A student who became a homeless drug addict at 19 years old after his parents and grandparents died within months of each other has spoken about his battle to turn his life around.
Luke Saunders, now 22, nearly died twice from overdoses.
Now he is studying to be a nurse and has a part-time job at Cardiff’s Huggard Centre which he says “saved my life”.
The former Lewis School Pengam pupil, who has 13 GCSEs, said he wanted to share his story to show how easy it is for lives to shatter.
Luke, originally from Hengoed, was studying child development and Ystrad Mynach College hoping to be a teacher when his parents and grandparents died within four months of each other in early 2012.
Living alone in a council house, grieving with no support he dropped out of college, self-medicated with drugs including cocaine and dropped from 11st to 6st in weight.
Within months of his relatives dying he was evicted from his council home because of anti-social behaviour and took an overdose “as a cry for help”.
‘Drug overdoses nearly killed me’
Admitted to hospital and then a psychiatric unit he was discharged within three weeks and became homeless.
“I slept under the playground in Ystrad Mynach park where I’d played as a kid. I was really scared. “I had no sleeping bag and thought I’d be beaten up or murdered.
“I grew up just a regular kid. I liked drama and reading. I was a bit of a nerd and got 13 GCSEs.”
High on cocaine one day Luke walked from Hengoed to Merthyr where he collapsed and soon afterwards took a second overdose.
“I was desperate. I bottled everything up and thought everything was my fault.
“Being homeless is scary. I thought I would die.”
Luke Saunders with Huggard Centre chief executive Richard Edwards
Treated at the poisons unit at University Hospital Llandough he then became homeless again and staff suggested he went to the Huggard.
“I came in in October 2012 a quivering mess with cuts on my arms from self-harming.”
Given a place in the 20-bed hostel he worked with staff over 18-months to get his life back on track. Now living in a council flat in Rhymney Luke is studying a nursing foundation course at Cardiff and Vale College, has applied to do a mental health nursing degree and is working three nights a week at the Huggard as a night worker.
“Things can happen very fast depending on your circumstances,” he said.
“I became homeless very fast. I was young and had no help. If it had not been for the Huggard I think I would be dead. They gave me support and confidence in myself.”
Huggard chief executive Richard Edwards said Luke was told to live away from the centre for several months to prove he had got back on track before being allowed to apply for a job as a night worker.
‘I hope I am a role model’
Luke now works at the homeless shelter for 12 hours three nights a week as well as studying a nursing foundation course at Cardiff and Vale College.
He has applied to university to start a nursing degree next year and wants to become a psychiatric nurse.
“I hope I am a role model to some of the people I help here now,” he said.
“I think it helps that I have been there myself.”
Richard said: “He has had nothing but praise from staff since starting his job here earlier this month.”