Express & Star

From sofa-surfing after family tragedy to stable living via the kindness of a stranger

Ryan Witton admits he has faced a lot of tough times for a man of 21 - but says he is now happier than he's been in years.

Last updated
Ryan Witton who has successfully took part in the YMCA Black Country's Open Door - Supported Lodgings programme

The young man spent a number of years going from sofa to sofa at friends' homes after his father died and he was unable to live with his mother. He even spent a month living on a Cannock golf course in a tent.

But he is now living with host Robert Bates, who has almost become a father figure - and he credits both him and the YMCA Black Country's Open Door Supported Lodgings programme with helping him become settled.

He has lived under Robert's roof for well over two years and because of this is eligible to apply for council housing either in Wolverhampton or in his native Walsall, but has no plans to move out yet.

Ryan said: "It has been a struggle at times but I can honestly say the last few years I have turned a corner because of Robert's help, guidance and kindness and the support of the YMCA and staff who have been there for me as well.

"My story really is that I was living with my dad who was estranged from my mum, then I went away on holiday and got a telephone call to say he had died. I lived with a friend for two years but then moved from place to place and also lived in a tent for a month – it was a tough time and I didn't get much support, I felt, from social services.

"But then I heard about the YMCA and the support they give to young people through the Open Door programme, I applied and ended up living in Wolverhampton which was a new area but it has worked out so well that it has become my home city - and I love living with Robert in this house, which quickly also became home.

"Robert has given me a lot of help in terms of coping with my mental health issues, becoming more independent, learning to look after myself, it was not something that came naturally even though I have lived in quite a few different places.

"The fact I didn't know him, yet he welcomed me almost as if I was family from the start, meant a lot to me - and the support from my programme worker in checking on everything and being there in the background has been invaluable."

Ryan has a number of skills including running an independent news website, fixing cars and videography and, encouraged by his support worker and Robert, has worked and undertaken education.

He is now looking for a full-time position but even though the time spent on the programme has now expired, is a fully fledged independent tenant with Robert and has no plans to move on.