A man released from prison during the Covid lockdown says being housed in a holiday park and being offered support has led him to turn his life around.
Roger, not his real name, 58, had been homeless for 20 years, with much of that spent sleeping rough or in prison.
Having been a “full-blown alcoholic” from the age of 21, since July he has been sober and in his own flat.
When the pandemic started, local authorities were told to get rough sleepers off the streets immediately.
When Roger’s short prison sentence, one of many he has served, came to an end earlier in the year he was taken by prison van to the probation office and transferred to a holiday park in Cornwall.
“I didn’t know I was going to Monkey Tree and only found out from my probation officer when I was released, and then I was put in a taxi and went to the site,” he said.
The taxi was provided by Cornwall Housing, which had rented 45 caravans at the Monkey Tree Holiday Park, near Newquay, to accommodate rough sleepers during lockdown.
“When I arrived my housing worker was already there so that was a huge relief as I knew he would help me get my benefits, medication and paperwork in order,” Roger said.
Having come straight from prison he had no spare clothes or money.
Staff helped him set up a mobile phone and arranged for medication to be sent to a local chemist where it could be collected for him.
Meals and essential items like toiletries were supplied by donations, many from the DISC charity in Newquay.
Many of the residents had drug and alcohol addictions, and Roger was among them.
He was once married and had his own business, but said “alcohol took over my life” and admitted the dependency had made him a difficult person to support.
“I was homeless in London around Marble Arch and all the main sites, the south coast, and then Cornwall for the last 15 years or so,” he said.
“I’ve lived in tents, on the streets, in car parks and in squats.”
People were gathered from across the South West, and many had complex needs with existing mental and physical health conditions.
There were some challenges on the site, and the police were called out more than a dozen times to deal with domestic disputes, allegations of burglary, thefts and anti-social behaviour.
Despite these difficulties, Cornwall Housing, said all the remaining residents had been found suitable longer-term accommodation.
At one stage Roger was “led astray” by others on the park, and he had “relapsed on alcohol and things did spiral for a while”, but “with staff support I got back on track”.
A spokesman for Cornwall Housing said Roger then “focussed on his sobriety and moving on”.
On 3 July, lockdown restrictions were relaxed, and the holiday park opened to the public.
Roger was moved into a flat, which was arranged by staff through Cornwall Housing. He still lives there and has also been sober since.
“Everybody has been so very kind and sincere and have helped me to turn my life around, in a positive way,” he said.
“I can honestly say this, I am home at last and have been given my life back.
“I am finally living not existing and at long last finally taking responsibility for myself and not running away from life’s problems.”