"Patience is key to escaping the streets"
PATIENCE and understanding towards addicts are the key ingredients to recovery from sleeping rough – according to a reformed Gloucester man who has transformed his life.
Craig Fellowes, 37, was swept up in a tidal wave of drugs as heroin dominated his home town of Stroud in the early 1990s. He says one in four users were taking the crippling drug at the time, with many turning to crime to fund their habit.
Craig's drug-taking alienated family and friends – leaving him with nowhere to turn but homeless hostels and night shelters as he tried to break free from the grip heroin had him in.
Twenty years later, he is now clean. He was so inspired by the help he received from Gloucester homeless charity GEAR he has become a project worker and wants to repay the support he received by helping others.
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"I was 17 when heroin first hit Stroud, it was everywhere as it was a new era for drugs," he said.
"It was very strong then and I got involved quite innocently. I had a decent upbringing but I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"I had no idea where the drug would take me and was very naive, I just loved the feeling. I had no idea what cold turkey was.
"I would sleep at Gloucester Park, disused factories, or the disused college or car parks. I knew it was part of life as an addict.
"This led to crime to feed my habit. I was a menace so had to be locked up. After a time I discovered the Vaughan Centre. They don't just give you one chance to get it right, they keep offering support.
"GEAR know you can't just sort out your problems overnight, it will take time, effort and a lot of chances. They would take me in, make an assessment and put me into a hostel."
In 2003, after his latest six-month spell inside HMP Gloucester, Craig was given a choice of either a drug treatment and testing order or a longer sentence. He decided to go straight and started on his road to recovery.
He stayed at Ryecroft Bail hostel for six months. Regular drug testing followed and he was released to another hostel, Claremount House. There he picked up his first paid job.
"People living on the streets can relate to me," he said.
"GEAR picked up the pieces of my life and helped put it back together again.
"If I hadn't moved on, I wouldn't be here now and that is the same for many other people.
"GEAR and the staff here are an amazing piece of the machine that helps people who have nowhere else to go. I can't imagine Gloucester without a night shelter."