garyI became homeless in 2008 and as a result began campaigning to the Local Authority about the plight of several hundred marginalised single men in Bradford caught in the cycle of homelessness. I highlighted the gaps in public and community services in terms of such little support for homeless single men. As a result of the campaign I was invited onto the Supporting People Service User Involvement Group (SUIG). This involvement ‘gave me a voice’ which resulted in increasing my own self-confidence, self – worth and value. Seeing the impact the campaign made in terms of changing local policy helped me to realise a deep sense of purpose – leading me to recognise that throughout the process I had changed my thinking from negative to positive and that this positive change impacted other areas of my life such as personal responsibility and self-discipline.

Inspired and motivated I invited others at risk of homelessness to come together to share their story with one another, to write it down or demonstrate it through art works. Throughout this time I was also rehabilitating myself and received no wage for this work. During this period I held about 30 creative writing groups each lasting several weeks and attended by 6-10 individuals who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Recognising the importance of these shared experiences I was successful in obtaining a small funding bid to create, collate, publish and market the material provided by homeless people. Poems and art works were published in a book called Forgotten and written stories and art works published in a magazine known as Hidden Voices. I also attended training for personal development undertaking Adobe Workshop with Art Works and undertook life skills training. The book was nominated for a National Charity Award. In July 2011 I was awarded a further £10,000.00 for a year’s salaried position and all operations to develop the creative writing/arts workshops and to increase the production of the Hidden Voices magazine.

Companies were encouraged to advertise which helped to just cover the cost of the bi-monthly publication. The Hidden Homeless Ltd became incorporated in 2011. In addition to the above activities I provided peer mentoring support t 6 people. I then developed this into 1:1 light therapy peer mentoring sessions and helped over 30 people. These sessions were short 1 hour sessions helping individuals to build on increasing their confidence, help in recognising positive opportunity to improve their life and enabling positive decision making.

In June 2012 the national TV programme, The Secret Millionaire requested to attend Hidden Homeless activities. This resulted in a donation of £28,000.00 to the organisation with a request that £25,000.00 be spent on the running costs of Hidden Homeless and to include the continued development of Hidden Homeless magazine, creative workshops, mentoring, funding support worker and general development of Hidden Homeless Hidden Homeless then held 40 creative writing workshops attended by up to 10 people at each session. The organisation also provided a free service of 30 Life Skills Workshops. Each workshop had up to 10 people attending and runs for 6 weeks. The workshops have been so successful that the support providers have now requested further weekly workshops from The Hidden Homeless team

I was also contracted as a service user coordinator to engage service users in some research in the West Yorkshire region, looking at gaps in services for people with multiple and complex needs. We have engaged 22 experts by experience in the research including 450 street surveys been on project visits across west Yorkshire and Liverpool to compare good practice and written a report for the Big Lottery WYFI project.

The journey I set off on in 2008 has given me a real insight into how the system works or doesn’t in some cases but it has also given me a perspective of just how our lives can be effected by our pasts and we don’t even recognise how disengaged or negative our lives have become until it’s too late or we become so self-destructive we don’t even recognise ourselves.

The Hidden Homeless Ltd has a very clear mission statement of promoting positive change, not only in the people that we have worked with but in the system we all work. Look out for our life coaching & S.M.A.R.T. recovery workshops and the Hidden Voices magazine which we will share peoples life stories poetry artwork and The Hidden homeless Ltd.’s progress over the next stage of our mission.

Most recently The Hidden Homeless Ltd have written a bid to the Big Lottery and received a Big Lottery grant of £220,000 to deliver Life coaching, Smart recovery & creative workshops over the next 3 years.

Life coach Nina Farquharson has recently joined the team here at The Hidden Homeless and her track record, working with vulnerable women speaks volumes and the testimonies we receive on a daily basis are just amazing, the transformation of the clients we work with have been life changing. I have used the life coaching process, tools and techniques and believe this to be the missing link to people moving forward and out of the destructive cycle of homelessness and the issues that surround it.

They say a leopard can’t change its spots! Well I say it might not be able to change them but it can certainly learn to use them wisely…

I’ve had many labels throughout my life, labels like juvenile delinquent, maladjusted, crook, coke head, alky & drug dealing prison reject and a few I can’t even spell…lol

People ask me why I do what I do, and the answer is the reward I get is far greater than any money can bring… I fight injustice and in-equalities & I believe this to be my vocation.

And now I have a few labels I am proud of, like active citizen, Community Learning Champion, Service user Rep, Housing Practitioner, Chief Executive Magazine editor and Friend to many, and all that from a leopard that can’t change his spots.