‘I was sleeping rough in Brooke Park at 15 but still going to school’

Patrick Bell from Creggan with Sandra Duffy, Manager First Housing Homelessness Service.

Patrick Bell from Creggan with Sandra Duffy, Manager First Housing Homelessness Service.

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A Derry man has spoken of how his life has changed dramatically from being a homeless teenager to working towards his ambition to help other young people.

Patrick Bell from Creggan is currently undertaking a HND in Health and Social Care at the North West Regional College, and hopes to work with other young people in a similar position to that he found himself a decade ago.

Patrick (26) said the support he has received from First Housing has been life changing.

He said he became homeless due to a breakdown in relations at home and admits he was “hard work” himself at the time. “There was a period where I had to go between friends, and then there was a period where I would have slept in Brooke Park. I was 15. It was cold, it was winter. That was the last straw.

“I slept there at night, ran about with friends during the day. I was still at school at Carnhill, I was at school until I was 18.”

Patrick said he didn’t tell anyone at the time that he was sleeping rough and pride prevented him for repeatedly asking people for help.

Social Services became aware of Patrick’s case and tasked First Housing Youth Support Team to engage with him. He was accommodated at Strand Foyer, and later transferred to another supported living facility in the city centre, run by First Housing.

From here he moved to a flat in the Bogside, but was forced to flee a year later after being subjected to intimidation due to his sexuality.

At risk of becoming homeless again, last year Patrick secured a flat at Ballymagowan in Creggan. He says he feels like he now has a proper home.“I’ll never move out of that flat now,” he said.

Patrick describes Sandra Duffy, Manager of First Housing’s Homelessness Service, as his “rock” over the past decade.

Speaking about Patrick, Sandra said: “Throughout all that period of being unsettled he maintained going to school, he got his A-Levels, he got his exams. He is at the Tech now doing a HND and is a fully qualified barber. There have been other issues he has had to deal with, but it is completely remarkable that he has remained focused on sorting his life out, he has no criminal record, he has plans for the future and he is achieving them.”

During Homelessness Awareness Week next week, The Playhouse will host a screening of ‘Cathy Come Home’ with a panel discussion on Thursday December 1 (bookings Bernie Heery 71366363), while a Mayoral Civic Reception will also be held at 12pm the following day.

Sandra Duffy said that because there isn’t a visible street homelessness problem like in big cities, a lot of people in Derry don’t see the hidden homelessness that exists in the city.

“Sofa surfing is a major issue in Derry,” she said. “We don’t have enough housing to house everybody on the homelessness list, but we are working on it, and we have good services there to provide people with support.

“A lot of people struggle without knowing there are service there that can help them.”

And Patrick had this advice for young people who find themselves in a similar position to the one he was in: “There is light at the end of the tunnel. If I can get through it, anybody can.”