‘I feel absolutely amazing’ – Homeless Sheffield man given second chance by city business

A man who has spent most of his life in prison, on the streets or in the grip of addiction has been given a fresh chance by the owner of a Sheffield business.

By Dan Hayes
Thursday, 20 June, 2019, 15:32

Jason Otter, aged 37, was first introduced to heroin at the age of 13 and went to prison for the first time when he was 15.

He has since been back to either young offenders’ institutions or adult prison more than 20 times, he says, and has spent most of his time on the outside on the streets.

Jason Otter and Liam Bardell at Gaard Coffee.

On Thursday, however, Jason - or T as many people know him - began his first day’s work in more than 10 years, at Gaard coffee in Kelham Island.

“I was bricking it in case I dropped something,” he said.

“For Gaard to give me this chance feels absolutely amazing. It is much more than anyone else has given me.”

Jason Otter.

“They have looked at me differently and thought about my future and not just my past - not just someone begging or taking gear.”

The job came about after Gaard owner Liam Bardell met Jason at the coffee shop and discovered something about his life story.

“When I got chatting to him I realised he is dedicated to the journey he is on,” says Liam.

“It is about trying to walk a mile in his shoes. Everyone has had problems in their past.”

Jason on the streets.

“It made me think how does someone in his situation get back to employment.”

Liam says he hopes that other businesses in Sheffield will now step up to help Jason by giving home more work, eventually bringing him up to part-time or even full-time hours over the long term.

“Going from not working to a full-time job is really difficult,” said Liam.

“If several places can pick up a bit of it then maybe he can start doing something more regular.”

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Jason on the streets.

Jason’s problems, like so many people who have found themselves in his situation, came about as a result of illegal drugs.

A chance encounter with a man smoking heroin when he was just 13 led to decades of drug abuse and crime to fund his addiction.

He said: “I was going to school with a habit. When I woke up I had to have something to function.

“Then I stopped going to school and started grafting - shoplifting.”

After such a difficult start in life it is no surprise that Jason fell into rough sleeping and begging on the streets of Sheffield city centre.

Up until three months ago, he says he was living in any doorway he could find.

Jason selling the Big Issue outside Sheffield Town Hall.

A chance meeting with an old friend who works in the Sheffield homelessness system spurred him to make changes, however, after he grew tired of the lifestyle he was leading.

The friend has since helped him find work as a Big Issue seller outside Sheffield Town Hall and also encouraged him to work on his mental and physical health, both of which have suffered terribly after years on the streets.

He is currently on antibiotics for horrendously painful leg sores that developed from a spot he scratched with ‘mucky hands’ when he was homeless.

And he is taking regular trips out to the Peak District to undertake ‘equine therapy’ with horses in a beautiful natural environment so far removed from the places he so recently called home.

Thanks to his hard work Jason now has a flat of his own and says he hopes one day to save up enough money to set up his own mobile coffee business.

He said: “Living on the streets is just nasty, not nice at all. Getting punched in the head, kicked and pissed on. But I feel absolutely amazing now.

“It makes me sad the way people view you when you’re on the streets. But you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.”

Jason Otter.