Lee Johnson spent 18 years of his life sleeping rough on the streets of Liverpool. With the help and support of Everton in the Community, Lee has turned his life around and now works part-time for the charity, helping others overcome the same issues he experienced.
Growing up as a boy Lee had quite a difficult childhood as he had brothers and sisters with cystic fibrosis and he found his release in playing football for his school and watching the games at Goodison with his dad.
“I used to sit in the Main Stand and think, ‘This is what I want to do; I’d love to work in football one day’. They were all happy memories for me and football was a big part of life even back then.”
At the age of 12, Lee was introduced to alcohol and drugs. The hardest drugs on the streets of Liverpool at the time was heroin and Lee first tried it at 16 and was hooked straight away.
“I was homeless, in and out of hostels and sleeping rough for 18 years - 18 years of my life. The city centre was where everyone who was sleeping rough would congregate. I’ve slept in bin sheds and everything. I’ve slept in bus stops and doorways.”
Five years ago, Lee was accessing services offered by the Whitechapel Centre, the leading homeless and housing charity for the Liverpool region. He was then first engaged with Everton in the Community when he attended one of their coaching sessions.
“I met Henry from the charity and he saw me getting my life back on track. They helped me get support with housing and things like that and that’s what we try and do now, help those who are struggling like I was.”
With the support of the Whitechapel Centre and Everton in the Community, Lee moved into supported living and signed up to become a volunteer and now helps with the Pass on the Memories programme, a ground-breaking programme delivered by the charity that supports people living with dementia in partnership with Mersey Care NHS Trust.
“It was coming to the point where I had been clean for about 14 months and I started as a volunteer for Everton in the Community, doing half a day on the dementia programme and now I’m here every day. I’m an official tour guide, I work the matches with the other guards of honour and help on a number of the charity’s social inclusion programmes.”
With the help and support of Everton in the Community, Lee has re-built his relationship with his family and gained various qualifications as well as his Level One Coaching badge which he utilises when he assists with the coaching sessions for the people at the Whitechapel Centre.
“I used to be like the lads that I teach now at the Whitechapel so I’ll do anything for the homeless because I’ve experienced that for myself so it’s nice to be able to give back.”
In December Lee was recognised as a Blue Hero by Everton Football Club and its official charity and was surprised by Denise Barrett-Baxendale and David Unsworth and rewarded for his hard work, commitment and dedication in turning his life around.
“They’ve given me my life back really haven’t they when you look at it? That’s the top of it; they’ve given me my life back by giving me this opportunity to work and do things and that’s a dream. Sometimes I have to pinch myself from where my life was six years ago to where it is today. Living homeless six years to now having a life beyond my wildest dreams.”
To help Everton in the Community continue to deliver life-changing opportunities to help more people like Lee, click here.