GOOD Samaritan Bus Is First Stop For Many On Journey Of Hope

INVERCLYDE Now writer Jeremy Burrows spends an evening on the Teen Challenge outreach bus in Greenock which provides support for vulnerable people, especially addicts.

I AM ashamed to say it, but as I wandered around the Dalrymple Street area waiting for the Teen Challenge bus to arrive, I was very conscious of people I instinctively took care to avoid. I changed direction, or crossed the street, because I wasn’t sure about them. They looked unpredictable; like they might cause an awkward situation. This went on for some minutes and I saw some of them more than once.

The bus arrived and I boarded and it turned out the people I was at pains to keep at a safe distance, were just the ones who are welcomed with open arms by the Good Samaritans who man the drop-in vehicle on a Monday night.

Gordon McKay from Skelmorlie greets me and it seems he can sense my guilt as he explains: “The people we get feel rejected by family, friends and society. People cross the road when they see them.”

The bus is at the frontline of a battle by Christians to help drug-users turn their lives around. It is run on Teen Challenge’s behalf by members from Cedar Hall fellowship in Greenock; a bus in Port Glasgow – which goes to the Robert Street area on Wednesday evenings -- is run by the Struthers Church in the town. More than 20 people a week visit for tea, coffee, food and a place where they are accepted.

Gordon said: “The bus is a link, at the coal-face. We can point people towards faith-based rehabilitation programmes. It may be for them, it may not.”

Forty-two people have been referred to programmes in the past four years and the addicts of today who board the bus are helped by some of those who were at rock-bottom and escaped. Two of the volunteers tonight are living proof the struggle can be overcome. Andy was a heroin addict for 10 years and went through the residential programme at The Haven, Kilmacolm but relapsed then tried again in London. He has been drug-free for two years. He said: “We can relate to where they are. I have been there and can talk with them.”

Tonight as it happens one of the bus visitors is a young man who last had heroin two days ago and is hoping never to use it again -- tomorrow he is heading for months of rehab at a centre in the Borders. Joe is sweating and his hand is very cold when I shake it. He tells me: “It is so encouraging here. I want to change. All I do is just go out and get my heroin. That’s it. I didn’t sleep a wink last night. Five days is the longest break I have had for years.”

Joe had given up the tenancy on his house which had been cleared of its furniture that day. He has a good example to follow -- Joe’s brother was an addict and quit through Teen Challenge. But Joe tried seven years ago without success.

Gordon knows all this. He knows the stories of so many -– the relapses, the triumphs, the tragedies. In four years of service on the bus, 14 of the people the team have had contact with through the bus outreach have died.

The mother of one is on board the bus tonight too. Rose Carr’s daughter Allana was 17 when she died last year in Inverkip, apparently from a drugs overdose. Rose said: “She phoned me and her last words to me were ‘I am tired, I am going to lie down. I love you.’” Rose comes to the bus for support. She said: “I can talk to them. They help me through. Allana used to come here. She loved it on here. She used to sing to everyone.”

Gordon and his wife Fay, who also serves on the bus, went to Allana’s funeral. Gordon worked for Xerox, latterly in sales, but retired through ill-health. He started volunteering at The Haven, driving people to appointments such as the doctor or court and using his love of cooking to good effect, before getting involved in the bus outreach.

He said: “I would never have done this years ago but now I have absolutely no fear. I know their names; I welcome them. That means a lot to them. They are at a low point in life. I don’t preach at them. We show them videos of changed lives. If they ask, we tell them it doesn’t have to be this way; there’s a better way.”

Another of the organisers, John Black, said: “There is nothing worse than no hope. Thinking you are never going to be free. Here they see it can be done. The message is that there’s hope.”

Drug addicts often don’t attract sympathy; quite the opposite. I put that to John – their plight could be seen as self-inflicted. He responds: “Whatever reason they got into it, everyone deserves a second chance. There but for the grace of God go I.”

One woman has turned up for the first time tonight. As I leave, she is still sitting on the pavement where a volunteer has been alongside her, listening and encouraging for the whole evening.

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