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Philip's Story

Philip's Story

No one knew that Philip was sleeping in his car. Not his two fond children, none of his loving wider family and caring friends. Even Philip didn't know, as he stood on a motorway bridge, wondering whether he would take his own life that night.

Four years earlier, the 56-year-old had what he thought was the perfect life. He was married to his childhood sweetheart, living in a large four-bedroom house in the desirable Fruithill area of west Belfast, enjoyed a close relationship with his daughter and son and was a doting grandfather to his adored grandson.

My wife and I had a very close relationship, but she she wanted a new start. I'm broken hearted. I see stuff now in black and white, because the colour was taken out of my life when my wife went out the door.

We had a good marriage up until she left. We still had our Friday nights drinking wine and eating chips. When she left I sort of got a shock because my wife looked after everything, maintained the bank, everything.

Like every picture perfect life, there had been strains beneath the surface with Philip having a long battle with depression and the struggles after losing his job.

I've been suffering depression for years. I had an accident at work which pensioned me out of my job. I'd been in counselling for years. When someone says you're on the scrap heap in a job that you loved and you know that you can never go back to that kind of work - that's hard to take!

I've been suffering depression most of my life, fighting it. I can fight anything else. I was able to give up smoking and a lot of things, but this mental business is something I have to work hard at.

The breakdown of his marriage was hard on Philip.

I was left with a big, big house of memories. My son was married from my house and I would look at the stairs and remember him walking down on his wedding day.

With his wife, the main breadwinner gone he could not make the monthly repayments and attempted to have the family home repossessed so he could start again. However, the process became mired in red tape.

I spent four very cold and miserable years trying to give it back to the mortgage company. They tortured me for two years and after two years it started all over again.

Philip was told by the Housing Executive that if he left the house he would make himself "voluntarily homeless", unable to pay for heat and electricity, his depression deepened and he began to shun company.

I was still in contact with my daughter and my son, but I didn't let on to them. I spent four years in isolation. I walked out of the property and contacted the Housing Executive and I said, `I can't do this anymore'. I was out of the house for about a week, unknown to anybody, but I was living in my car. One day I nearly jumped the bridge because of the worry.

He walked into the Housing Executive, adamant he "couldn't deal with the madness that was in those shelters", having visited his brother in some troubling hostels before he died.

Greeted by two members of staff from Simon Community NI, Philip was given a room at the charity's Saintfield Road service, a place where the staff knew his name and checked on him every night. There he spent 100 days. 

You get a room and a shower and a bathroom and the staff were there 24/7 if you had a problem. I was in Saintfield about two weeks and I told my children not to worry, I was with the Simon Community. They were delighted that I finally got out of the house.

Philip was awarded his own flat in August 2018 and in December, flew out to New Zealand to spend Christmas with his grandson, daughter and her new husband. He is filled with wonder at how his life has been transformed in the last year.

I walk that bridge some days to come into town and I still think of myself standing there. I pinch myself and can't believe where I am. Every day I wonder if someone is going to take it away from me.

Phil – Simon Community NI Client

Many thanks to Bimpe Archer at The Irish News for her sensitive telling of Philip's Story.