It’s hard to believe it now, but it was only just over two years ago that Sheena reached her lowest point. Her life had come apart and she found herself without a home. For a while she got by sofa surfing but one night she finally ran out of options – and ended up sleeping under a bench in Wythenshawe Park. “I was terrified,” she says. “Every little noise frightened me. I hardly slept at all. I was in a bad place – I was homeless but I couldn’t shake myself up to do something about it. I couldn’t see a way out.”
Sheena still remembers the exact day she got up the strength to take matters into her own hands. “It was the 27th December 2014. I finally went to the town hall to ask for helping finding accommodation. They told me to go to the Booth Centre – but I only had half an hour to get there and I didn’t know how to find it.”
At that moment the course of her life was changed by a simple act of kindness. She asked a couple – about to get in a taxi – for directions. “They put me in their taxi and took me straight to the Booth Centre. When I got there the staff found me somewhere to stay straight away. I wish I’d found out their names because I’d love to thank them for what they did. So I just want to say it now: whoever you are, thank you.”
Although she had now somewhere to live, things were still difficult for her.
“The first place I was in was horrible to be honest. There were women fighting constantly all night, it was noisy, drugs were everywhere. I lived there for seven months. Then I moved to a women’s shared housing project, and that was better. It was much more peaceful there. And I got on really well with the Lesley, the manager. I still keep in touch.”
It was Lesley that told Sheena about Back on Track and how we might be able to help her. After visiting our centre Sheena signed up for several of our courses – she has kept all her certificates and brings them in to proudly show me. The biggest challenge, she says, was the Health and Social Care training course, which included a day a week at The Manchester College.
“It was tough! But it was good. I learned about working with people, not to be judgmental. I also made a lot of friends and I’m still in touch with them. Everyone really helped each other out. At first I was the quiet mouse in the corner. But I really came out of my shell. By the end they were all calling me the gobby one out of the group! I owe so much to Andy and the other staff at Back on Track.”
The training course was a turning point for Sheena. She realised she wanted to help other people who’d been through the same experiences as her. She’s now training to be a peer mentor with the Inspiring Change Manchester programme, which supports people with lived experience of offending, substance misuse, homelessness and mental health problems. In the long term she wants to find paid work supporting people.
“I do need to learn more about supporting offenders because I don’t have any lived experience in that area. I’m fine with all the other stuff, I’ve got plenty of experience with all of that. Been there, worn the t-shirt as they say!”
“It’s tough though,” she says. “So many jobs are zero hours. There aren’t many real jobs around these days. Even real work experience would help me because there’s nothing like learning by doing the real thing.”
How does my life compare to when I first came to Back on Track? There’s no comparison. I’ve come a million miles. I’ve even got a new flat of my own now. It’s in a lovely quiet area – I love it. I know there’s still a long way to go but the difference is now I believe that I’ll get there.”