By Kim Reader
The dramatic transformation of a homeless alcoholic suited and booted for a job interview exactly one year after turning his life around has gone viral – and it all started with a free coffee.
David Simons, 31, has been living on the streets of Chester city centre since he was 18 after turning to alcohol to cope with bullying and abuse.
But a kind gesture from a stranger in January 2016 in the form of a free cup of coffee at charity ShareShop in Chester turned things around for David.
Not only did he get a much needed hot drink and a bite to eat, ShareShop manager Ann-Marie Chamberlain, 61, helped David put together a CV and gave him a donated suit to wear for a job interview at a local garden centre last Friday (10 FEB).
David – who was given months to live in 2016 – was successful at the interview, his first in more than 10 years, and starts his new job today (TUES) – almost exactly one year on from when he first came to the shop.
David said: “My addiction to alcohol started a few years before I ended up on the streets. It was my way of coping.
“I tried to hold down a few different catering jobs in pub kitchens and restaurants my addiction took over my life. I ended up on the streets at 18 and my alcoholism just spiralled further and further out of control.
“Last year the doctor told me I would only live for a few months if I carried on the way I was. Then one of my mates told me about this place you could get a free coffee and sandwich.
“Ever since everyone here has given he so much support and help. I can’t thank them enough. Last Friday was the first time I’ve ever worn a suit to an interview and it’s my first interview in more than 10 years. I was so nervous.
“I’m really looking forward to starting my job. My life has completely changed in the last year. The turnaround has been amazing.
“Now I’m looking forward to doing things like getting my own place to live and learning how to drive. I’ve got so many more opportunities than I ever thought I would have. It just goes to show that even when you hit rock bottom, you can always get back up, you just have to try.”
Life has not been a smooth journey to recovery for David, who has been sober for four months.
After struggling to get funding for a homeless detox programme, in November 2016 turned to extreme measures in what he claims was a bid to get clean through jail time – by breaking into a police station with a knife.
David, who spent less than a month in prison after admitting the crime, said leaving the streets behind had been bittersweet because he has cut ties with a lot of friends.
But one of his biggest supports has been best friend Jenny Ackerley, who he met on the streets 12 years ago, and who also turned her life around through ShareShop – where she now volunteers.
David said: “Breaking into the police station was a serious cry for help. I was so ill and I needed something that was going to force me to get clean. I saw so many people get this detox funding and then p*ss it up the wall the next day.
“I got clean in prison and I was released on November 20. The only thing that could have made me relapse was having to go back to the streets but everyone from Share was there to make sure that didn’t happen.
“I have lost a lot of friends. Nearly everyone I know is from being homeless and now I’ve left a lot of them behind because they’re choosing to carry on with that life.
“But I’ve got new people around me and also my best friend Jenny. She has always stood by me through everything.”
Customers at ShareShop can pay £2 for a ‘suspended coffee’ that will be given to a homeless person along with free sandwiches donated by Sainsbury’s and Tesco supermarkets.
Those who buy a ‘suspended coffee’ can also write a note on the coffee cup for its eventual drinker.
But the high street charity shop also work with organisation Chester Aid to the Homeless (CATH) to get their homeless visitors into council flats and shared houses. David will stay in one of the CATH houses until he has saved up enough to move into his own flat.
Shop manager Ann-Marie said she has seen David transform from a drunk who used to come in and dance with the shop’s mannequins to a stand-up member of society starting a new job.
The mum-of-one said: “David is such a lovely guy and he has had a really rough time.
“He was an alcoholic and sometimes when he came in here he’d have no idea what was going on and he’d be dancing with the mannequins but he never caused any trouble.
“I have always had a soft spot for the homeless and wanted to help them so working here has been great.
“It’s also nice to get people writing the messages and chatting to the homeless when they come in to break down those barriers. There’s such a stigma around homelessness, they all get tarred with the same brush.
“Obviously it is brilliant to see such a happy turnout for him. I’m so happy for him, he really deserves it.”