This is Marko, 33, and his story is one of perseverance, personal development and strength.

When he was just three years old, the centre for social welfare took him from his mother due to her chaotic lifestyle. He could not stay with his father or other family members either and so he was brought to a children’s home. Like so many other children, he received some level of support, but not the level needed to prepare him for making decisions about his life. When he aged out of the care system at 18, he had no idea about how to live by himself, how to find a job or manage his finances – he was left on his own, without the social support he needed.

At this point, he managed to reconnect with his father. However, his situation was far from ideal. After a serious illness he had lost his job and flat and he had moved into social housing. These rooms are generally just slightly better than those you’d find in derelict, abandoned buildings – a desperate solution to the grave lack of affordable housing in Rijeka.

Marko stayed with him for about four months but eventually decided to sleep on a friends’ sofa. By the time his friend told him to leave, his father had lost his housing – resulting in Marko’s first nights out in the streets. Still 18, he found himself sleeping on a bench in a park.

What followed were years of temporary jobs, spells of sleeping in abandoned buildings, on friends’ floors, the streets, a garden shed and rented rooms whenever he could afford it. Today, Marko would reflect on this time and say that he was his own worst enemy, running away from difficult situations and so ending up back where he started. But back then, it felt like life was stacked against him – as if he was caught in the same bad routine over and over again.

Things changed at an unlikely moment. He had just run away from a therapeutic community and was walking back to the daycentre of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in Rijeka, where he had found the support and warmth he had been looking for. He walked for 30km and would later say that during this walk he found his spirituality and his life fell into place. He arrived at the daycentre that day a changed man – committed to his future, dedicated to leaving the streets behind and with the deep belief that he could overcome any obstacle in his path.

The Sisters of Charity became his vital support network – helping him to face challenges rather than run away from them. Marko found a room in a Salesian convent and spent his days volunteering at the day centre of the Sisters, becoming a valuable member of the team. And when Depaul Croatia was established in 2017 in partnership with the Sisters the new structures allowed for the employment of staff. Marko was the first to become part of this new Depaul family.

Today, he is the assistant cook, but so much more too: managing the smooth running of the daycentre. He talks to clients when tensions arise, listens to them tell their story and helps them to move forward. Here, his past experiences on the streets mean that people trust him; they believe him when he says there is a way out. And when he says “I understand” – they know he does.