‘I assure those struggling there is hope’; Edinburgh charity Steps to Hope celebrates one year

Steps to Hope founder Richard Roncero (right) with service user Scott Forbes who is grateful for the charity's support.
Steps to Hope founder Richard Roncero (right) with service user Scott Forbes who is grateful for the charity's support.
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Richard Roncero’s life has seen him reach unimaginable lows, with him sleeping on the streets and struggling with drug addiction, admitting at that point in his life he wanted to die.

He fought his addiction for more than a decade believing he could tackle his illness alone.

Steps to Hope' volunteers wishing service user Scott Forbes good luck for his time in rehab.

Steps to Hope' volunteers wishing service user Scott Forbes good luck for his time in rehab.

The 35-year-old said: “Really I have been homeless for my whole life. I used to sofa surf or stay at a girlfriend’s house but I did end up on the streets for a while. I was dying slowly and I actually wanted to die. I had no purpose in life and I just turned to using substances.

“I was doing cocaine daily because I didn’t know what else to do and I even spent a short time in prison for an assault.”

But it was when speaking to a recovering addict that it dawned on him he needed help to turn his life around.

After going through a rigorous rehab programme he decided to use his devastating experience to give something back to those who find themselves on the streets or struggling with addiction in Edinburgh.

Dunfermline's Kallum Higginbotham helps out at Step to Hope's Monday's Munchies event every fortnight.

Dunfermline's Kallum Higginbotham helps out at Step to Hope's Monday's Munchies event every fortnight.

Richard decided he wanted to help the homeless a number of years ago by providing Santa sacks filled with essentials to those sleeping rough on Christmas Day in the city centre.

Last year the efforts accumulated enough items to hand out 60 sacks and it was at this point he knew he wanted to do more. This is when the charity Steps to Hope was founded and one year on, a team of dedicated volunteers has helped hundreds of people who are sleeping rough or suffering with addiction, whether that be alcohol, drugs or gambling.

The charity offers to chaperone service users to recovery meetings and helps pay for accommodation for those who face the three-month wait to go to rehab at the Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme (LEAP).

A weekly event called Monday’s Munchies was also introduced by Steps to Hope volunteers in September last year for people to get out of the cold and get home-cooked meals at St Columba’s by the Castle Resources Company. The gathering has grown rapidly in a matter of months rising from just a handful of users to now attracting 30-50 people each week.

The charity’s profile is constantly rising with local businesses now offering their support with Mac Cleaning Services paying the rent to host Monday’s Munchies. Piecebox Cafe kindly donates soup for service users while Margo from The Hair Lounge also provides free haircuts once every four weeks. Dunfermline midfielder Kallum Higginbotham has also joined the team of volunteers helping out at Monday’s Munchies every other week.

Steps to Hope now boasts more than 40 volunteers with half of that number in recovery meaning they have valuable first hand experience of the circumstances service users find themselves in.

Richard has been clean now for four years and three months and says speaking to a recovering addict was the key to changing his life for the better.

“Speaking to someone who has been in my position meant everything to me,” he said. “It showed me that I could change and I had something to aim for.

“My first day in rehab was the first time I’d been clean since I was 15. Living on the streets is a scary experience. Addiction kills. There is no judgement in what we do at Steps to Hope because we’ve been there before.

“It is heartbreaking to see people sleeping on the streets of Edinburgh, feeling as though they have no support or solution to get them out of the situation.”

Richard now works full-time as a groundsman and is a proud home owner which he shares with his 16-year-old daughter Courtney – who is now the secretary of Steps to Hope.

He said: “Courtney has been on this journey with me. She has seen me at my worst and I knew I needed to get better for her. She named the charity and I sometimes can’t believe how my life has transformed so much in a short space of time.”

It is hoped more local businesses will help finance the vital support Steps to Hope provides for hundreds of people.

His spare time is filled by attempting to raise the profile of the charity including waking up at 5.30am up to three times a week to buy coffees for people sleeping rough.

Richard’s dream for the charity is to open its own hostel meaning they can accommodate a number of people while waiting for rehab. But he admits to having to pinch himself at how much the charity has grown in just 12 months.

He said: “We have surpassed anything I was expecting when we launched. I’m pleased that I can use my negative experience as a positive to assure those going through a turbulent time that there is hope for them.”

Transforming the Lives of People in the Capital

Taking drugs was the norm for Scott Forbes during his younger years.

He grew up in Aberdeen sniffing gas and taking ecstasy before moving on to crack cocaine and heroin by the age of 16.

Scott got kicked out of school and would spend his cash fuelling his drug and gambling addictions.

He failed to settle in many areas of the UK and was unable to hold down several jobs before returning to Edinburgh at the end of last year when he was homeless and sleeping in graveyards – a time in his life he describes as “hell”.

It was in November when a friend told the 43-year-old about Steps to Hope’s Monday’s Munchies event and he has not looked back since.

He said: “I first spoke to Richie in January and there were so many things in his story that I could relate to. I did not want to be using but the hardest part is stopping. I knew I could trust Richie. He opened up about his past and showed me that there was help there as long as I wanted it. Seeing how he’d turned his life around I knew I wanted to do the same.

“I was willing to do anything. I’d been sleeping in graveyards and shop entrances and ended up in B&Bs alongside people who were using.

“Sleeping rough is hell, absolute hell. It’s horrible and you’re living in constant fear. I thought I was going to die on the streets.”

Steps to Hope helped Scott attend fellowship meetings by giving him a mobile phone and bus pass. They also assisted with his application to go into rehab and even paid for his accommodation during his time on the waiting list.

Scott is now in his seventh week of rehab and insists he cannot believe how quickly his life has been transformed.

He has now rekindled his relationship with his dad which he never felt would have been possible just a couple of months ago.

He said: “Moving out of the hostel I had been staying in was life-changing for me.

“I saw my dad for the first time in years and he gave me his 20-year sobriety coin. It was heartwarming that he is showing me support and now I speak to him every other day.

“I now have my daughter and granddaughter back in my life too which is fantastic. None of this would have been possible without Steps to Hope.”

When Scott completes his rehab he is to thank Steps to Hope for transforming his life by becoming an ambassador and, like Richard, using his experience to help others. “Life before Steps to Hope was horrendous,” he said. “Now I smile and laugh which I haven’t done for years. I feel like I want to get up on a morning. I would not be where I am now without Steps to Hope and I can’t thank them enough.”