Letter: Down and out

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The Independent Culture
Sir: For 20 years I lived and begged on London's streets, seeing each day through a drunken haze and roaming in and out of hostels and daycentres. Homelessness for me was an unglamorous, demoralising and soul- destroying experience.

Alcoholism and life on the streets is a steady downward spiral until you eventually hit rock bottom. Rock bottom is an awful place to be. During that downward spiral I didn't want to talk or connect with anyone, rejected all help, didn't trust anyone and lived a life of isolation. When you are like this the only people you are likely to listen to are those who have been through the same experience.

While I welcome many of the Government's proposals to tackle rough sleeping ("5,000 beds to ease plight of homeless", 16 December), the only real hope for connecting with many of the long-term homeless is to get the ex-homeless themselves to work and support today's homeless. There are many ex-rough sleepers out there who would be more than prepared to help others.

I now chair an organisation that is the largest provider of direct access hostels across London. Our number one priority is a commitment to involving, listening, and utilising the skills of those who know best - our own hostel residents. Surely this must be the only way to go.

JOE McGARRY

Chair, Novas Ouvertures Group

London SE1

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