Leon's story

Diagnosed with bone cancer at the age of 17, Leon* spent much of his early adult life undergoing life-saving treatment. In 2001, after he had received the ‘all clear’ from his oncologist, he came to the UK on a six-month visa to seek employment, following which he reluctantly returned to Poland where he would spend the next 3 years working in a variety of different roles including a car mechanic and a cleaner.

When Poland joined the European Union  in 2004 it gave Leon the opportunity to move to England on a permanent basis, in search of what he describes as a ‘better life’. As such, he packed up all of his worldly possessions, loaded them into a mini van and along with his uncle and his cousin, made his way to England.

After a short period in London, they settled in Lincolnshire where they immediately found work, accommodation and a large Polish community within which they quickly established a new circle of friends. When not working 12-hour days, he would spend time socialising with his new friends, returning to Poland on only a couple of occasions.

It wouldn’t be until early 2012 that Leon first realised that his drinking had become problematic. Social drinks at the weekend had escalated over time to the point that he was drinking up to nine litres of white cider on a daily basis; the result of which he was unable to hold down a job for any period of time. Then, unable to pay rent, he was evicted from his accommodation and found himself sleeping on the streets of Lincolnshire.

A proud man, he refused to ask for help from his friends and instead sought shelter in an old World War II machine gun bunker which he would call home for the following two years.

During that two year period he refused all help from the Street Outreach team, instead attempting to work as a window cleaner to save enough money to fund his own accommodation – all whilst continuing to fight a crippling addiction.

Then, midway through 2014, Leon decided he would accept help from the Street Outreach team, who as a result were able to find him housing within a local supported accommodation project.

Leon with Street Outreach Worker Wiktoria

One year later, the P3 Street Outreach team again found Leon sleeping on the streets of Lincolnshire. Following a change in legislation he had been deemed ineligble for welfare assistance and as such he was asked to leave the supported accommodation where he had been living.

At this point Leon had not only found himself the victim of conflicting national policies—one department within the Home Office had found him to be a permanent resident and another had deemed him not to be—but he also found himself the victim of a number of crimes. Whilst sleeping on the streets he was urinated on, spat at, assaulted and robbed of all of his documents including his passport.

Concerned for his immediate welfare and with no local accommodation options due to him being deemed ineligble for housing or welfare assistance, the P3 Street Outreach team tried to find a way of helping him to move away from a life on the streets. It was their belief that the only realistic way of making that happen in the short term was to help him return to Poland in a planned way and as such, set about putting together an offer of support that was far more than just a one way ticket.

As a result of the trust that the team had built with Leon, they were able to establish that he had a mother that he hadn’t spoken to in a number of years and with his agreement were able to faciliate phone contact. It was at this point that Leon, after previously refusing to consider returning to Poland, first intimated that he may be happy to do so.

“Leon disclosed his anxieties and fears of returning to Poland – a country that he hadn’t called home for 13 years. With that, the team offered to travel with him and he agreed to go.”

Over the subsequent weeks the team, with Street Outreach Worker Wiktoria leading the way, were able to confirm that the Polish consulate would provide emergency travel documents. However, there were ongoing concerns around his alcohol use and whether he would be safe to travel even if he agreed to. Following an appointment with a local drug and alcohol treatment provider the team’s concerns were confirmed. His alcohol use—for which he had been hospitalised on a number of occasions following alcohol related seizures— meant that it wasn’t safe for him to travel. The team then set about sourcing and finding funding for an alcohol detox to ensure that he was safe to travel.

Despite the offer of emergency travel documents, an alcohol detox, and travel to Poland, Leon was still reluctant. It was then during a conversation with him, over one of many coffees, that he disclosed his anxieties and fears of returning to Poland – a country that he hadn’t called home for 13 years. With that the team offered to travel with him and he agreed to go.

On 2 November 2018 the team travelled to the Polish consulate in Manchester to obtain emergency travel documents, and from there accompanied him to a detox facility in Nottingham where he spent 10 days. During the detox, Wiktoria had daily contact with him, which included a number of face-to-face visits, where they wrote poetry together, to try and provide him with the reassurance that it was clear he needed.

When he’d completed the detox, the team met Leon and via train, plane and automobile made the journey to his home town in Poland.

Upon arrival, standing on the pavement outside the family home, Leon and his mother were reunited. After being welcomed inside, Wiktoria gave Leon and his family details of the appointments she had made for him the following day at the Local Authority, who will be assisting with housing and benefit applications going forward, as well as linking him in with the relevant specialist support services so that he can continue with his recovery.

*name changed to protect client.