Father-of-two Kevin Scanlon, 51, from Ely, served his country in the Army and ended up homeless. But Willow Walk helped him get his life back on track… and he even ended up managing the scheme to help other homeless people rebuild their lives. He tells his story….
“I was born in London and grew up there until I was 10. There was violence in my family and one night me and my mum fled to my grandparents’ in South Shields, Tyneside, then on to a women’s refuge and stayed there until we were rehoused.
I joined the Army and served for nine years. When I left in 1992 and had bouts of sofa surfing, with brief spells of rough sleeping. I had nowhere to go – I was in and out of dead-end jobs and one failed relationship after another.
In 1999 I got a great job, but a year later I was made redundant. I found myself homeless again and decided to go to Cambridge as I had family there. I sofa surfed and tried to get a job but found it very difficult without a permanent address. As my situation deteriorated, I drank more, and I overstayed my welcome with family. I slept rough. It wasn’t that difficult; after all I spent years in the Army.
What was difficult was the isolation, and the way people looked down their nose at me as if I was worthless. It was depressing and demoralising. I did use alcohol and drugs. At the time they seemed to help but in reality they made the situation worse.
While using the facilities at a day centre for the homeless I was put in touch with an outreach worker who referred me to Willow Walk. It wasn’t the Ritz, but it was better than sleeping rough. After four months I moved into a house and enrolled on to a programme to gain qualifications and get back in to work. I began volunteering at Willow Walk and became a Support Worker. Then, a year later, I left and joined a street outreach team helping rough sleepers, where I met my wife Lisa.
In 2009 I returned to Willow Walk as manager, then worked my way up to Area Manager for Cambridge. I left Riverside in 2015 to work with Cambridge Housing Society where I am now.
While I haven’t walked in the shoes of everyone helped by Willow Walk, I’ve had some of the same experiences, and Willow Walk will always have a special place in my heart. It was there for me when I was at rock bottom and in developing my career. I would say to anyone who finds themselves homeless that there are people and places like Willow Walk to get help and change your situation. But only you can make the change and only you can make the choice to do it.
I look forward to seeing the new-look Willow Walk and supporting the positive work it has done and continues to do in the future.”