WILL Semple is the first to admit he specialises in hopeless cases.
He doesn’t mean to be disrespectful, he just knows what he’s talking about.
Will, who says he is “70-something”, is widely recognised as the main man at Elim Living Waters Pentecostal Church, in Whitby Street.
The five-storey building houses a cafe for people to get a much-needed meal, bedrooms for them to live in and get their lives back on track.
If they want someone to talk to, there’s always someone about. If they want some peace and quiet, they can close their door and be left alone.
He takes in drug addicts, people who the police and social services aren’t quite sure what to do with.
People who have fallen off the rails, people who have been disowned and thrown on the streets by their families, people who would rob their own granny to pay for their next fix.
Wrong ‘uns, in a nutshell.
But Will is good at what he does, as he’s been there and bought the T-shirt.
He was an alcoholic for 34 years, he was addicted to drugs and he lived a life of poverty.
Having moved down to Peterlee from his native Scotland at the height of his alcoholism, Will was taken into hospital in Hartlepool to die.
In there, he claims he found God. A vision at the bottom of his bed. Seven days later he was well enough to discharge himself.
He’s not touched a drop since.
As he spends all of his life helping others back on the straight and narrow, he’s probably never had time.
• AS a wide-eyed 18-year-old, Scott Lavery clearly remembers the first time he took heroin.
He was sitting in the back of a car in County Durham, persuaded to “give it a shot”.
He didn’t know it at the time, but he was teetering on the brink and was about the fall off the rails in spectacular fashion.
Fast forward 16 years, Scott certainly knows it now.
He was clean for six years after getting the right treatment, but found himself turning back to the drugs two years ago.
He’s been clean again since last Christmas - but admits every day is a battle.
“I had a good upbringing, a good background and while I wasn’t the best at school in terms of results, my attendance was good,” said the 35-year-old.
“I was 18 when I went off the rails. I was sat in the back of a car in Murton when I tried heroin for the first time. Someone gave me it.
“I didn’t know about addiction to heroin. When I was 18, I didn’t see people in alleyways shooting up, I didn’t know what went on or what it was all about. I thought I was the first one to try it.
“I was soon hooked. I used a good amount every day, but I needed it.
“I had a girlfriend and a job, but it took over. I started selling it to feed my own addiction.
“Some dealers sell it to make money, they never touch the stuff. I was selling it to get enough money to buy it.
“When you get to that stage, you would sell your own mother.”
For a four or five year period, Scott says his life was “pathetic”.
Scott, who hails from Blackhall but has classed Hartlepool as home for years, added: “I was a welder at the time, but I kept getting laid off because I was a mess. I couldn’t hold down a job.
“I lost a job, then got took on again, but then I’d always mess up. Everything was about the heroin. It was a vicious circle.”
Scott’s family guided him towards a detox programme, where he was effectively put to sleep for five days to allow his system to clean up.
Medics told him if he went back down the heroin road, he’d be dead within months. He was 24 at the time.
It wasn’t long before his head was turned again though.
“I was living with my girlfriend, we had a baby,” he went on.
“I was shooting up one day and the undercover police turned up at the door. They wanted the baby to be taken away from us, and that’s when I knew enough was enough.
“I ended up in hospital and the chaplain put me in touch with Will in Hartlepool.
“He took me to Swansea. I couldn’t go back to my village, or I’d have ended up back in the same routine with the same people.
“I was in Wales for eight months, then to Birmingham, and I was clean for a lot of years.
“I was working on dray wagons, I had a girlfriend, a mortgage. I had everything. I was happy.”
But a car accident was to change his life once again, and send him back to the heroin for solace.
“I was on prescription drugs as I’d damaged my hip,” said Scott.
“I got addicted to them. Then it was cocaine, then crack cocaine. I remember mixing cocaine into crack with ammonia detergent.
“It’s fair to say that wasn’t good for me.
“I never wanted to take my own life, but I could feel myself slipping away a few times. I was seven and a half stone, I was in and out of hospital. My dad told me I needed to get into rehab, and I listened to him.
