Homeless hostel helped gambling addict George get his life back on track

George Braithwate wants to mend bridges with his family after completing the programme and finding work
George Braithwate wants to mend bridges with his family after completing the programme and finding work

A Belfast man who ended up homeless due to a gambling addiction has told how he is getting his life back on track thanks to a pilot intervention programme set up by a local hostel.

George Braithwaite – one of a number of men from Utility Hostel who ‘graduated’ this week having successfully completed the ‘Keys to Life’ initiative – has managed to find himself employment thanks to the programme.

Participants of the 'Keys to Life' programme were awarded certificates of participation at Crumlin Road Gaol

Participants of the 'Keys to Life' programme were awarded certificates of participation at Crumlin Road Gaol

The 61-year-old said: “I’m from Belfast originally, but I’d ended up in Cork with work. I got into financial difficulties because of gambling and I ended up back in Belfast, in Utility Street hostel last November.

“I’ve always worked. I’m a joiner by trade. I wanted to get back to work as soon as I could, but first I needed a place to stay, people to support me and the confidence to start again. That’s what I got at Utility Street (hostel).”

Having found employment as a joiner, Mr Braithwaite now wants to make amends with his family.

He said: “I lost all my family. They don’t speak to me any more because of all the money I borrowed off them over the years.

“The friendships I’ve made in the hostel are really important to me.

“I hope I can heal things with my family over time. I’ve a son who is 18 who I’ve never seen.

“I come from a good family background, I was well educated, but then the gambling came along. For about 30 years I was out of control.

“I don’t bet at all now. I’ve become a Christian.

“That has been a real help to me as well. That’s helped me change.”

Mr Braithwaite was one of 32 Utility Street residents who gained vital life skills from the Keys to Life initiative to promote independent living.

The programme included sports, leisure activities as well as a cookery programme and away days from the hostel.

Their achievement was celebrated at a graduation event at Crumlin Road Gaol this week for the programme’s participants.

Sam Humphries, Northern Ireland Institute for the Disabled (NIID) chief executive, said: “We are incredibly proud of how successful the Keys to Life programme has been.

“In the initial stages of planning, everyone involved agreed that if it could positively change even just one individual’s life for the better it would be worthwhile.

“To come to the end of the programme and see 32 men gain vital life skills that will help them on their journey to independent living is a fantastic result.”

NIID has been involved with providing homeless support to the people of Belfast since its inception in 1878.

The current provision operates from a facility built in 1982 – the Utility Street Men’s Hostel – which has been providing support through a dedicated team of professional support workers available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The project at Utility Street Hostel was officially launched in November by South Belfast MP, Emma-Little Pengelly.

At the graduation event in Crumlin Road Gaol the organisation thanked the Big Lottery Fund and the Housing Executive for its support.

Large credit was also given to Bytes who helped to deliver the Keys to Life programme targeting prominent issues within the homeless community such as mental health, self-esteem and independent living.