Hastings rough sleeper who turned his life around now hopes to inspire others to do the same
Every morning, Dennis Woollard makes a cup of tea and sits to drink it in his modest, one-bedroom flat.
But while other people who do the same may be catching up on the news or planning their day, Dennis uses the time to think about his past, his present and his future – and the remarkable transformation in between.
For just a few months ago, Dennis was rough sleeping on the streets of Hastings, having found himself homeless on his release from prison.
In August, he engaged with Home Works for the first time and by October, he was housed in his own flat.
“In the morning, I take 10 minutes with a cup of tea and I think about where I’m going and what I’m doing,” the 37-year-old said. “I tell myself I can do this, I will do this, even if I come up against any challenges, I will always put myself right and carry on.”
Dennis is telling his story in the hope of inspiring other rough sleepers to turn their lives around as he has done.
He said: “There is hope, people can get off the streets if they want to, if they engage with the services properly.
“People ask me how I did it, and I tell them I put the hard work in, I stuck with it.
“It can be done. It’s not easy, it’s not easy at all. But so long as you stick to all your appointments, it can be done.”
Dennis first met his Home Works support worker, Hayley Agutter, at Seaview on August 24. After a consultation, she made an appointment for September 3 but admitted she was doubtful if Dennis would turn up, especially as he had no mobile phone or way in which she could remind him of the meeting. However, he did show – and hasn’t missed a single appointment since.
Dennis said: “Once I got in touch with Hayley, I had a good feeling that if I see this through and turn up to my appointments, it would work out. And it did. I could see progress being made and that drove me to stick with it.”
Hayley helped Dennis secure an £800 donation from the Probation Service, a £300 donation from Hope Kitchen, and a loan from Hastings Borough Council, so that he was able to offer landlords a deposit and rent on a property.
In October, he moved in to his new flat, and could not be happier: “Since getting my flat, it’s given me a chance to regain my confidence.
“I take pride in where I live, I like doing my bit of housework, I like keeping it clean and tidy. I can sit there and relax and think about what I want to do with my life.
“I’m in love with my little home. I’ve not felt this happy and this positive for a long, long time. I have control back, and I feel like I’m a citizen again, part of the community.
“I feel healthier in myself, I’m putting on weight and I have colour in my face.
“I have changed my ways. Everything gets done each month, every bill gets paid. If there is something I want, I save for it. I’m living my life, I’ve got a routine. I’m really happy.”
Dennis admits he wouldn’t have been able to turn his life around without the help of Hayley and Home Works – a service providing short-term, homelessness prevention support for vulnerable people and their families in the area.
He said: “It’s amazing what Home Works actually does and what it stands for.
“Hayley has been a really, really good support worker.
“She’s helped me join the library and use the computers.
“She’s shown me lots of things, like other places I can go. I go to ESRA (East Sussex Recovery Alliance). It’s really good, you meet a lot of people who are in a similar situation to you. They are coping with addiction but want to move forwards too. We do arts and crafts, music, creative writing, and there’s a nice café.
“I go to Seaview and His Place as well, and I went to Surviving the Streets at The Y Centre on Christmas Day, which was lovely.”
While Dennis has come so far already, he’s not resting on his laurels and has already set more goals for the future.
“I still have some points on my Home Works action plan to complete, like registering with a dentist and enrolling on a course, or volunteering.
“Eventually, I want to get in to some sort of employment, even if it’s part time, if my health allows me to do so.
“My ultimate goal is to see my son. I want to be able to stand there and be proud of who I am and what I’ve done.
“I will continue engaging with the services that are there for me, keep on going to them as a role model, hopefully, for other people.
“I feel confident that I will keep moving forward and have a better chance of a more successful lifestyle.
“I don’t want to go back to where I was before. My flat gives me responsibility and I know I have to look after that, otherwise I could lose it. That thought keeps me going.
“I want to say thank you to everyone that’s helped me, and for the ongoing support I’ve received. It’s changed my life for the better.”