Strictly star Neil Jones admits he turned to a shelter after weeks of sleeping rough

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Many know Neil Jones, 39, as one of the many incredibly talented professional dancers on BBC talent show Strictly Come Dancing, which has just concluded this year’s series. But his journey to stardom wasn’t as glamorous as the one he’s living now, as he bravely told his story about being homeless when he was a teenager, in a bid to “break the stigma”.

I lived like this for about a week, until I finally confided in a friend

Neil Jones

After a few months of sofa surfing and sleeping rough, the dancer eventually got help and support he needed from a shelter, where he was given his own room and surrounded by people of a similar age and situation.

It all started when he was 16 years old and decided to leave the UK to go to Finland, where her was training to be a dancer.

Realising that he really needed to be in Helsinki instead of Jyväskylä, he left his then-partner’s family home where he was staying, but soon found out he didn’t have anywhere to sleep or enough money to pay for accommodation.

“For several months, I would sleep on the sofas or floors of different friends’ houses in the city,” he said in a new interview.

“Then, one winter’s day, I found myself with nowhere to stay.

Neil recalled contacting three friends but they either didn’t have room or he couldn’t get hold of them.

“I grew worried,” he explained, “it was very cold outside, and I was left with no other option than to seek shelter at the dance school where I was spending the days training.

But he admitted his ego took a hold of him, and wanted to make sure no one found out his circumstances by getting up early and pretending to arrive with everyone else and being one of the last to leave the dance hall at night.

“At times, I would sleep on a bench in the hallway, which connected the different studios, but then I realised security was patrolling the building,” he said.

“In order to avoid getting caught, I would hide in the toilets and sometimes even sleep in a stall until the morning.”

He continued to tell “I lived like this for about a week, until I finally confided in a friend.

“Straight away he spoke to his mum, who gave him a number for a shelter, which he passed on to me. That night, I was sleeping at the shelter.”

Neil said he was “lucky” that he got exactly the support he needed to get back on his feet.

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He went on: “In the shelter, I wasn’t sharing with anybody. I had my own room, and the residents there were all teenagers. I was given meals and asked if I needed anything, so I felt really supported.

“I was in the shelter for about three weeks before I finally contacted my mum and told her I wanted to come back to the UK – although I didn’t reveal the exact circumstances I’d been living in.”

Neil revealed his mum still believed he was living with his partner, and he kept telling her that everything was good so as not to worry her.

“She had no idea I was homeless, and didn’t actually find out until about a year ago,” he sighed.

“When my mum finally did find out, we didn’t go into too many details.

“I think it was better for her not to know how I was living at the time, it would have worried her too much.”

He noted that he’s proud to support The National Lottery in their work to end homelessness, pointing out that the stigma surrounding it is often marred.

“People sometimes assume those on the streets are lazy, or drug addicts, or don’t want a job,” he said.

“But there are many reasons why someone finds themselves without a roof over their heads.

Neil also credited his love for dance, saying it got him through one of the toughest times in his life as he used it as an “escape” from the challenges of the real world.

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