BY CALUM FRASER
A father has been reunited with his children four years after he had a mental breakdown and left his family for a life on the streets.
Tony Long has spent the last three Christmases sleeping on the streets in central London while his two children and partner were thinking he was dead.
Tony then saw his face on a missing persons’ appeal in Wales and eventually made a tearful call home.
He is now living in the Emmaus Greenwich community centre in Elmley Street where he will spend Christmas this year with his two children, 14-year-old Eloise and 10-year-old Leyton.
The 39-year-old said: “I’ve spent Christmases on the street alone near Victoria station, not wanting anything to do with it.
“I can remember falling asleep outside on one New Year’s Eve being so tired that I managed to sleep through the firework display.
“This Christmas though, I’ll be seeing my children which I’m really looking forward to.”
He had left his home in Essex in a t-shirt and jeans in January 2014 and spent the next three years on the street, travelling around coastal areas but always returning to London.
Tony said: “I will always remember that first night sleeping rough. I was on the steps of Victoria station and it was snowy.
“I found newspapers in a nearby recycling bin and wrapped myself in them to keep warm.
“The thought of contacting my family scared me because I thought they would be angry. “I felt stuck in the situation that I found myself in.
“I began to sell The Big Issue and would save all the money to get the cheapest bus ticket to coastal towns for a few weeks before returning to London to get a new sleeping bag and clothes.
“It was horrible in the sun, but the worst was in the rain and snow. I will never moan about the cold again.
“When you’re homeless, the rain and snow ruins you and I would do anything not to get my clothes or feet wet as I knew that would mean trouble.
Thinking back, it was amazing what my brain and body handled.” He spent most of his time in London by Victoria station.
Tony travelled to Wales where he was confronted by a policeman who looked up his name on their database and found the missing person appeal.
Tony said: “He told me to contact my children. That’s when it really hit home for me. I didn’t contact them straight away but must have gone to the phone about 50 times that week to do it.
There wasn’t much of a conversation when I finally did, as it was mostly me crying.
“They understood that I had been unwell, but they thought I had died and that is something that I will always wish I could take back.”
Taking steps to rebuild his life Tony moved to Emmaus Greenwich, a charity which supports formerly homeless people by giving them a home and the opportunity to work in its social enterprise.
Tony now runs the community kitchen in the Plumstead centre cooking for other 32 residents.
He said: “The structure I get here is exactly what I need to eventually live independently again. I love it.
“I get to see my children regularly, and the support I’ve received from family and friends has made me feel very lucky. Before my breakdown, I was living life at a hundred miles an hour, and somehow I have managed to come through the other end with a positive outlook on life.”
Those supported at the Emmaus Greenwich community live together and help to manage the charity’s three shops in Lee, Plumstead and Poplar.