A homeless man who spent over a year rifling through bins and sleeping in graveyards, has managed to turn his life around and is well on his was to a career with the Royal Engineers.
Paul Matthews, 19, from Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, has told Wales Online how he managed to go from ‘rock bottom’ to completing the army residential course, ‘Be The Best’, and is now hoping to win a place with the corps, before becoming a carpenter.
Mr Matthews grew up in Gurnos, before becoming homeless between the ages of 15 and 17. During that time, he began to go Pant Cemetery, Merthyr , as a safe place and would find abandoned gravesites with gaps in the stones to sleep in.
I had to find somewhere to sleep. I wanted to stay close to where I grew up. I was still young and didn’t really have any friends or anything, it was scary.
Describing his daily routine, he said he’d wake up, wash in the river and then just wander around Merthyr town, taking whatever food he could find from bins. Paul says that being homeless had a huge effect on his mentality, wellbeing and health.
It was horrible being homeless. I lived off scraps from skips and the only friend I had was my dog, Star. My dog and reading books was the only comfort and friendship I had.
I was really, really skinny – under six stone when I weighed myself at the end of it all. I haven’t been able to put much weight on since, either.
It made me lose a lot of confidence in myself. People would see me as dirty and I looked so scruffy. It really brought me down.
Despite his bleak lifestyle Paul claims that it did help him get his life back on track, saying: “It helped me grow up a lot and proved to me that I didn’t want that sort of life for my kids.”
Paul then heard about the ‘Be the Best’ course, run by 160 Wales Brigade, from a job centre which he’d began to visit after moving in with a friend.
The week-long residential course, which was launched last year and enrols around 150 participants annually, teaches leadership skills, first aid, team building techniques, fitness and adventure training.
Neil Martin, the course director, said:
The course, which is not an army recruitment scheme, can change the life of people like Paul.
We just try to help them and show them all of the opportunities that are available, from policemen to bomb disposal workers to divers.
Paul came on the course because he didn’t have enough confidence to join the army, and right away I saw there was something about him.
He’s a quality individual and gave 100% throughout, and at the end, didn’t want to go home.
Mr Martin added that he was confident Paul would begin training for the Royal Engineers later this year and said: “[Paul] really is a quality individual who has had a tough upbringing, but he has never used drugs or been in trouble with the law and is just someone who fell through the cracks.”
Paul had nothing but praise for the opportunity that the course had given him and said that ‘the staff at the course have been fantastic’ and that ‘it has shown me what I want to do in life and given me the kick up the butt that I needed.’
Good luck Matthew, not that you’ll need it from the sound of things.