Homeless treat people helping them turn their lives around to a special party
Homeless alcoholics have treated those helping them on to the road to recovery by laying on a big party at a north Belfast outreach centre.
James Menagh, known as "Doc", and friend Jim Butler were amongst other service users who laid on the special party for volunteers on the Antrim Road's Rosemount House, an outreach centre that supports people with mental health issues and problems including alcohol addiction.
Former rough sleeper Doc (56) is one of Rosemount's success stories after a snap decision to approach them for food and shelter six years ago turned his life around.
Having lived on the streets after his relationship with his family broke down because of his alcoholism, he went on a four-day bender with a friend who happened to live facing Rosemount.
Looking only for something to eat and somewhere to sleep, he ventured in and ended up staying for three years and transforming his life.
"There was a lot of emotional wreckage in my life and a lot of things I've had to straighten out since I recovered," he said.
"It's not just a matter of finishing drinking, you have to be able to live your life without alcohol. There are a lot of things you have to make amends for.
"They say you need at least two years of sobriety before you can make any decisions for yourself in your own life - I was in Rosemount for three years.
"Treatment and recovery is not simple. You have to be in the right state of mind to get help.
"Services are out there but the addiction - whether it's drugs, alcohol or whatever - has that great hold on you, and your mind is closed off, you just want to feed your habit until you come to the decision for yourself."
Doc's journey to sobriety is closely followed by Jim (61), who battled drink for more than 30 years. The pair now volunteer at Rosemount and helped lay on the lunch with other homeless people and the recently reformed as thank-you to its staff.
Jim has been involved with Rosemount for six years but was nearly killed after attempting to refill a lighter while drunk and accidentally setting his home on fire.
Then last year, after a three-month binge, he became paralysed and was not expected to live after alcohol shut down his muscles and nerves.
He said: "I came to Rosemount from the Mater Hospital a year ago. They called staff here and said I would be lucky to make it through another 48 hours.
"I'd been in hospital trying to recover from alcoholic paralysis. In the eight weeks I was there they had to teach me how to walk again. I'd lost the use of my legs - it was like being a baby again. Before that I'd sat in my flat, and during the time that my legs I'd call taxis or friends to bring me drink.
"My biggest problem was in 1976. I lived in New York for about four years and the whole thing is the biggest blackout of my drinking career.
"I actually got deported because I was there illegally, and within a week I went from living in New York to sleeping rough on Castle Street in Belfast."
His life finally picked up with the help of Rosemount staff, and now he even gets to see his eight grandchildren.
"They call alcohol the great remover," he added. I lost my wife and children. However, since being sober - and with help from Rosemount - I've now got them in my life again
"There are no guarantees with alcoholism, and the future is a mystery, but my life is in a very good place."
The lunch was organised by rough sleepers who are currently being treated, or are recently reformed, and was sponsored by the Eden Project as part of the Big Lottery Fund.