The below was written by Kerri who we started working with over 20 years ago.
It was in the year 2000 when I was first ‘officially’ allowed into The Connection as a mouthy 16-year-old runaway from foster care. I had tried many times to enter the service beforehand but I was always refused because of my age.
I was already well known to local police and homeless services, because I started rough sleeping when I was 13. So, there was no way I could blag it. Back then, The Connection was for 16-25 year olds only. But I couldn’t wait to get inside the Day Centre.
When I was finally allowed to use the service, I would sit on the doorstep with my friends and wait for the centre to open at 9am. It was like a youth club really.
I remember the building well. There was a massive pool table in the middle of the hall, and staff were always really engaging with us. Upstairs was a computer room where staff would help you look for a job or training. Then in the basement, there was a laundry at the bottom of the stairs. Along the corridor was a music room, which I was never out of! And showers right at the end of the corridor.
I have very fond memories of that place!
Around 2005, the service merged with St. Martin’s in-the Fields next door, which meant the over 25s would use the Day Centre too. I preferred to be with people my own age so I started using the service less.
However, I didn’t stop going completely.
I built healthy relationships with the staff at The Connection, they became people I trusted. I stopped using the service as a client in 2008 when I finally began recovery from addiction at the age of 24.
It feels odd to write about this now because, as I used to say to Shaz, Chris and Caz who worked in the Day Centre, “one day I’ll sort my life out and come and volunteer here”.
I’m 39 now, I have been in recovery for 15 years. For the past 5 years, I’ve been working alongside homeless charities and the Government, sharing my lived experiences to hopefully enable change.
Two years ago I was invited to become a consultant for the Women’s Development Unit, run by Connections and Solace, to support women experiencing homelessness. I was delighted to finally fulfil my vision of one day working with The Connection on a professional level.
The charity did a lot for me in the 11 years I experienced homelessness. They were more than a shower, clean clothes and a meal. I will never forget the love, equality and humanity this service showed me.
Thank you Kerri for offering to write this blog for us, it really brought home the importance of our work. We’re always believed that getting to know people at a pace and setting most comfortable for them is key to recovery from life on the streets. 23 years after Kerri began working with us, we’ve formalised this approach though our Theory of Change.
Discover Kerri’s full story in her book, ‘Gutter to Glory’