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“HARP have been brilliant with me, they’ve really helped me - I cannot fault the place!”

First coming to HARP as a service user 17 years ago, Marie recently decided to come back to volunteer her time by running a support group for local homeless women and female HARP residents. At the groups, Marie has been drawing from her own experiences to support and inspire women in similar situations to hers.

Earlier this year Marie’s progress nearly became derailed, after she lost her accommodation - leaving her in a vulnerable position. However, Marie sought support and shelter from HARP again and now, as a HARP resident and a volunteer, she continues to take strong steps towards overcoming homelessness for good.

Marie told us: “The first time I came through HARP was when it was just the night shelter on York Road. You didn’t have all the other accommodation then, it’s amazing how much it’s grown. HARP was different back then, it really was just a night shelter. But, the staff were always kind, they kept you safe, warm and they fed you.”

At that time Marie was stuck in a cycle of addiction, which was exacerbated by issues with her mental health. Marie went to a number of rehabilitation centres to try and beat her addiction, but for many years she was unsuccessful. After being admitted to a mental health hospital, Marie’s situation didn’t improve and she soon found herself in and out of prison too.

She told us: “Back then I felt angry at the world, but now I’ve learned that I was angry at myself. I used to blame everybody for my using: my mum, my mum’s using, abuse as a child. I used to blame my addiction on everything else, but really I was angry at me. I’d let my mum down, I’d let my children down, I’d let myself down.”

Marie continued: “The first step of my recovery was when I started to take personal responsibility for my actions – when I stopped projecting outwards and started to look inwards. It’s a painful thing to do: you’re really frightened, you’re really vulnerable – you’re scared. You get all these feelings back that you’ve supressed. The world all of a sudden becomes a lot bigger and it’s really frightening, but it gets better over time. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Marie has now been clean for three years. After spending time away from Southend, she decided to come back so that she could see her children more regularly again. Despite recently losing her home, Marie is continuing to go from strength to strength and is drawing form her own experiences to help other young women who have been affected by homelessness.

Marie told us: “I love volunteering because I see myself in every single one of the girls. In the groups you’ve got mental health issues and you’ve got addiction. You can see how insecure they are, how vulnerable they are, what low self-esteem they have. The group is meant to run for an hour, but it always goes on for three and a half! They never want to leave. It’s a safe place for them.”

“I want to make them feel supported in the groups, I want them to feel valid and that they’re enough. For me, I’m trying to help them rebuild their self-esteem, because for some of them their confidence is on the floor. They all think they’re worth nothing, but they are - they really are. They all each have lovely little characters, they have their own little ways. At first they were all quite closed minded to the groups, but as it’s gone on, you can see that they’ve got more willingness and they’ve become more open minded. It’s about progressing.”

Marie continued: “And I do this as well, not only to help the girls at the group and my own my self-esteem, but because I caused havoc in this community for 25 years, so it’s like an amends process. Giving something back to when all I did was take for so long.”

After facing numerous challenges, Marie is now attending college to increase her prospects for the future and, whilst she has been working hard to turn her own life around, she has also been helping others to do the same. Her voluntary work at HARP is invaluable. We’d like to say a massive thank you to her for the huge amount of effort and determination she has put into running the women’s group.

Marie summed up her experiences at HARP by saying: “HARP have been brilliant with me, they’ve really helped me - I cannot fault the place!”

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