Lily's story

Lily, age 28, had been known to our staff at O'Hanlon House for several years when she accessed our Emergency Accommodation for the third time in June 2008. She had a long history of intravenous heroin use and sleeping rough, and had several criminal convictions, mainly for shoplifting offences. She had lived in many Oxford hostels, and left them all because of rent arrears or drug use.

This time, Lily was determined to break the cycle of homelessness, keep out of prison, reduce her drug use and reinstate contact with her five-year-old son. Staff on our Resettlement Floor allocated Lily a Resettlement Worker and began work on a long-term support plan that would enable her to make positive changes in her life. We explored with Lily why her tenancies had failed in the past and what could be done to ensure this did not happen again.

Although Lily's presenting issue was heroin, her underlying lack of confidence was the most significant factor contributing to her homelessness. With this in mind, we drew up a plan with Lily that included her continuing and positive engagement with staff; a realistic, structured strategy to help her address her debts and develop self-responsibility; and engagement with our Training, Education & Activities to help Lily identify meaningful activities she enjoyed.

Over time, Lily discovered skills in IT and art, and her self-confidence grew. Her heroin use decreased and she usually paid her rent on time. She attended basic numeracy and literacy classes, and was proud of her achievements. Staff noted a real change in her attitude to life.

At this stage, Lily completed a successful application to the referral-only Resettlement Floor within O'Hanlon House. Lily took part in several client meetings and in-house training courses, and showed new levels of confidence and maturity. We linked her in with the addictions nurse at Luther Street Medical Centre and she started on a methadone prescription.

As the hostel option had not worked previously, we discussed other housing options that would allow Lily to exercise her increased confidence and sense of responsibility. Lily felt ready to live independently. We looked into private rented options and eventually identified a one-bedroom flat. Home Choice agreed to pay the deposit.

By this stage, Lily had not used heroin for more than a month and had contacted her family to arrange to see her son. Her first visit had gone well, and Lily was delighted to have positive contact with her son and also her parents, who were very encouraging about the changes she had made in her life. This gave her encouragement to carry on. We helped Lily move into her flat, and sourced furniture and household items. For the first month, we visited Lily on a weekly basis. We then linked her in with Connection floating support.

Twelve months later, Lily is still in her tenancy and has been clean of heroin for more than a year. She has weekly visits with her son and has started volunteering at a local charity shop. At our request, she helped deliver a talk to schoolchildren about homelessness and drugs. She really enjoyed this experience because she started using drugs when she was still at school and she felt that this was a way to do something positive.

Every month or so, we get a phone call from Lily to say she is doing well. The transition hasn't been easy, but by working on her confidence she found that her homelessness and drug addiction could be beaten, and she could lead a happier and more productive life.

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