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Alana's story

“I had a habit in my early twenties but I cleaned myself up and went to University at London Metropolitan to study social research. I was always interested in politics and I worked for a year in the House of Commons as an MP’s research assistant. After that I worked for public libraries for many years and also in a local community arts centre doing event management but we lost our funding and I got made redundant.

I was clean for about thirteen years during that time but when my son went to secondary school a few things happened that made me relapse quite badly. There’s a lot of history of domestic violence and sexual abuse in my family, both to adults and children, and there was a family crisis that brought back lots of bad memories from my own childhood. I had to report an incident of abuse from within the family to the police and that sparked a lot of them to turn against me. At the same time I found out I had Hepatitis C which affected me really badly and then my younger brother overdosed and died. Those kinds of issues are a common thread in many addict’s stories.

I had a temporary housing place with my son at the time but I was in such a deep depression that I forgot to send in the renewal application. The council didn’t inform me about it for months though and I got evicted before I could do anything about it. After that my son went to live with his dad and I had to go squatting and sofa surfing. I was with a new partner by this stage but even together that situation carried on for nearly the last seven years. We tried to find a rented place but even together it was impossible because you needed such a massive deposit in London.

Occasionally we would manage to rent a private room but the last place we stayed in was so depressing and dangerous I had to get out. We paid £90 a week each but we had no hot water and no heating. It would rain indoors and there was black mould everywhere. It was only a four-bedroom house but the landlord was renting it out to as many as thirteen other people. He did give us a contract but I don’t think he had any idea of his obligations as a professional landlord. He was just scamming people really. I never saw the council check the property ever. I’ve since discovered that the onus was on me to report him to the police, a bit like in a domestic violence case, but he was very aggressive and I knew he wouldn’t have stood for that. I was in a house full of quite hostile men and he’d already started on me a few times.

Being in that environment made my depression and drug-use so much worse. I was scared to leave but I needed to get clean and rehab was also a way of not getting my head kicked in by my landlord for grassing him up to the council. My partner at the time was also still in addiction and I didn’t want to be anymore so I applied to my care manager for rehab and they sent me to Plymouth. It’s a long way from London but it’s better to get far away from where you’re using. Most rehabs are by the seaside these days, but I’ve ended up living in a city I don’t really want to be living in with no one I really know.

When you get clean your mental and physical energy returns and part of the problem becomes boredom. I thought it might be all surfing and beach parties in Devon but the economy is quite bad so I hope that when I complete the programme I can go back to London to work. I’d like to work in politics still, and hopefully in the homelessness sector because it’s a really neglected area, but I don’t really have anyone to live with in London now, plus going back would mean sofa surfing again which I know isn’t a good way forward. I’ve been here six months in a rehab but I need to be here several more before I’m eligible for the local connection that would get me into a private house, so I don’t really know what to do.

I still have contact my family and my son. He came here to see me for a couple of days recently. He stays with my brother in the suburbs and is just starting university himself studying film studies. They’re watching me closely to make sure I don’t relapse again.”

Alana, Plymouth.

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