Homeless man rebuilds his life

21st June 2019

An ex-soldier who suffered post-traumatic-stress, developed a drug addiction, became homeless and spent time in prison, has turned his life around with the help of the Chelmsford-based charity CHESS.

Napthali Burke, 37, who is known as Nap, says he is certain that CHESS saved his life and helped him to get on a positive path.

He is among the many people celebrating a milestone for CHESS, which has officially opened its new centre on New London Road, Chelmsford, bringing all its services under one roof.

The charity, which has been operating for 24 years, offers help and support to homeless by providing temporary accommodation, counselling and training.

Since 2001, CHESS has benefited from grants totalling nearly £90,000 awarded from the independent charitable trust, Essex Community Foundation (ECF).

Nap said: “When I left the Army I was a shadow of my former self and I developed what I now recognise as post-traumatic stress disorder. To avoid dealing with my emotions, I kept busy and was constantly out partying. Mixing with a bad crowd, sparked my addiction with drugs and alcohol. I was told to leave my family home and to fuel my addictions, I began to steal.”

Nap never took more than he needed to fuel his addiction, so each time he was caught, he received a short-term prison sentence.  This meant that he was not eligible for support when he was released and as a consequence, each time he returned to living on the street.

“I eventually resigned myself to the fact that I was going to die” said Nap.  “I knew that if I had to stay on the street any longer, I would either be killed or kill myself, just to put an end to it.”

Whilst serving his 19th and last sentence, this time in HM Prison Chelmsford, there was a job fair in the canteen. Nap only decided to go at the last moment, just as the stands were packing down to leave.

CHESS was there to recruit for Wingspan, their social enterprise that provides employment opportunities for ex-offenders, doing ground maintenance, minor building, painting, decorating and cleaning.

Rob Saggs, Executive Director of CHESS said, “When you speak with someone who has been homeless and are now on a positive path, all of them talk about one pivotal moment that changed their lives.

“This moment does not always come when they are offered help, but instead when they make a conscious choice to pursue change. As the job fair was ending, Nap suddenly realised that he didn’t want to miss the opportunity and almost demanded to be interviewed. It was his strength of character that is responsible for the positive path he is on now.

When Nap’s release date came about, CHESS met him at the prison gates, taking him to one of their temporary accommodations. Nap said: “Having the support of CHESS not only gave me somewhere to stay straight out of prison, but also gave me a job, which changed everything.”

Two years later, Nap is thriving thanks to the support he has received and the choices he continues to make. He is now in private accommodation, works for Wingspan and is studying two evenings a week to become a qualified electrician.

Caroline Taylor, chief executive of ECF said: “We are pleased to support CHESS and their clients. Nap is just one example of the 113 people they gave accommodation to in the last year, and the countless more they have helped. We wish them well in their new premises and look forward to continuing our support of their vital work.”