A Bromley resident who struggled with homelessness said he slept on the floor of his new home when he was placed there as he had to get used to sleeping in a bed again.

Martin Grace, 61, works as a volunteer for Bromley Homeless, a charity set up to ensure everyone has access to a ‘safe, permanent roof over their heads’.

Mr Grace grew up in Bromley borough before moving out of the country.

He worked as an engineer and project manager before becoming homeless due to a relationship breaking down while he was in India in October 2020.

Mr Grace told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “There’s not really a place to go for a guy who’s older so he ends up sleeping in his car, sofa surfing and it gets to the point where you get so despondent at it that you end up on the street.”

He added: “Once you are there, it’s very hard not to get a drink because if you have a drink, you don’t feel the cold so much and you can get to sleep.

"Otherwise, sleeping on the street is really quite difficult because you don’t know what’s going to happen, who’s going to come by and give you a kicking or whatever. Some go in the woods, some go in bins, some go in lifts, some go in car parks and you feel like you don’t belong.”

The resident said those who find themselves homeless often enter ‘vicious cycles’ of drug and alcohol use, with mental health issues becoming prevalent.

He said he returned to Bromley borough in April 2022 with the help of his sister and soon made contact with Bromley Homeless.

Mr Grace said: “I was close to death from starvation. I came back like skin and bones.”

He added: “It’s like being in cement, you’ve got cement shoes. You just need some help to break them down and then you’re ok… I’ve been a volunteer for a year and six months now. I came here initially while homeless.

"I felt like I had come to heaven. It was a sanctuary. That’s what I call it because it was peace of mind. You have no idea the relief because you can come in here and be you. There’s no pointing fingers. There’s no stigma attached to it.”

Mr Grace said he has since received counselling through Bromley Homeless to deal with his previous experiences.

He added that he was quickly placed into a flat in St Mary Cray by the charity, with his own bedroom and shower.

He said: “It took a while to not wake up three, four or five times a night, looking up and saying, ‘Yeah, I’m still here’. I couldn’t sleep on the bed, I had to sleep on the floor for a while because the bed was far too soft.

"It was just uncomfortable. Now I love my bed, I can’t get out of it. But at first it was like that, that’s the norm for us guys.”

After about a year of receiving help from the charity, Mr Grace became a volunteer for Bromley Homeless.

He said he has since received safeguarding and first aid training, and often assists with the food and clothes bank at the centre.

He said: “It’s just good people helping people. It’s as simple as that, but it makes so much difference to the clients that come here because it’s genuine…You’re giving your time, which the clients know and respond to.”

Kim Sutton, services manager at Bromley Homeless: “It’s important to have people with lived experiences doing that work because there’s a connection.

"There’s also a transition period where people see Martin improving and they see what they could possibly have. It’s about that as well.”

A Bromley Homeless spokesperson told the LDRS that the charity will be turning 30 years old this year and recently won Homeless Project of the Year at the Affordable Housing Awards.

It offers a range of services including advice workers who support individuals to be placed in permanent housing.

They added: “We have a day centre, where clients can get out of the cold, access a hot meal and drinks, meet with other clients, foster a sense of community and take part in our group therapy discussions.

"We also work with Bromley GP Alliance to provide a medical arm – we have an on-site prescribing nurse and care coordinator who give medical care and help register our clients with a GP.”

Lib Dem Councillor Sam Webber, who represents the Bromley Town ward, told the LDRS that he was pleased to be part of Bromley Homeless’ annual Sleep Out event last October.

He said his team raised over £16,000 and encouraged residents who wish to find out more about the charity or make a donation to visit their website or office at Bromley United Reformed Church.

He added: “Bromley Homeless is one of the most impressive local charities I’ve got to know since I was elected to the council in 2022.

"It is run by amazingly dedicated staff and volunteers, supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our borough. It offers advice and medical support as well as food and shelter.”