No one can take steps for others on the hard road of recovery

My daughter and I have just got back from WLM’s Sleep Out held last night in the grounds of St James’ Church, Piccadilly.

It was an uplifting evening. 82 supporters gave up their bed for the night to sleep out and (so far) we have raised £35,000 for our work to bring rough sleepers in from the cold.

A platform for change

Michael was one of our formerly homeless clients who spoke to everyone last night at the start of the evening. He talked about how WLM gave homeless people ‘a platform to help people like him come off the streets’.

A platform to help. It’s a good phrase to describe our work.

Charities like WLM provide support, stability, consistency and resources for people in need. And these are vital ingredients that help homeless people make the steps they need to make.

But it’s wrong to think that any person or agency can sort someone else out. No one can take the steps of change on behalf of someone else – there is always a journey that is needed to be taken by the individual concerned. However much social injustice has led to someone’s homelessness, their steps of transformation will always be irreducibly personal.

Sad and sobering

As I left the church this morning after the sleep out, I got chatting with a homeless man who asked me for change as I walked along Piccadilly to the tube.  As we spoke, I thought I recognised him and we worked out that he had lived in the emergency shelter I managed back in 1999/2000 when I worked for the youth homeless charity Centrepoint.

Eighteen years later and he was still on the street.

We shared the names of many other residents we both remembered from that hostel. It was sad and sobering to realise how many had since died, almost all due to addictions.  As I traveled home it was a sad reminder of the stark reality of street life.

Hard road of recovery

This week at WLM’s centre for rough sleepers on Seymour Place, my friend Chris Ward came to speak to the Spirituality Group which meets every Tuesday lunchtime.  I have known Chris for around 6 years since we met at the Greenbelt festival (see this post for more). Later we would go on to co-write a booklet ‘Homelessness: grace, truth and transformation’ together.

Chris was on the streets for over 3 years and almost died due to his addictions to drugs and alcohol.  He spoke powerfully about the hard road of recovery that he has gone on since his days on the street.

Over the last year, Chris has been in intensive therapy after finally getting a proper diagnosis for his mental health issues. Through having good quality support, he has found the resources and courage to face up the reality of what he has been through and the trauma that he suffered when young. Importantly, it has also helped him be honest about the pain he has caused to others too. I am so proud of the progress he has made.

Grace to embrace truth

Belief in God and direct spiritual experiences have been at the core of Chris’ recovery journey. Instead of being an escape from reality, faith has helped him engage with reality and to be truly honest with himself. Grace has enabled him to accept truth.

Chris spoke with a power and directness that only addicts can. He challenged everyone to be honest and take the steps that only they could take. And he inspired us with stories and pictures from his recent pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Portugal and Spain.  His talk was a great example of how pilgrimage is both an outward, physical journey but also an inward, spiritual one.

Hope and reality

Chris and Michael’s stories are ones of hope. They have both been able to use the platforms available to walk the hard road of recovery. But we need to be real about the damage that homelessness, addictions and trauma have on people and lose any romantic notions we may have about homelessness.

Its never too late for someone to change and to turn their life around. And, whilst we cannot change anyone else, we can be resolute to be there for those in need, offering the platform and the opportunity for change.


You can listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Beyond Belief’ on Begging, featuring myself and Chris Ward. (Chris’s section is at 12.42)

7 thoughts on “No one can take steps for others on the hard road of recovery”

  1. Reblogged this on Just Reflections and commented:
    I wrote in my last blog how I didn’t have the time to write a post for World Homeless Day or World Mental Health Day but I have just read this by Jon Kuhrt – one of my social justice heroes – which covers both those topics.

    “Grace has enabled him to accept truth”


  2. Great post, Jon. Totally matches my experience at Hope Housing with people made homeless in Bradford. There is nothing romantic about the roads into or out of homelessness.


  3. With regard to addiction & withdrawal/detox, with the best will in the world & all the love you can lay at someones door the question of getting clean & staying that way only ever works, ever, is when the afflicted person decides that enoygh is enough & consequently takes responsibility for his/her wellbeing. I have seen countless people get free of their demons only to fail because they do not have the strength or purpose to keep on the back of that devil. This is the reasin that self-awareness is so crucial in getting well. An addict can promise carers, partners,parents & themselves that they are done with it & are turning over a new leaf but it is all to no avail when the belief is misplaced. It takes incredible strength of character to follow thru on cleanibg up. It is well known the physical pains are nothing compared with the psychological barriers that have to be surmounted. I truly believe anybody wanting to help a sufferer will find their biggest obstacle is guaging when the person is ready & is honest enough & sees no true alternative to just dying a pointless & painful death to give themselves the strength needed to overcome their demons. I know this is true because i was addicted for many years & tried countless times to stop. Always i would get so far then fail again- that in itself is so soul destroying that you don’t get many chances before you are lost forever. I was lucky in that i had responsibilities i was not prepared to give up & i had a belief in another power. Had it not been fir those things strengthening my hand i woukd be dead now. So help the sufferer,support them where you can but insist that only they themselves have the tools to do the job. 98% effort is as useless as no effort at all. Until they can kneel before the power of the poison that is killing them they will never free themselves of its chains.
    The insane thing is it is not a diffecult concept to take on board. In fact its so obvious that the majority do not heed it &hence never get free.


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