Two people whose lives were turned upside down by mental illness and domestic abuse told how Bournemouth Churches Housing Association (BCHA) gave them a roof over their heads this Christmas.
Now Bill and Melissa are appealing for people to support the not-for-profit organisation in 2019 and help more displaced people like them into homes and work.
Bill lived rough and resorted to living in a cave after suffering a nervous breakdown.
Melissa fled a violent relationship with her two children and was sheltered by a BCHA women’s refuge.
But both now have homes and jobs thanks to BCHA and its partner agencies.
Bill said: “I spent six months living in a cave near Margate in Kent. I made a home out of it – building a wardrobe and shower – but someone complained and the council evicted me.
“I decided to walk the coastline of Britain and arrived in Bournemouth two and half months later, quite poorly, with barely a penny. I was at a pretty low point.”
The 60-year-old, former publican was sleeping rough in Alum Chine when BCHA’s Street Services team made contact and found him a place in its supported housing premises Hannah House.
“I later moved into one of their studio flats with the help of a support worker,” said Bill.
“It was a steady process, at my own speed because I had been living rough for a long time. And for the first time in many years I knew there was someone there when I needed them.”
Bill was also helped by the Big Issue Foundation and went on to sell the magazine in Bournemouth Triangle for six years before being approached by Southbourne Ales to be a Brewery Tour Guide.
He now has a council flat in Charminster and supports himself financially, claiming no benefits.
He said: “If it wasn’t for the help I received from BCHA and other organisations, I don’t know what would have happened to me.
“People might have looked at me back then and just seen a helpless, homeless man. But with help I was able to get back on my feet, secure a home and work.
“I hope people will be inspired by my story to come forward and help others.”
Melissa fled to a BCHA’s women’s refuge in 2014 and began to piece her life back together. She said: “All my life I had been told how to feel, behave, speak and live – but thanks to the refuge I found the courage to decide how the rest of my life would go.”
Melissa started counselling and settled her children into school. She was put forward for a course called Pattern Changing, highlighting the impact of abusive relationships.
She said: “I wanted my kids to be proud of their mum, and I wanted to teach them to never give up.
“Today, I am a self-employed nail technician. I run my own company and have built up a strong clientele.”
She added: “The BCHA refuge saved me and I have never looked back.“I would encourage anyone who can help BCHA, whether by donating, fundraising or volunteering to do so.
“You don’t have to give a lot of time or money. But I’m living proof of what your help can do.”
BCHA was formed 50 years ago and helps homeless and vulnerable people off the streets, out of abuse, over skill barriers and onto independent living through its general housing, supported housing and employability services.
Stacey Northover, the organisation’s Assistant Director of Housing and Customer Experience, said: “Bill’s and Melissa’s stories are just some of the many positive outcomes BCHA and its partner agencies are achieving every year. But increased demand coupled with shrinking budgets means public support is becoming even more vital to us.
“Anyone who would like to make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable people in 2019 and beyond is asked to contact us and join us in transforming hopelessness into hope.”
To find out how you can get involved please telephone: 01202 410500 or email: Fundraising@bcha.org.uk
Media information: Debbie Granville at Deep South Media on 07884 657782 email: Debbie.email@example.com