A former lorry driver who suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) has been forced to live on the streets in North Devon in order to save up enough money to get back behind the wheel.
Mark Williams, 51 who claims universal credit, is currently homeless on the streets in Barnstaple.
After the loss of loved ones, a serious decline in his mental health and imprisonment, determined Mark says he is gradually trying to stash away the cash in order to get his HGV licence so he can start working again.
He says he is desperate to make a fresh start after his time inside: ”I’m trying to get my act back together and get my HGV so I can start driving lorries again.
”I am using my benefits to save up, meaning I can’t afford to rent anywhere. It’s a catch 22.”
Mark, who used to work for the NHS, has been living on the streets for three years, after a rapid decline in his mental health.
He said: ”I used to work for the in theatres for the NHS, but I have problems with my legs so had to give it up.
”That is when I began driving lorries.”
Mark who enjoyed his line of work took a major hit mentally after the death of two loved ones. His mother sadly passed away back in 2001 from pneumonia.
Years later in 2015, Mark sadly discovered his brother had unexpectedly died.
He said: ”I found myself in a really dark place when he died. I had nowhere to go so ended up sleeping in my mum’s old garage.”
It was at this point he was imprisoned after an injunction was enforced to stop him trespassing. ”I was told I couldn’t sleep there and got an injunction put on me to stop me from returning.
”When I was in front of the judge at the time of being put in prison for the third time around I said ‘Listen, putting me in prison is not the solution.
”I don’t need punishment, what I need is help. I was in a revolving door of going to prison, being let out and back out on the streets.
”That was in 2017 and I have been homeless ever since.”
Although living on the streets is difficult during the best of times, Mark says being homeless during the covid-19 pandemic has made life all that more difficult.
He said: ”The lockdown has shot me in the foot. I would usually go and sit in a cafe or McDonalds.
”I’d buy something, sit down and charge my phone and get out of the cold.”
However, with the restrictions following the second-lockdown this has no longer been possible.
Over a long period of time, Mark has managed to save roughly half of the money needed in order to get his HGV license.
He finishes: ”I’ve got the money to put a deposit down on a rented flat, but by the time I’ve paid bills and rent i’ll be back to square one.”
Natasha Rowland who is Service Lead Housing, Vulnerable Persons and Community Safety, for North Devon Council said: ”Since the initial lock down in March of this year we have offered every rough sleeper some form of accommodation.
”For some this will have been supported housing, for others a private let or equivalent and for others this may have been temporary accommodation.
”When lock down was lifted this offer did not change and still has not changed.
”Unfortunately despite best efforts some of our long term rough sleepers have refused all offers of accommodation.
”Some have received four or five different styles of accommodation offers which would be suited to their needs but for a variety of issues they face within their lives have felt unable to leave the streets.
”Despite this refusal we do not stop working with any rough sleeper and are continually adapting our services to ensure we are providing the best possible service we can.
”In recent years the Outreach team has expanded and as well as including specialist Housing Outreach workers and a Drug and Alcohol specialist, it now includes a full-time Mental Health Nurse, Voluntary Sector support and most recently a Physical Health Nurse
”NDC aims to continue expanding the rough sleeper service, working in both a trauma informed and person centred way, to ensure we are best meeting a client’s needs and are fully equipped to support a client regardless of their need.”
What do you think about the homeless situation where you live in Devon? Have your say in our survey here
Devon Live has launched Hidden Devon, a series of campaigns highlighting issues that lie beneath the surface of our county.
The first concerns the issue of homelessness in the county’s cities, towns and villages – exacerbated by the grim impact of the global pandemic.
Not only do scores of people sleep rough on streets, in parks and even on farmland, there are those labelled ‘of no fixed abode’ for other reasons. They may have fled to a refuge, they may have been temporarily housed in a bed and breakfast or they may simply be living in one of region’s dedicated homeless hostels.
How to give
A big part of our campaign is recognising the institutions across the region that are desperately trying to help those in need. In many instances, they are staffed with volunteers giving up their own free time.
You can donate to various charities including PATH Torbay via this link, the Julian House Christmas Appeal covering Exeter and other parts of Devon via this link, or St Petrocks in Exeter via this link.
Are you a charity that would benefit from our fundraising? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Find more Hidden Devon stories here