The recovering alcoholic

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John Hoult, 35, lives in St Mungo's hostel, Cromwell Road, Kensington and Chelsea, south-west London

I've been here for three months after I was made homeless when a long-term relationship broke up and I got into a bit of trouble with the police. As a single male, I couldn't seem to get any help from the council so I slept all over the place – on park benches, in the back of an abandoned car, you name it.

That's when I started drinking heavily. When I lived in a house, I'd go out once a month and have a drink. But my mother was an alcoholic; she left my father to bring up the six of us on his own, so I probably knew that drink was a way out. When you're homeless, it's a way of blocking things out.

I'd wake up in the morning and the cold would have gone through to my bones – they say that drink makes you less cold but I think it makes it worse. Anyway I couldn't eat until I'd had a few drinks. Usually, I'd drink lager – never the really strong stuff, that's lethal – but as money got tight I turned to cider. You can get a two- litre bottle for £1.99. I couldn't bring myself to beg, so I was living on benefits, about £100 a fortnight.

Quite soon I lost my appetite – once I went for four days without food. It got to the stage where I couldn't remember what I'd done the night before. I forgot appointments with the doctor, I'd even get out of the bus at the wrong stop. All those things make it harder to get out of the homelessness cycle.

But I was lucky. I knew about this hostel and I just kept popping in. They knew I was basically a decent person and as soon as they had a space they let me have it.

It was such a relief to have a roof over my head that I stopped drinking almost immediately. I felt rough and got the shakes and for a while I didn't really feel like myself. But I stopped before it got too bad. A few more months on the street and it would have been a different matter.

Now I'm a hostel rep. We have monthly meetings and discuss issues such as people drinking in areas where they shouldn't be drinking. I like feeling useful. I'm also doing voluntary work at the National History Museum and I'm on the waiting list for a flat. It's a long process – probably 18 months to three years. But having a roof over my head has made me feel so much better.