John, who comes from Glasgow, experienced a family breakdown in 2020. It had not been part of his plan, and made him feel purposeless. “I just got myself in such a hole, in such a situation where I thought there was no getting out of it.” This left him sleeping in his car, and he turned to Glasgow City Mission after an internet search of where to find food.
John describes the first time he went to the Mission; “I sat outside watching the place, and I remember it was Susan that came out, she asked me if I was ok. And I said ‘Oh yeah, sort of’. And she said, ‘Listen, you can come in.’ I was really hesitant, I just wasn’t thinking straight, my mind was on my family and my situation. Susan managed to coax me in, she got me a cup of coffee and a wee bit of cake, and that’s when I started meeting everybody here, Joe, Simon, everybody. Everyone is so kind. David Harper was one of the first people who actually sat me down, and said to me, ‘This is a safe place, you don’t need to worry, you can sit and you can no talk, you can sit and you can talk, it’s up to yourself.’ And I’m like right, ok.”
“Four o’clock came, when the doors close, and I thought to myself, “Ok, I’ve had a couple of slices of cake, I’ve had a few coffees, they’ve said somebody could call me later on.’ If they call me, I needed to answer the phone, and see where this is gonnae go. And I thought, yeah ok, this feels like a waste of time. And I left, I went back to where I had parked the car and I wrestled to try and get comfortable. The phone goes about eight o’clock. ‘Hi, Mr Mackenzie?’ said a voice. ‘Yes, hello.’ ‘Can you make your way up to a hotel on Bath Street, please don’t be late, please don’t bring drink or drugs, make your way up there on time or we’ll have to give it to somebody else.’ Mate, trust me, I am on my way!’
“So off I went. I was really not knowing what I was getting into when I first went in. I spoke to the guy at the desk, his name was John, I said, ‘Listen, I think you’ve got a room for me.’ He says, ‘Name?’ I told him my name. He said ‘No, we don’t have that name on my list.’
“I replied, ‘I’m sure you have a room for me’. He double checked the paperwork, and he said ‘John? Oh yeah, we do.’ I was just overwhelmed, they gave me a key, told me the rules, I shut the door and realised I’ve got a shower, and a bed. And somewhere to think. And that was me, shower, bed, I just passed out. That was probably one of the few nights I had a full night sleep, because of everything else I had to work through.”
From that initial day, when staff at Glasgow City Mission were able to help John source temporary accommodation, John began to come to the Mission every day, rather than sit on his own in the hotel room during lockdown. The staff at the Mission offered him positive conversation and guidance, and John kept coming back.
John remembers, “One day, I just walked down, it was a dry day, and somebody was like ‘Are you coming in for something to eat?’ And I was like, ‘A bit of cake? That’s hardly something to eat mate.’ And the person said, ‘No, no, no, we’re doing hot food! Get yourself inside, there’s mince and totties in here’, and I went, ‘No way!’ And she went, ‘Trust me, get yourself in here, and get yourself some hot food.’ It was the first hot food I’d had in four months. The hotel were providing food, but none of it was hot. I had 48 cheese pizzas, every day. Forty eight in a row, they were all cold. They were all cheese. Guess what I’m not too keen on now? I’m not trying to be disrespectful, they were trying to help us at the time, but I would think ‘Oh come on,’ it really was too much. I came inside the Mission, I had something to eat. My heart, my belly just exploded, it was awesome! I love mince and potatoes, anyway, it just sealed the deal. I asked to speak to the chef, to Lindsay, and I said thank you. She seen it in me, that I was being serious. She said ‘You’re welcome.’ I can’t explain to you how I felt before that meal and after that meal. It was that immediate. I felt warmth, I felt just good and relaxed, it was a whole good meal, and I felt, this is fantastic. I kept coming down to the Mission. I had nothing else to do, I had nowhere else to be. I was not sitting in that hotel room. I just couldn’t do it.”
With time and encouragement, John began to see that although moving into his own place away from his family was not his first choice, it was the best choice he could make at the time. “I was in the hotel right up until December, when I managed to get a house. Glasgow City Mission helped me out with my benefits, they helped me out with my housing forms, they helped me out with all that. It wasn’t going the road I wanted my life to go; this was the road I had to take, and it was the people in here that helped me understand that.”
John recounts that it was not one aspect of the Mission that enabled him to climb out of the lowest four months in his life, it was the empowering effect of many small steps John was able to take with the encouragement of the Mission.
