HOMELESS, alone, lacking in self-confidence and permanently scared – a Belfast woman had hit rock bottom until football saved her life.

Having been homeless when she was 19 and rebuilding her life from scratch after being released from prison, Ruth never thought it would happen again – but a secure apartment and job crumbled before her eyes.

Struggling with her confidence and low in mood, Ruth used her love for football to rebuild her life for a second time, thanks to the assistance of Street Soccer NI.

Street Soccer NI is a charity set up for the disadvantaged groups of society such as the homeless, people with addictions, mental health issues, ex-prisoners, refugees, asylum seekers and long term unemployed.

Thanks to a National Lottery grant of £10,000 in 2020, the charity has been able to continue to bring positive change to people’s lives using football.

Hillingdon Times: CEO and co-founder of Street Soccer NI Justin McMinn has welcomed the funding from the National LotteryCEO and co-founder of Street Soccer NI Justin McMinn has welcomed the funding from the National Lottery

Having run as a charity since 2013, Street Soccer NI now put on 10 weekly sessions in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry, including women’s football and learning disability football – and have travelled all over the world to compete in the Homeless World Cup.

Now, Ruth is in secure accommodation with her confidence soaring, and she is regularly volunteering at Street Soccer NI to help others who have been in her situation – even starting her coaching badges to progress further.

Ruth said: “It was like two different types of homelessness – the one later, I’d left my old life behind when I left prison and I managed to rebuild.

“I had my own apartment, everything was going great, I was working and it was paying off. Then my landlord needed to sell because of his own financial troubles, which was totally understandable, but it meant that I was homeless.

“Living in a hostel can be scary, especially as a woman. It’s not necessarily 100 percent safe, and there were times I was lying in bed, the door handle is going down and I’d think ‘thank god I locked that door and put stuff up against it to keep it closed’.

“I got involved with Street Soccer because I’ve always been involved in football. They gave me so much support – a key worker would fight my corner, put everything I owned in storage so I wouldn’t have to start from scratch, they even took me to the housing office and arranged it all for me.

“To see other people running up and down the pitch was amazing, because I love the game and that’s what’s so great about Street Soccer – I had my experience there, but that’s their new experience.”

CEO and co-founder of Street Soccer NI Justin McMinn said: “It’s a unique project, we’re the only charity in Northern Ireland that uses football to tackle homelessness.

“The funding from The National Lottery has helped us develop volunteers, to make them more effective in the role in training.

“Obviously, a lot of our players still have problems and there’s a lot of work involved. The funding helps us to get them to a better place, and then they can become volunteers with us, implementing the skills that we’ve taught them to help others.”

Strictly Come Dancing star Neil Jones, who struggled with homelessness as a teenager, is highlighting the incredible support National Lottery-funded homeless projects have provided to people all over the UK during the last 10 years.

The 31-year-old professional dancer is now a regular fixture on screens across the UK, but just a few years ago he was in a very different position and, for a brief time, he even found himself sleeping rough on the streets.

With Christmas fast approaching, Neil is helping to highlight the extensive funding and support The National Lottery has provided to homelessness projects over the last decade.

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.

Hillingdon Times: Strictly star Neil Jones has opened up about his experience of homelessness as a teenagerStrictly star Neil Jones has opened up about his experience of homelessness as a teenager

Jones said: “With winter upon us and Christmas just around the corner, now is the perfect time of year to spare a thought for those who don’t have a home to go to or have somewhere safe, comfortable and warm to sleep over the festive period.

“It’s tough to think about the difficult things they’re going through at this time of year because it’s such a time of joy for most of us, but it’s important to recognise that there are so many people out there who really do need our help.

“Thankfully, there are countless incredible charities and organisations doing some really incredible work supporting homeless people across the UK with National Lottery funding.”

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.

David Knott, Chief Executive of The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, we are able to provide much-needed funding to incredible organisations that are making an important difference to people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

“Whether supporting people experiencing homelessness to improve prospects for employment, supporting with mental health or providing a safe place where people can build their confidence and self-esteem, dedicated groups and their volunteers are working tirelessly with the homeless community, so that they are better able to overcome challenges and hopefully go on to prosper and thrive.”

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.