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“I lost everything: my job, my car, my home, my beautiful life,” says 28-year old Tomas.  He first tried heroin eight years ago and managed to hold down a job in the beginning. Towards the end, he was sleeping on the streets, trying to scrounge together money for his next fix. Before coming to Glass Door, Tomas was crashing in a sleeping bag around Victoria Train Station. 

“I remember it was a particularly sunny day, and I pulled the covers back from my sleeping bag, and I just felt different,” he recalls of the day he decided to get help. “For years people have told me to stop, but I didn’t,” he says. “Then I just felt it.” That morning, he went to find a doctor. 

He got on methadone and began staying at the Glass Door shelters in November 2014. A better future is now within reach: Tomas has completed an entrepreneurial course, is working in a restaurant, renting a room, and he’s been drug free for a year. 

While he was sleeping in the shelters, he used the Glass Door Day Centre in Chelsea to eat lunch, stay warm and do laundry. His clothes and nails look clean, and with a recent shave, no one would have assumed he was homeless. With some stability in place, two members of the casework team, Neil and Karen, worked with him to find longer-term solutions.

Neil helped him register at the Jobs Centre, which in turn led to an entrepreneurial training program at the Chelsea Football Club Foundation.  The program has given him “loads of confidence and knowledge,” he says. 

He now wants to start a centre that incorporates physical fitness as a form of treatment to help recovering drug addicts. He credits a religious conversion and exercise for helping him keep the course, and believes there's a real need for gym space specifically for recovering addicts. 

He’s written a CV and is looking for a mentor to help with a business plan*. His enthusiasm is infectious, and with a bit of help, it's not hard to believe Tomas could pull it off.  

The Glass Door caseworkers are an inspiration, he says.

I look at these guys, and I see such a passion. And I say: why can’t I turn those eight years into something that could be helpful for someone else? You can’t only take help. You have to give help as well.

Coming to terms with the past

But before he can help others, Tomas senses he will have to come to terms with his past and the family he left behind in Lithuania at age 21.  Most emigrants from Lithuania will tell you “they left for economic reasons: to find a job, a better life,” he says. “But if I’m really honest, for me, it was that, and also about running away from my parents.”

His parents adopted him when he was six years old, after his mother walked out --  leaving behind four children with no father in the picture. “She said she was going to the store to buy some candy,” he recalls. “Those were her last words to me.”

A supportive, older couple adopted him straight away. While his adoptive parents gave him their surname and lots of love, he felt from the beginning some of his extended family never really accepted him. “They couldn’t kick you out if you come for a family meal, but you can tell,” he says matter-of-factly.

When Tomas was 16, his adoptive mother helped locate his birth mother, and they went to visit. “Ten years had gone; I didn’t know her,” he says. “She was living with some guy, and I could tell she had a drink. She was crying a lot.”

He never asked why she left, but he did ask for the addresses of his siblings. His older siblings were taken in by grandparents and aunts and uncles. “I wondered, why not me?” he says. “But later, I learned that maybe they were old enough to work; I was too little,” he explains. 

He wrote to the sister in Russia, where she had moved, looking for news of his other siblings. When she wrote back, he found out that his other sister also lived in Russia but that his brother had committed suicide a few weeks before. “I missed him by only a few months,” he recalls.

“Maybe one day I will visit them. After all, they are still my blood relatives,” he says. 

But first, he would like to make amends with his (adoptive) parents. He makes no such distinction between adoptive and biological, and considers the man and woman who raised him since he was six to be his family.

“I feel like I’m losing them,” he says of his parents.

I really need to apologise, and say I love you. I really respect you. They’re not really aware of my time on the street. They don’t know. Every day I’m thinking about it. I need to sit down, write a letter, and give my heart to them.

“I wish to pick up the phone and tell them I’ve been baptised, tell them about my plans,” he said in February.  But he worried they’ll fall into old patterns and start to argue.

Several months later, his mother tracked him down and called him on his birthday. His eyes sparkle as he recounts how great it was to hear from her and tell her he’s doing ok.