Nine years ago former homeless vendor Greg Sutcliffe could not have imagined he would be married, with a full time career and several professional qualifications to his name.
It’s a far cry from selling The Big Issue in the North outside Marks and Spencer’s in York City Centre, just one of the pitches in Yorkshire cities Greg sold on in the four and a half years he spent as a vendor.
But the 36-year-old estates manager believes it is his strong work ethic that has driven him on to ditch the drugs and the nights spent in shop doorways, and get his life back on track.
He said: “I just got to the stage where I had nothing to bother for. I’d lost touch with my family, my problems were out of their control and I decided that enough was enough and I had to make a decision to change things.”
Originally living in Scarborough, Greg’s life was stable with a girlfriend, a baby son and work as a removal man. Then came the death of his mum from cancer, which forced them to move house to a small village.
He added: “I couldn’t get work there so I was travelling to Leeds a lot and we were struggling. In the end it split us up and after that it all went downhill.”
Having dabbled with drugs as a youngster, Greg hit the habit full on and ended up addicted to crack and heroin. The next five years were spent living rough on the streets of Sheffield, York and Leeds.
“I had a little staffie dog called Stella and also an Alsatian at the time who was my guard dog, you couldn’t pet her. I slept anywhere I could find, in alleyways and the backs of doorways.
“I found selling the magazine not too bad, I have always had a good work ethic and have had lots of jobs since I was younger. I used to think of being a vendor like a being a market trader – you pick up your goods, pay for them and you go and sell them.
“I used to do bits of petty shoplifting, but selling the magazine stopped me from getting too involved in that because I was earning money and could keep away from that crime side of things.”
After moving to Sheffield and selling on a prominent pitch outside a bank, Greg was offered part time work at a local shop and then spent a few years as a night support worker at a hostel in Rotherham.
“I’ve been clean for nine years now, I was on methadone and subatex for 18 months and it’s been hard – I couldn’t sleep for about a month. But I’ve stopped smoking too and with the money I’ve saved I’ve got a year’s membership to a gym, its all changed now.”
Greg has been married now for six years and is employed as estates manager by a Sheffield Church organisation, responsible for plumbing, joinery, and health and safety. He is now at college gaining his electrician’s qualification.
Greg said: “I’d like to thank everyone who used to support me when I sold The Big Issue in the North, especially a customer called Brian who made time for me every week. A lot of customers don’t realise that there are vendors who are trying to get off the streets, some are desperate. “