Sean McAuley (23), from Belfast, is one of eight children. He was asked to leave home four years ago when his drinking habits spiralled out of control. he says:
I was 19 when my parents asked me to leave the family home. I was the fourth out of eight children, and I was drinking heavily and setting a bad example to my younger brothers and sisters.
My parents were very good to all of us. They just wanted me to do something with my life.
When I was younger I used to walk through the city centre and see the homeless people on Castle Street in Belfast ... I never thought for a minute I'd end up like them. I used to see them lying on the ground and think they were dirty and disgusting. I wondered why they did it to themselves. You don't see it from their point of view until you are actually there. No one really knows what is going on in someone else's life or what is going on in someone else's head.
When I went for advice one time, a woman said to me 'You don't look like a homeless person.' I said 'What does a homeless person look like?'. She didn't know what to say.
Now, when I walk down the city centre I look at all the people walking by and I usually think about what they are heading home to and I want exactly what they have - a roof over my head and a home of my own to go to.
The reality is they could just be like me - you don't have to be lying in a doorway to be homeless. I could be walking by a homeless person thinking they're lucky to have a roof over their head and they could be thinking that about me.
My parents have said to me that I'm welcome back when I straighten myself out and get myself a job. I understand why it happened. My parents don't drink and they didn't want me in a state all the time. I phone my mum every week to let her know how I'm getting on. I would have been drinking four or five days a week. I haven't had a drink for around 10 days now and I feel a lot better for it.
I left Corpus Christi College after my GCSEs. I sat nine but I failed most of them. After that I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life. I did a course at BIFHE in chef-ing and I got my NVQ level 2 and 3. I got into the whole student way of life, I was always socialising and drinking. It was causing problems because I was living at home.
I worked for a time at Clonard Monastery but after a while I kind of drifted away from it and ended up working at a 24-hour garage and then stacking shelves in a supermarket.
My mum told me to go down to the Welcome Centre for the Homeless at St Peter's Cathedral ans see its manager Joe McGuigan for advice. I was in a hostel for a while but I ended up sleeping rough in the grounds of St Dominic's High School.
I was drinking to make myself feel better but it was making me feel worse and adding to my problems. I was drinking to put myself to sleep at night because I was scared.
I only had a sleeping bag and I had no experience of sleeping out at night. I was afraid something would happen me. I didn't let on to my ma because I knew she was worrying about the fact that I was living in the hostel in the first place. I kind of lost touch with my friends - I didn't want them to see the way I was living. But, I've joined the library and keep in touch with some by emails or on Bebo. You wouldn't think that a homeless person would be on Bebo. I like to read, too. It helps to pass the time. I come to the Welcome Centre during the day to get showered, my clothes washed and my meals. I've got a locker there where I can keep my possessions.
They've really helped me out as in the beginning I had no idea where you went when you were homeless. I didn't know what happened or what I was entitled to.
At night, I go down to the crash rooms at Centenary House on Tomb Street, Belfast. It got its name because it's somewhere people can crash for the night before moving on in the morning. I'm not guaranteed a bed though. I go down every night and put my name on the list at 9.30pm and I find out at 10pm whether I've got a bed. If I don't then I call the Outreach team at the Welcome Centre. They have a van that goes around handing out sleeping bags and food. They come down and give me a sleeping bag for the night and I'm allowed to stay in the hostel building out of the cold for respite until 1am. Then I'm outside again.
I did have a hostel place but it didn't allow any alcohol on the premises and I arrived back at it one night with drink taken so I got a warning. Then another night I stayed out all night and didn't book out which is against the rules so I was asked to leave. I was in the middle of doing a personal development course with the Prince's Trust, but I dropped out when I lost my hostel place.
I didn't think there was any point going to it each day pretending nothing was wrong and I was the same as everyone else. Then, at the end of each day having to go back out on the street to find somewhere to stay.
At times it can be very lonely and depressing but I've always got the Welcome Centre to cheer me up. I can get very down sometimes. It's thanks to them that I'm still here and not lying dead somewhere from hypothermia.
When I chat to them I always feel 100 times better about everything. When I was younger I thought I would be a youth worker when I grew up.
It's funny how life works out. I have my child protection certificate and I'm a trained lifeguard as well.
I still want to go back and continue my education. I can see myself working with young people. I don't want to be stuck in hostels all my life."
'I crawled into an entry to die, i didn't want this any more'
Maggie Irvine (38), from Belfast, wanted to be a beautician when she was a child. She says:
I was in a long-term relationship which ended six years ago. My partner owned the house so I was left with nothing. I've been living in hostels ever since.
My life seemed to go out of control because of the personal circumstances I had at the time.
I used to get drunk and sit on the streets. I began to drink more heavily, and the more I drank, the more time I would spend on the streets. I would never ask for money but people would come over and try to give it to me. I would refuse and tell them to light a candle for me and say a prayer. I didn't want money, I just wanted to get myself together and do something with my life.
I didn't take pride in my appearance, I didn't care about what people thought or what they said about me. I remember at one point crawling up an entry off Castle Street on my hands and knees to die because I didn't want this existence anymore.
It's not what I was used to and it's not what I wanted for my life.
Before I ended up in hostels, I used to walk by homeless people in the street and say to myself 'Thank God I'm not one of those poor unfortunates' - and then I ended up just like them.
To this day, I think to myself 'How did this happen, how did my life get into such a state?' I can't allow myself to think about it too much as it will only drag me back down. I was in total despair at one stage but I've moved on from that time of my life. My experience of the streets has definitely made me a lot stronger.
I don't have any real possessions now. I lost them all along the way. My most important possession is my happy memories and I keep them all stored in my head. I moved around the city a lot; every time my family came looking for me I'd moved on to another patch. When I was younger I wanted to be a beautician. I ended up working for a charity dealing with alcoholics and drug users. Now, I want to settle myself down, get my own house and give something back to the Welcome Centre because they have given me so much. I'm grateful for everything they've done for me. They found me on Castle Street when I was at my lowest point and they brought me back to the Centre. I hadn't been looking after myself properly at all or eating well. They got me all the advice I needed and health check-ups.
Now I go to the gym and I look after myself and I take pride in my appearance. I enjoy visiting the centre because there are always people here to chat to, it takes my mind off things. I meet people all the time that are in a similar position to my own. Some of them are stuck in that dark place I was in.
It's a reminder to me of the way my life could turn out if I don't focus on helping myself, putting myself first and staying on the straight and narrow. I'm a lot more open now about my problems, I chat to people about the way I'm feeling rather than bottling it all up and it helps me."
l This series ends today