“I have a recurring nightmare that I’m still sleeping out
on the streets. I wake up expecting to find myself huddled in my old sleeping bag
looking out on the bus stop, with the bright lights in my face. But instead I’m
in my own bed, in my own flat. It seems unreal.”
Former rough sleeper Aldivinas Tijunaitis has come a long
way since he was helped off the streets by homeless charity Thames Reach’s
London Street Rescue team.
He is now working full time for Hackney Council, has his
own flat and has completely given up the heavy drinking habit that was a significant
part of the reason that he ended up sleeping rough in east London for nearly
Aldivinas’ weathered face hints at the hardship this
mild-mannered Lithuanian man has endured since his arrival in the UK in 2007. For
12 years Aldivinas served in the Soviet and Lithuanian army, spending much of
that time playing the French horn as a military musician.
After serving in the military, he worked as a window
fitter in his home country. For a while the money and work was good, but his
drinking started to become heavier and the gradual adjustment from military
life to living and working in the outside world proved difficult.
“Eventually the work dried up. I was drinking more and
more to try and forget the day and so I didn’t have worry about the next one. I
separated from my wife because I was drinking so much.”
After a friend contacted him and told him about the
plentiful opportunities to work in the UK, Aldivinas agreed to come over and
live and work with his friend in Norwich.
“At first it was good. I had a driving job, and then
worked on a large building site in the city. I was earning good money and I
enjoyed Norwich. But after the building work finished I couldn’t get anything.
I moved around and found the odd job, but it was usually casual labour and cash
in hand. Then I worked for one week for someone and when I asked for my pay
they threatened me with violence. This happened again in another city and I was
left with nothing.”
In 2009 Aldivinas
arrived in London. By this point he was addicted to devastating super-strength
lagers and ciders, drinking all day, every day.
“I was staying in a rented room in Barking with other
Lithuanian men. Most of us would drink and work the odd job here and there.
I’ve never been afraid of hard work and I enjoy working, but when there was no
work, I used to get bored easily and would drink.”
Unable to pay the rent, Aldivinas felt he had run out of
options. In June 2010 he took to sleeping rough in and around borough of
Redbridge on the outskirts of London.
“I’d given up. My day revolved around scraping enough
money together to get alcohol then finding somewhere quiet to sleep. All I
remember is how exhausted I felt all of the time. I became very ill during the
freezing winter when it snowed heavily. It was so cold.”
Aldivinas admits that he would probably be dead if it
hadn’t been for Thames Reach’s London Street Rescue team finding him and
helping him off the streets and into accommodation.
“By the time I was helped off the streets I was very ill
and I really didn’t know what was happening any more. The staff from London
Street Rescue saved my life.”
After he had been helped off the streets, the Street
Rescue staff asked Aldivinas what he wanted to do. Aldivinas expressed a desire
to find accommodation and work in the UK so the team referred him to Thames
Reach’s new Employment First project, a scheme set up to help to formerly
homeless Central and Eastern European nationals find work in the UK.
Lydia Haritonova, who works for the Employment First team,
helped Aldivinas get the relevant work documents together, including a national
insurance card and assisted him in writing a new CV before helping him look for
the horror of being on the streets, Aldivinas was determined to make a real go
of things this time around.
“After all I had been through and despite all my problems
Thames Reach never gave up on me. From the day I was helped off the streets, I
stopped drinking completely and have remained sober since that day.
“Lydia and the staff at Thames Reach showed faith in me.
They believed in me. I wanted to repay that faith by working hard, cutting out
the alcohol and getting back into work.”
Thames Reach was able to help Aldivinas with a deposit
for a flat. He was then able to claim housing benefit and focus on finding work
Supported by Lydia, he eventually found a new, fulltime
job working for Hackney Council in the recycling department.
He now spends his spare time going shopping, sightseeing
in London, reading in coffee shops and visiting his local church. He has also
enrolled in English classes in an effort to improve his English and has just
started learning how to use a computer. All these things help him to focus on
staying sober and getting his life back on track. He is back in contact with
his wife and is planning a holiday to Lithuania to visit his grown up children
Lydia said: “Aldivinas has always been easy to work with
and we’re so happy that at his success since he came off the streets. He was
always punctual, kept to his appointments and really wanted to get back into
work in the UK. For projects such as Employment First to succeed, there has to
be a strong commitment from the client and Aldivinas is a shining example of
what can be achieved.”
Summarising how his life has changed so dramatically, Aldivinas
explains how lucky he feels:
“I don’t know if it’s possible to be scared in a good
way, but that is how I feel. I don’t want to lose my new life. I’m enjoying