Becoming a homeowner for the first time is a major milestone but for Li Jean-Luc Harris it marks a massive climb from homelessness and addiction just four years ago.
The IT admin worker, 23 today (November 30), has had a long struggle with poor mental health and addiction and hit rock bottom aged 18 when he was reduced to living in a tent in Tivoli woods.
But the determined former Hereson student, who had been in the social services care system since the age of 10, says his move into a new apartment with partner Joshua Evans after successfully gaining their mortgage is a ray of hope for anyone feeling trapped in similar circumstances.
Homelessness was the culmination of a downward spiral in Li Jean-Luc’s life. Aged 10 he went into foster care because of a volatile home life. By secondary school he was self-harming, being bullied, ostracised for coming out and finally, aged 15, he was admitted to an adolescent mental health unit in Tonbridge.
By 18 Li Jean-Luc was addicted to Spice and found himself homeless, choosing to sleep in Tivoli woods rather than being on the street
In a painstakingly honest and raw personal blog sharing his experiences Li Jean-Luc says: “I remember the day I became homeless I had a bit of a checklist for the day it went something like:
“Tent, Location, Food.
“I was lucky to have some money to hand. so I headed to our local shopping centre and located a camping shop where I brought a tent and a rucksack. and some basic fire-starting materials.
“Three months went past and I was at breaking point. My circumstances where changing and I needed a change. I was dirty, I smelt bad. and my addictions were getting worse I was starting to lose hope.”
Winter was setting in and Li Jean-Luc knew he had to make a change. The first step came when he was finally offered emergency accommodation.
He said: “I felt like I had been pushed to the side. I went to the council smelling like a bonfire where I had been keeping myself warm, I was dirty, and I was begging for help.It was devastating and put me in a really bad place but they finally realised they had a duty of care and things rapidly picked up.”
Li Jean-Luc was given a room in the Glenwood Hotel in Cliftonville. He said: “My room was tiny. I would walk in and it was a bed, cupboard, toilet and shower all within a small confined area. but it was a roof and an upgrade.
“But I was warm and able to wash each day, I met some good people. and within the eight months I was at Glenwood, I totally cleaned my act up with Spice misuse. I was even in a college course provided by the jobcentre to help me with employment. Everything was looking up for me.”
Li Jean-Luc was then moved to a flat in Invicta House, a place of mixed memories where he had a home but often did not feel safe.
He said: “At Invicta there were a couple of times when I came close to being homeless again. I was working all the time to try and make ends meet.There were the constant arson attacks. But I was there three years and me and Josh used that time to save up.”
Then there was the opportunity to move into a Rochester new build. Li Jean-Luc was working in the area and Josh, who also works in IT, has a job in London. Between the two of them they managed to secure a mortgage and made the decision to relocate.
Li Jean-Luc said: “As much as I love Margate it has always been a struggle to find work here, we were both travelling every day and spending money to do that.
“Moving in has made me feel secure and me and Josh are financially stable. I want people to see that you can get out of these situations. I think telling my story can help to have a positive impact on people who are struggling and maybe help to give some motivation and show things are possible.
“It shows that even when you’re at you’re lowest you should not give up on hope -you just don’t know what is waiting for you around the corner.”
Li Jean-Luc’s experiences have prompted him to write his blog. He said: “Part of the reason I started blogging is that writing is like a therapy. It was scary at first to put it all out in public but then people started messaging me, saying it had helped or inspired them and that has pushed me to dig even deeper and given me the confidence to continue.”