Homeless teenager found living in a tent saved by town's act of kindness
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
When a homeless teenager was found living in a tent with no more than two sets of clothes to his name, people in Sudbury were determined not to walk by on the other side.
David Mead said he "couldn't believe what was happening" as a breakdown in family relationships led to him being forced to sleep on the streets, with nowhere else to go.
Crying and in despair, the 19-year-old - who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - walked miles to Sudbury town centre and set up a tent outside St Gregory's Church.
He described the pain and terror of sleeping rough, unable to rest as drunks shook his tent in Gregory Street in the early hours and wild animals entered looking for food.
As his life quickly spiralled out of control, he lost his job as a kitchen porter and, with nowhere to go, could not wash or even change his clothes.
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Penniless, David was forced to tour the town's cafes and eateries to plead for food.
But then, just as all hope seemed lost, something incredible happened.
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As residents began to realise David's plight, the community rallied round to do everything in its power to help him get back on his feet.
Within days, Sudbury mayor Sue Ayres had helped him to find temporary accommodation while David searches for a more permanent place to live - crucially giving him a roof over his head.
Cafes and restaurants such as Starburger, Prado Lounge and Twenteaone gave him sandwiches and meals, while others helped him to reactivate his Universal Credit account, as he had been previously claiming the benefit prior to working.
It will be approximately six weeks before David gets his first Universal Credit payment - but to help tide him over, dozens of people have responded to an appeal to donate essential items and food.
Ree's cafe in King Street, which has been giving David free breakfasts, has acted as a collection point for the appeal after David posted in the Sudbury Community Watch Facebook group asking for help.
Out of a nightmare, it has given David hope - and faith in the kindness and community spirit of Sudbury.
"I didn't expect that many people to get in contact to help me," said David, whose goal now is the get a permanent residence and start working again.
"When I was first walking to Sudbury, all I was doing was crying. I was in tears. I couldn't believe what was happening.
"To start off with I had to go without washing. I had two sets of clothes and I just had to keep wearing the same set.
"Being homeless was so bad. I was getting woken up in the middle of the night by people shaking my tent.
"I even had a deer poke its head through my tent. It was so uncomfortable.
"I just went around Sudbury and started off at places like Starburger and the Lady Elizabeth. They helped me out by giving me some food to eat.
"If anyone was passing, I had people giving me sandwiches and drinks.
"A woman came down and did some washing for me. Straight after that, the mayor of Sudbury actually came down and talked to me.
"She then went to speak to a rough sleepers' unit. In a couple of days, I had got a crash room.
"I'm in a much better situation now I have an actual roof over my head.
"All the help I've been given shows Sudbury is like one big family.
"A family is there to support you. They have been there to support me. Some of them support others as well.
"When you look around Sudbury, you barely see homeless people - but it can happen to anyone.
"This has taught me how hard it is when you have nothing. It shows that we can take everything for granted.
"If it wasn't for the people of Sudbury, I don't think I'd be here. It is a great town."
Ria Gardiner, owner of Ree's cafe, said: "David came into the cafe a week or so ago. He seemed like a nice genuine lad and we were more than happy to be a drop-off point.
"I think everyone has had such a difficult two years that people just want to help each other out."