Wayne’s story: Breaking free from homelessness and substance abuse

Finally free from the alcohol and drugs that have darkened his life for over 20 years, one former rough sleeper from Wigan is now looking ahead to a brighter future

Wayne Mercer was in his twenties when he began taking drugs, and by 26 he was slowly spiralling into a heroin addiction which blighted his life for several years until he got clean.

But his drug addiction was replaced with alcohol, and until recently he was drinking every day to function.

“I was a heroin addict for seven years, I beat that and have been drug-free for 15 years. But then I started drinking more heavily to compensate the drugs and was slowly killing myself off,” admits Wayne, originally from Wigan.

“I was 26 when I began drinking every day and have done for the past 20 years. I was drinking to feel normal as it was my medicine to function.

“I was waking up in the morning suffering from withdrawal symptoms from the alcohol I had drunk the night before, so I needed to have a drink to feel normal. It was a vicious cycle and that was my life, drinking every day – there was nothing else to do.”

Wayne found himself homeless after a relationship breakdown and slept rough for several months before coming to finding The Stages Academy last year. Run by housing association Riverside, the academy provides safe and supportive accommodation for people aged 16 to 65 who are homeless or at risk of homelessness with support needs across Teesside.

“Before I came to The Stages Academy I had wanted to change my lifestyle, but my partner also drank so it was difficult to give up,” says 47-year-old Wayne

“We split up 18 months ago, and that’s when I began sofa-surfing and sleeping rough on the streets for several months.

“Then I came to The Stages Academy, and that’s when I wanted to do something and started the journey to beat my alcohol addiction.”

When the first lockdown came in March, however, Wayne’s detox programme at a clinic was postponed, and it wasn’t until August when he was able to do the course.

“I see my friends drinking in the pub and it doesn’t bother me anymore, I don’t want a drink one bit”

“He was a little disappointed when his detox programme was delayed,” says Karen Wilson, his support worker at The Stages Academy. “But we supported and encouraged him to stay positive, and continued to engage with his treatment provider to make it happen.

“We encouraged Wayne to get involved in events at a social distance that were held at the scheme during lockdown to keep him occupied such as quizzes, word searches, and helped him keep in contact with his treatment worker via phone contact.

“Once things got back to a bit of normality in the summer months we liaised with his treatment worker and things were put in place for Wayne to go to Liverpool to do his detox.”

Wayne was at the clinic for 10 days then returned to The Stages Academy. Now, he is taking one day at a time.

He says: “I‘ve not had a drink since returning to The Stages, which is a good thing. Now I can afford nice things, and I have money in my pocket. I’m more positive about the future and continue to have the support from staff.

“I see my friends drinking in the pub and it doesn’t bother me anymore, I don’t want a drink one bit. I’ve changed my life for the better and looking to the future, I want to start working again. I use to work in demolition before the drink got hold of me.

“The next step is for me to get my own home which I’m doing with the help of my support worker. I can then look at studying for my CSCS card which will allow me to work on building sites.”

Wayne has found comfort in fishing, finding it helps him to relax. “Staff provide me with the bait to fish,” he says. “I really enjoy it as it gives me solitude and peace.

“I’m taking one day at a time and very much in recovery. I would like to thank The Stages Academy staff for helping me change my life as well as being there every step of the way, giving me the encouragement not to give up.”

Today, Wayne is thankful that he is now at the start of his recovery journey and has the opportunity to restart his life.

Karen adds: “We’re really pleased with Wayne’s progress, he’s doing really well on his recovery journey.

“We are in daily contact with Wayne and encourage him with his sobriety. He is now ready to move on in to independent living and we’re helping him look for a home of his own.”

Riverside is one of the largest providers of homelessness services in the country, and its Care and Support operation works with over 16,000 customers every year.

Read next: Housing Diversity Stories / Steven McIntyre / Stonewall Housing

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