Mental Health Awareness Week: Finding shelter from the perfect storm

WITH admirable courage and honesty, Paul Roxy speaks about the times when he was at rock bottom. Caught in a downward spiral of drug use, he slept under a bridge on the streets of Middlesbrough and was gripped by a sense of hopelessness.

“It’s really scary,” he says. “I was cold and lonely, I had no one to turn to. There were times I thought the only way out was suicide, but I never had the bottle.”

Today, Paul, 51, is in a “better place” thanks to the support he has received from Diane Eddison, who works for North Star Housing as the service coordinator for the predatory sleeper housing program.

The Northern Echo: Paul Roxby during one of his regular meetings with Diane EddisonPaul Roxby during one of his regular meetings with Diane Eddison (Image: Peter Barron)

“I absolutely love Diane — she’s always there for me,” says Paul. “I honestly don’t know where I would be without the help of her and North Star.”

Diane has seen mental health issues “explode” due to the isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – along with drug and alcohol problems and domestic violence – which was immediately followed by a cost of living crisis.

“I don’t know how it could get any worse for people – we had the perfect storm,” she says.

Paul is one of many who needed help in the Northeast. Growing up in the deprived Thorntree area of ​​Middlesbrough, he has spent most of his life working on the factory production lines. But by the age of 21, he developed an addiction to drugs – cocaine and amphetamines – and his life fell apart.

“There was never any stability – the jobs I’ve had have always been temporary, through agencies,” he explains. “I ended up staying in hostels or sofa surfing and then on the streets for about a week. I was at rock bottom then.”

Luckily, a homeless organization referred him to North Star. That was 18 months ago and Paul describes it as “the best thing that could have happened”.

This came at a time when Diane, who had previously worked for a charity supporting young parents and children in Darlington, had just moved to North Star in a newly created role funded by Homes England.

When she first started, Diane introduced herself to members of Middlesbrough Borough Council’s ‘Rough Sleepers’ team, who go out at dawn to meet the sleepers on the city’s streets and help them find support.

“It’s how we identify the most vulnerable individuals,” explains Diane. “There are some people out there who don’t want to move into a house because their friends are on the street, but we’re doing our best.”

Paul was given secure accommodation in a two-bedroom ‘assisted living’ home in Linthorpe – one of six clean and well-appointed accommodations North Star is making available to the predatory sleeper programme.

With North Star paying an administration fee of £90 and Citizens Advice helping with the paperwork, Diane successfully applied for debt relief to write off Paul’s £15,000 debt. Additional support came in the form of food and energy vouchers provided through North Star’s hardship fund.

North Star also supported Paul through a computer training course that improved his chances of finding a job and making the transition to independent living.

“Everything they’ve done for me has lifted my spirits – it’s made a tremendous difference to my mental health. I will always be grateful,” he says.

The Northern Echo: Paul Roxby receives his diploma from former Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston after passing his IT coursePaul Roxby receives his diploma from former Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston after passing his IT course

“I just think I was unlucky when I was young – but then I got lucky with Dianne. The challenge now is to find a more stable job because I want to work so I can secure a decent future.”

Diane supports Paul five hours a week. She calls him three times a week and visits his home once a week. Although his father passed away, he now sees his mother frequently as well.

“Paul has had a really tough time, but he’s very open about his problems,” she says. “He has committed to things he regrets and is struggling with his mental health, but he has a real spark now and is keen to work. He’s not going to give up – he just needs a break because he’s great.”

Yet Diane concedes that Paul is in a “Catch 22” situation because he has Universal Credit and if he starts working it will affect his housing benefit.

Helping troubled people is just one aspect of North Star’s diverse work. In addition, the non-profit housing association offers assisted living for vulnerable young people, the elderly and women and children who have become victims of domestic violence.

The subsidized housing contract has a term of up to two years. The goal is to stabilize tenants’ lives and pay off their debts so they can transition to independent living and free up the accommodation for someone else.

And mental health is a top priority in every aspect of North Star’s business.

“When we see renters, no matter where they are, we always pay attention to their mental health,” says Diane. “If they don’t seek services we can refer them, take them to the hospital or their GP, but there is a great need for crisis support and waiting lists for consultations are growing all the time.

“We’re a pillar to lean on, but it puts a strain on the staff because we just can’t be there 24/7. Government living expenses are giving people a little hope, but we still see people committing suicide because they don’t know how to go about it. We give out emergency numbers, but when you go home you worry about it and it affects your mental health.”

Despite this pressure, Diane loves her job because she knows it can make a difference in the lives of people like Paul.

“I am proud to work for North Star because everyone is so committed to helping those who need it. I’ve had renters cry because they couldn’t believe someone would give them a chance to rebuild their lives. These are dark times, but if I can put a smile on someone’s face, it’s all worth it.”

In fact, just the mention of Diane’s name is enough to make Paul Roxby smile because it gave him hope when he couldn’t see one not too long ago.

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After having friends who “tipped over the edge” and killed themselves in recent years, he now wants to use his experience to support others as an advocate for North Star’s rough sleepers.

“I’d love to do that, because everyone needs a little help sometimes, don’t they?” he says.

  • Next week, as Mental Health Awareness Week continues, learn how North Star Housing supports the mental health of its employees.
  • For more information on North Star Housing support services visit: Mental Health Awareness Week: Finding shelter from the perfect storm

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