it look great. Their own work has fantastic words and pictures. The project has been empowering for us and for the students. They learnt a lot from us and together we can change perceptions about homelessness in College and beyond.”