‘The future looks bright because I was helped’

Former addict says he welcomed prison because it meant not having to sleep rough

Brian Somers says he began to abuse solvents when he was in primary school, before progressing to harder drugs, and then ended up on the streets. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Brian Somers says he began to abuse solvents when he was in primary school, before progressing to harder drugs, and then ended up on the streets. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

For Brian Somers, being sent to prison was a relief because it meant he could sleep somewhere warm, eat properly and detox from drugs.

The 47-year-old was in and out of prison a number of times between 1995 and 1997 for various minor offences, but he said he welcomed imprisonment because it meant he didn’t have to sleep on the streets anymore.

“Sometimes I would go to court and turn to the garda delighted, rubbing my hands, saying: ‘Here we go. Six months in, I’ll get a detox there, I’ll be fed, I’ll put the weight back on, I’ll have heating, I’ll have a few visits because people always come back around then when you’re in there doing well,’” Mr Somers said at the launch on Thursday of Focus Ireland’s annual report for 2018. “But then you’re out, and it starts again.”

The father of two, from Dublin 1, said he became homeless due to his drug use. He began to abuse solvents when he was in primary school, before progressing to harder drugs, and ultimately ending up on the streets.

He would spend a night or two sleeping rough before ringing around, trying to find someone who would take him in for the night, or an emergency accommodation premises that had space for him.

Feeding addiction

He said he was working during this time but that every penny he earned went into feeding his addiction, as opposed to putting a roof over his head.

“I would have been working by putting down tar, working on building sites, but eventually you’d end up robbing all the tools off the site [to pay for drugs]. If it wasn’t nailed down, then it was coming with me,” he said.

“The longer you go in the addiction, it keeps getting worse and worse and worse so you find that you’re not able to do now what you were able to do. At the end of my using, I wouldn’t have been able to lift a generator to rob it. I was too weak. I would have had abscesses on me from using intravenous drugs.”

It got to the stage just over a decade ago when Mr Somers was at his worst and attempted suicide as a way of escaping homelessness and substance abuse.

After surviving the attempt, a friend of his told him about how he got clean by attending the Coolmine rehabilitation centre.

Mr Somers decided to attend the programme too, and he has been clean and sober ever since. He started looking up ways to educate himself after the programme, and eventually graduated with a degree as an addiction counsellor.

Helping others

The Dubliner now works as an assertive in-reach homeless case manager with the Coolmine Drug Rehab Centre and helps other people on their path to recovery.

He will also be moving into two-bed accommodation with his two daughters, aged seven and 23, in the coming months.

He says that he would not be where he is today if it were not for the support he received in the centre and from Focus Ireland.

“The future looks bright because I was helped,” he said. “We cannot become desensitised to this problem. We need to continue to help people in homelessness.”