Jamie moved to Blarney from the city when he was eleven years old. He moved in next door to his cousin, who he called his best friend. He also lived close to his grandparents’ house but at the time he lived with his mother and his mother’s partner.
His mother’s partner did not get on well with Jamie, often being violent towards him, which resulted in Jamie spending a lot of his time with his grandmother, who he was so fond of.
Jamie’s grandfather passed away the year before Jamie turned eighteen. Shortly after Jamie turned eighteen, his grandmother passed away the following February. Two weeks before Christmas that year, Jamie’s mother brought a barring order against Jamie on behalf of her partner, forcing him out of the house that he lived in from the age of eleven.
“I didn’t know what to do, it was my first time being homeless. Before I lived with my nan, I lived with my boxing trainer, but I was on my own this time.”
Jamie packed up his belongings and left home with just three items; his boxing shorts, a skipping rope, and a box of protein.
“Don’t tell me why I thought it would be a good idea to bring a box of protein with me,” he said jokingly.
Jamie rang the Simon Community who helped him when he first became homeless. Upon arrival, he found himself surrounded by people who were dealing with heavy substance abuse issues, which led to quite hostile conditions.
“It did not matter if you were a man or a woman, young or old, you would have a confrontation with someone every day.”
The stress brought on by such an environment, along with these unavoidable clashes with other service users, led to Jamie developing post-traumatic stress disorder.
Jamie left the Simon Community shortly after developing PTSD and arrived at St. Vincent de Paul’s. He spent six months there, and was able to resume his boxing training and practiced every day. But an environment free from alcohol and illicit substances was hard to avoid, and it followed Jamie to his St. Vincent’s residence.
“I was so hurt from what my mother had done to me, and when I say I was on my own, I mean it; I was on my own. The only ‘friends’ I had were drug friends, and they were only around as long as the drugs were around.”
During the six months he spent in St. Vincent de Paul, curiosity had finally gotten the better of Jamie. From the age of seventeen, Jamie had developed a dependence on benzodiazepine, commonly known as ‘benzos;’ a class of drugs used to treat anxiety and stress. But while in St. Vincents, Jamie tried heroin for the first time. Things quickly went downhill for Jamie from then on.
During the height of his addiction, Jamie was living rough on the streets and did so for eight months. During this time, he slept in emergency accommodation offered by the Simon Community. One night, Jamie witnessed another man place forty euro into the back cover of his phone. He left it to charge unattended but before he returned, Jamie and a friend of his took the money from the phone and left.
“This was the height of my addiction. I didn’t even think of the phone, I left it there. I only wanted the money. I took the cash and ran.”
Jamie could afford two bags of heroin with the forty euro he had now acquired. Quickly after consuming them, Jamie overdosed.
He woke up afterward in the Mercy Hospital. The experience of it all, in addition to his feelings of loneliness, had a harsh impact on Jamie’s mental wellbeing. He was brought to CUH’s mental health unit, known by patients as GF due to its location on the ground floor, where Jamie stayed for a month.
At this point, Jamie had stopped boxing training, and his weight had dropped dramatically to only eight stone.
“I was a shadow of myself. Nobody in my family was talking to me. No one wanted anything to do with me. I was back sleeping in doorways and cubbyholes. One night I was so out of it that I woke up the next morning and my shoes had been stolen. That was one thing I had to learn on the streets; you had to use your shoes as pillows to keep them safe.”
While sleeping rough, Jamie had been stepped on, stamped on, stolen from, and urinated on.
“I didn’t want to live anymore. I couldn’t see anything getting better for me in any way so I bought a bag, and I bought another bag, and I overdosed straight away. This time it was intentional, but I woke up the next morning to the sound of a nurse telling me to leave the hospital.”
And he did. Jamie left the hospital and returned to living on the streets. Sleeping rough took its toll on Jamie. It wasn’t the cold at night that was the worst part, but the hardness of the concrete floor. He would frequently wake up with fresh bruises, constantly black and blue from the surface, but his body soon became conditioned to it as did Jamie himself, who began to consider these conditions normal living for eight whole months.
His living conditions were disrupted, however, when Jamie ended up going to jail. Jamie went from sleeping on hard concrete to living in a heated cell, with access to a gym, television, and warm meals on a daily basis. He developed a routine and attended school every day while there.
“I was more afraid of leaving jail knowing what I was coming back to than I was at the idea of originally going to jail in the first place.”
The day before leaving jail, he was told that there was a bed waiting for him with the Simon Community. Once Jamie had left jail, he relapsed almost instantly. But from this experience, Jamie realised that going to jail once was enough for him to try and make a positive change- and that he did.
“I got my act together and I finally got clean.”
Jamie was living in a shelter for three months, and even in an environment that led him towards drugs in the first place, he was able to stay clean despite the people and the activity surrounding him. Jamie was told that if he stayed clean, he would be offered an interview for Gateway, a high-support house part of the Simon Community’s addiction support services.
He was accepted into Gateway three years ago and currently lives there today. He has been clean from heroin for two years and three months. He is surrounded by an incredible support network that has enabled him to stay clean and progress in his life.
In his free time, Jamie likes to hang out with his girlfriend who he says has been so wonderful to him throughout everything. He also gets great usage out of the PlayStation in his room, nicknamed “the penthouse” by the other residents.
Jamie goes to college Monday to Friday to study sports and recreation. He hopes that doing this will allow him to study social care in the future.
“If I’m able to change just one young fella’s life, then I would be happy with the remainder of mine.”
Jamie’s story is an important one, but unfortunately, it is one of many. There are approximately 8,700 people presently experiencing homelessness in Ireland. That is 8,700 individual stories that you will never hear.
Help those that need it the most.
Donate at: https://www.corksimon.ie/appeal/donate
Get Involved: https://www.corksimon.ie/Pages/Category/volunteer