Local man, 23, saved by ‘street angels’ after months sleeping rough

He first became homeless at 17 after a shocking revelation about his real mother
By Victoria Munro

Tyrone and his beloved dog Bella (credit: Penny Dampier)
Tyrone and his beloved dog Bella (credit: Penny Dampier)

After months sleeping rough behind Walthamstow’s Feel Good Centre, a local 23-year-old and his beloved dog finally have a roof over their heads.

Tyrone* grew up in the borough and first became homeless at 17, running away from home after learning that his dead sister was actually his mother.

In the six years since, he has bounced from place to place around the south of England but always returned to the borough he knows best.

Now, Street Angels UK – an outreach service started by a local mum – is helping him restart his life and secure a stable home.

Tyrone told the Echo: “Being homeless, you don’t know what people will think of you. I didn’t want people to think I do drugs or that I’m a drug dealer and I didn’t want people to define me by my situation.

“For anyone out there who’s homeless, I’d say: try to find something that keeps you connected to the world. For me, it’s my mum.

“When she died, so many people showed up to her funeral because she used to help them. I live my life based on what she would have wanted me to be.”

Tyrone’s mum died when he was only a year old but, until he was 16, he was told she was his sister and that his grandparents were his mum and dad.

While he had been a “bit rogue” as a younger teen, especially growing up in Leyton’s Oliver Road where “all the fights and dramas started”, finding out the truth sent him into a spiral.

He said: “I started retaliating. I was hanging around with the wrong crowd of people and falling asleep in lessons. I didn’t even take my GCSE exams.

“I had been smoking [weed] and drinking before then but more for a joke. After that I started doing it harder and ended up addicted for a long time, although now I’ve been clean for 11 months.

“It was a bit too much for my [grand]parents because I was not the nicest of kids, I was angry and confused. It took me a long time to become the respectful man I am today.”

Tyrone spent two years in Suffolk staying with a friend and working four jobs a day but ended up homeless again after the pair fell out. Struggling with the lack of “trust and loyalty” in his life, he bought a German Shepherd – Bella – who remains his constant companion.

Bella (credit: Penny Dampier)

He said: “Having her pushed me forward because I knew my life was not just about me. [After that] I moved back to London because I didn’t want to be homeless in an area I didn’t know well, London is the only place I feel safe.”

However, he was quickly picked up by charity St Mungo’s, who moved him into supported living accommodation in Birmingham.

Tyrone said: “I picked up boxing, which was the start of me becoming a better man. My mum was a fighter – she came second in a karate championship in Wales – so I think there’s a fighter mentality in my blood.

“I was in Birmingham for two years but there was a lot of gang violence, someone even tried to stab me. He had mental health problems and Bella went for him. I ended up on bail for six months and they took her away for a while.

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“I ended up slipping back into smoking and drinking because, even when I saw growth in myself, there was always that darkness in me that said I didn’t deserve to be good because of what I did in the past.”

Tyrone was offered a council flat in Birmingham but turned it down to go live with his birth father in Kettering after the pair reconnected. Unfortunately, this ended up being “the worst thing” to happen to him.

He said: “I expected him to push me forward and teach me everything he knew, like a dad would, but we had no real connection and we never did.

“He didn’t like me cooking so I just ate microwave meals and I lost so much weight, I lost myself even. Eventually, he decided he didn’t want me in his life.

“Seeing how he was at age 63 made me decide to quit weed, I didn’t want to end up old and alone like him. He never made up for the mistakes he made like I’m trying to do now.”

At the age of 22, Tyrone started his most recent stint sleeping rough in Waltham Forest, returning to his familiar spot outside the leisure centre.

He said: “The people working at the Feel Good Centre are very nice and always let me sleep there. I used to swim there really early in the morning when I was a kid and my nan would sleep in her car so I guess I kind of repaid her for that.

“I knew I needed to do something with my time so I started playing basketball on the courts in Lloyd’s Park. The younger people are very open-minded about who they let play.

“I don’t want those kids to make the same mistakes I have so, as soon as they step on that court, I consider them my responsibility. If there’s an argument, I’ll step in between them.”

It was after months of seeing him in the park that someone tipped off Street Angels UK, an organisation which has spent four years supporting homeless people with donations from the community.

Anthea Joannou explained the project started after her friend bulk-ordered tracksuits to put his barbershop’s logo on, only to find they were not suitable.

She told the Echo: “I suggested we give them to the homeless and we ended up taking food and doing haircuts as well. I thought I couldn’t do that as a one-off because it would feel like teasing people.

“I was also frustrated that all the big organisations weren’t really doing the work. I used to donate to one of them until I needed their service myself and they just gave me advice I already knew. If I donate, I want it to be spent helping someone, not paying someone to give advice.”

Street Angels UK connected Tyrone to a housing charity, who moved him into temporary accommodation last month. With donations from the community, they were able to provide everything his new home needed.

Tyrone said: “If it weren’t for Anthea, I would have no plates, no cutlery, no duvet. There’s never been anyone as nice as her before.

“She had to be persistent with me at first because I didn’t want to take anything. I’ve got an old-school mentality so I don’t like people taking care of me, I’d rather provide for other people.

“In the future, I want to become a businessman so I can help the people who’ve helped me.”

Find out more about Street Angels UK on their Facebook here. See more of Penny Dampier’s photography on her website.

*not his real name

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