A FORMER gangster today told how a city charity helped save his life.
Twenty-year-old Daniel Swalwell feared for his safety when he fled from London to Sunderland.
The ex-gang member had been accused of stealing drugs and had his, and his family’s lives threatened.
A relative on Wearside put a roof over his head, but after a couple of months the troubled youngster found himself on the city streets, and with no one to turn to, was forced to seek refuge with Centrepoint.
In just under a year, the homeless charity has helped him to turn his life around.
“If I hadn’t moved up here I probably wouldn’t be here today,” said Daniel.
“I had to leave London. I was getting threatened and my family were getting threatened.
“They said they would hurt my mum and dad and my brothers, and said they would cut me up and that sort of stuff.”
Daniel, now living in Southwick, left his family on Mother’s Day in March, and hasn’t seen them since.
“It was my choice to leave,” he said. “It was hard for my family. My dad was crying when I left, I couldn’t even look at him.”
Daniel, who used drugs such as cannabis, hoped he would have the family support on Wearside he needed to change his life.
“I thought I would have someone there to help me,” he said. “But the relationship broke down, and she left me a note saying she wanted me out of the house. There’s no contact between us now.”
He visited housing services who found him a place at Centrepoint’s Dundas Street hostel.
“I felt really nervous going in,” he said. “I had no idea what to expect, especially because I’m not from the area.
“But it’s not as bad as people think.”
Supported housing officer at the centre, Shaun Graham, said Daniel, who is training to be a painter and decorator, and learning joinery, needed help for mental health issues.
“He was very chaotic, as you can imagine when someone has been homeless and involved in gang-related violence,” he said.
“We had to work on building his self esteem and reducing cannabis intake.
“He wasn’t diagnosed with anything, but he couldn’t see where he was going.”
Daniel signed up to the Empty Homes Project, run by Centrepoint and funded by The Department for Local Government and Communities Empty Homes Community Grant Fund, and is working with contractor Cendrig to refurbish empty homes, one of which he is living in.
And the trainee painter and decorator, who is planning to see his mum for the first time since March, in the new year, added: “If I had stayed in London I could have been locked up in prison. I could be seriously damaged.
“It’s totally different up here. It’s a lot quieter and there’s time to focus on yourself, I like that.”