Strictly Come Dancing star Neil Jones is highlighting the support National Lottery-funded projects are providing to homeless people having previously found himself sleeping on the streets.
Jones, 39, was homeless as a teenager while training as a dancer in Finland, something he first revealed publicly on Instagram in June 2020 while raising money for charity.
The dancer did eventually find a safe place to stay while in Helsinki after being forced to sleep on the streets when he was unable to find a friend to stay with.
He said: “I found myself in Helsinki, but I had no place to live. I was just sleeping on the sofa or on the floor of different friends.
“After one competition I asked a friend if I could stay the night and they didn’t have room for me. Another friend I spoke to said I could stay with him but I then couldn’t find him.
“I got back on the underground and made my way to another friend who lived near one of the schools, but they didn’t answer their phone.
“I then walked from one side of Helsinki to the other to the dance studio where I would train, and they had an outside lift which I got into and took me up to the floor I was going to be on. I just slept in there.
“I realised if I’d stayed outside I wouldn’t have survived the night. I was there for about a week, so I would sleep rough and then act like I’d just come to the studio so I was always first one there, last one to leave.
“It wasn’t until I told one of my friends, who told me about a charity and I managed to get into a shelter.”
Jones says that when he looks back on the experience it is the stigma surrounding homelessness, not the weather or safety concerns, which was the worst thing about his time sleeping rough.
He believes that there needs to be a shift in attitude to how homeless people are perceived.
Jones said: “The worst thing for me was the ego side, I didn’t want anybody to know I was homeless. I didn’t want anyone to know I was sleeping just outside of the studio.
“I didn’t even tell my mum about it as I didn’t want her to worry. It was the side of not wanting people to worry. I wanted to be as independent as I could.
“I think the ongoing problem you have is that sometimes you hear from people that someone is not really homeless, and that they’re just begging for money. They put a stigma on everybody that they’re trying to con you or that they’re or they’re just taking drugs.
“The reality is so many people are homeless for so many reasons. I just didn’t have a place to stay, there’s a lot of people like that.
“It’s winter and we have covid, a lot of people have lost their jobs, a lot of people facing domestic abuse at home; they would rather be on the streets than with someone else.”
Since 2010, more than half a billion pounds (over £576 million) has been awarded to more than 3,000 projects that involve or support homeless people or help tackle homelessness throughout the UK.
The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK, alone has awarded more than 600 grants worth around £80 million to projects that involve homeless people since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.
It was the impact of covid that inspired Jones to share his story, and he believes the support The National Lottery are providing is vital.
He said: “It’s always important to raise awareness of homelessness but at the moment it’s a double whammy; we’ve got covid there and it’s Christmas. We need everybody’s backing.
“The National Lottery, the amount of money they give and the amount of projects they work with, it’s just tremendous.
“It’s helping people get into shelters, get food. It’s helping them talk to other people. There’s so many projects out there and for people to play The National Lottery is great. The fact that you’re supporting people is incredible.
“The big things really do work, and The National Lottery’s work is really important.”
Thanks to National Lottery players, more than £30 million goes to good causes across the UK every week, which in turn helps charities and organisations which support homeless people in our communities. To find out more about National Lottery funding go to www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/funding.