“Will turned up again, he was starting to become like my guardian angel, and I ended up back in Hartlepool.
“I’ve been clean since the day after Boxing Day, almost six months.
“I want to stay clean. If I could turn back the clock to when i was sitting in that car, I’d show that 18-year-old kid the people who come in here and can hardly lift a bag of shopping. They need to see what it did to me, what it does to people.
“I’m not one of these people who will sit and tell you how much I’ve spent on drugs, and how much I could have had.
“But when I was working, I was on £22,000 a year. I used to get a bit more than that for other stuff. Will reckons I could easily have blew twenty grand in a year on drugs, but I cannot put a figure on it.
“I’ve had a lot of shame in my life, but I feel like I’m starting a new life now.
“I can’t afford to lapse again, it has got to come to an end. I need it to come to an end.
“I hope I can sit here in six months and say I’ve been clean for a year.
“There is a way out. But every day is a battle.”
• HE’S only 20 years-old, but Alistair Watson has experienced his fair share of ups and down.
More downs, to be fair to him, but things could be finally looking up.
Growing up in east Cleveland, Alistair was a typical teenager.
He was “alright” at school, he had a couple of close pals, he liked paying football and watching films.
He went to college, and wanted to be an accountant.
Then his mate got his own flat, a few cigarettes led to a few more joints, then he started stealing off his mother, got kicked out of home and ended up either sofa surfing or living on the streets after being gripped by cannabis.
It was during one of his homeless nights, as he sat stoned under a tree in Leeds overlooking the bright lights of the city centre having hitch-hiked there a few days earlier, that it dawned on him that it was probably about time he shaped up.
It wasn’t as easy as that though, but he’s getting there and has been at Whitby Street for four months.
He is as settled as he has ever been for the last few years.
“It was the time my mate got a flat after leaving school or college that things started to go wrong,” admitted Alistair.
“He introduced me to a mate of his, I had a few cigs, and then the cannabis started.
“Before long I was lying to my mam and staying out all night. I didn’t want to come home. I’d wake up stoned, and start all over again.
“I stole money from her purse, things like that.
“I got kicked out when I was 17, and ended up in supported accommodation. I’d promised I’d be home to help her as we were moving house one particular day.
“I ended up stoned and never turned up. When I eventually went to the new house, she opened the door and handed me my stuff in a bag. I never actually got through the door in that house. She’d lost patience, and I was out.
“I started taking other drugs, a bit of whizz, more cannabis. When the people who ran the accommodation found out about that, I was out again.
“I ended up in a B&B in Middlesbrough, and I didn’t have any drugs in that spell as I was away from the people I’d been mixing with.
“I moved from one B&B to the next, but I couldn’t pay the rent, some friends took me in for a bit, I slept in the railway station a few times.
“There was a point where I got in touch with an old school pal, and his family took pity on me and let me live with them.
“It was good. I got a bit of work, I was earning a living, I was eating the right things.
“But then I met some of the old circle of friends, I was back at the flat, the weed was being passed around, and off I went.”
During one marijuana-fuelled chat, Alistair and a pal decided it would be great idea to walk to Leeds from east Cleveland.
As another pal slept, Alistair nicked his PlayStation and few games, stuffed them in his bag, and off they went. Still in a haze from the day before. And the day before that, probably.
“There was two of us decided to do it, we scraped a few quid from selling things and ended up in Leeds via York a few days later,” he added.
“We bought some weed and food, and had a feeling of freedom.”
A spaced-out few months followed before Alistair was put in touch with Will.
He added: “It’s a long story, I ended up being put in Hartlepool, got kicked out of a few places and ended up being referred to the Elim Church.
“I’ve been here for four months now, I’ve not touched any drugs and I’m enjoying it.
“There are always people around me, but I’ve really got into my music and if I want to close my door and play my guitar then that’s not a problem.
“It’s done me the world of good, and for the first time in a long time I’m setting myself targets.
“I want to get into college and have a fresh start.
“If it wasn’t for this place, I wouldn’t have those targets.”