“All of that combined; hot food in my belly, people to talk to, a counsellor who will help me make sense of things, even just the company, helped me work through what seems to me to be the worst time in Glasgow’s history! All those small steps, all of that guidance; ‘go here, this is what you need to do, you should do this’. Not ‘you have to’ – just ‘you should, this will help you. This will help your housing situation. This will help your benefits situation. This will help your wellbeing. This will help you put food in your belly’. All the decisions were mine. If I wanted my situation to be better, it was up to me.”
John spent time volunteering at the Mission two days a week, and committed time each day to reaching out to his family, through text messages and phone calls. For some time, he received no response. He slowly saw a shift in family relationships. John was able to begin reading to his son every day on the phone, they got through five of the Harry Potter books together!
In November, John heard word that he might be able to get a house soon. “There was slight delays in trying to get it through. Between November and December, the Mission was buzzing! The place was doing it’s thing, and I had said to Lindsay if there’s anything I can do, anything let me know. The Drop-In was open, but you had to sit on your own, you couldn’t walk about and interact with anybody initially. I am not a sit-down-do-nothing kind of guy. I am an active guy. Every day I would text my partner saying I loved her, I would text her every night saying good night, which was all our interactions. I would phone my son to read his stories, that was my personal life, but what was I doing for the rest of the day? I am an active person, I don’t sit down do nothing well. If there’s anything you need help with, let me know, give me first refusal. That was it, just first refusal, and if I can help, I will. Something came up. The kitchen needs a dishwasher. I said, ‘I’m your man!’ It was Jas and it was David that took me into the kitchen, gave me a quick show of the ropes and how everything works and all the rest of it. That was a Tuesday. That was great. That was me, every Tuesday and Thursday from then until three months ago. Three months ago, I was working in the kitchen two days a week as a kitchen porter, quite happy. A lot of people were saying to me why are you working for no money? This is my contribution, I am paying back, it’s a thank you, for everything everybody’s done. Even though I was working in the kitchen I was still being asked by people if I was alright.
“Closer to Christmas time, my partner realised that she wanted the family together for Christmas, me, my son and herself, and I couldn’t believe it. I was so nervous! I didn’t know what to do! Best Christmas ever. It was just the three of us, but it was the best day ever. I could see in her eyes she was nervous, and I was terrified. My son was buzzing! From then onwards we managed to work through things. I was telling her about getting counselling, and she saw I was working consistently, that I have a kitchen porter job in the Mission, along with another job. We just kept talking and talking and talking.”
John sees his family every day now, and he is full of hope about the future.
“It would have been easy for me to go to the shop and get a bottle, and just get tanked. Go to the local drug dealer, get myself wasted. None of that was an option for me, none of that was even a thought. My first thought was ‘Where am I gonnae get food?’ This place was the difference between an empty belly, to where I am today. Then I got myself full time employment, I was so pleased, but two weeks into it I had to go to the doctors, for nerve damage. It’s gone from a big dip down, to a kind of slow climb up, to now flatlining. All of it was with the help and guidance of the Mission. Anybody that needs help, and guidance, this is the first place I send them. Help with anything, alcohol, stress, homelessness, domestic abuse, the works. I love what these people do. If I had the chance, I’d want to do it to. How does his day seem so much better than mine? Simon’s just a normal person like me! Why do his stresses and struggles seem easier to deal with than mine? What is it about this place? People come in at their lowest moments, they couldn’t get any worse, yet they walk out with a smile. A full belly, and a smile.”
“I’ve got a Bible that I’ve read three quarters of the New Testament, that’s not something I would have done before. The Mission saved me, and after coming alongside me in my situation, now Jesus is an option.”
“We have two members in our family who are alcohol dependent. They need that help, but they are not ready for it. Maybe years ago I would have said to them, ‘Hey, go to the Mission, they’ll help you out,’ but they’re not ready. This place made me understand that people need to be ready, because sometimes we don’t even know we need help. It takes that one thing in our lives to force us into saying, ‘Ok John, you might not want to, but you need to apply for a house.’ I did not want to apply for a house! I wanted to go home, to kiss my son good night, to watch junk telly, eat junk food, hold hands with my partner. ‘Yes, but until then John, this is what you need to do’. It was hard and it was slow, but I had to understand that. The Mission did not force it upon me, but they gave me the truth. Truths like ‘This is going to benefit you. These are your options. We suggest you take them up’. When I thought about it, the Mission was 100% right. But I needed to be ready.”
John is full of gratitude for how his situation has improved, and he looks to the future with hope.