IT is hard enough to fight our own demons without climbing out of the depths of hell to help others fight theirs.

This is the gritty true story of Pete Shirley, a man who used to live in his car but is now on the frontline in the fight against homelessness in Worcester, helping others who, like him, have fallen on hard times.

Pete's turnaround is all the more dramatic because his nightmare did not end with the loss of his home following the breakdown of his 25-year marriage.

After spending months living in his cramped Vauxhall Corsa when his marriage collapsed he was befriended by a gay couple who offered him a room in their house.

He was then given alcohol before one of the men subjected him to a horrifying rape ordeal near Weston-super-Mare on New Year's Eve 2012.

The attack forced Pete into a downward spiral where he drank to blot out the memories and flashbacks which haunted him.

The trauma of the experience was compounded when Avon and Somerset Police could not find enough evidence to prosecute the man who committed the assault.

It was an abyss of despair and shame which led him to attempt to take his life, slashing his wrist with a bottle on June 9, 2013.

The wound needed 12 stitches and if it had not been for his best friend's son, who found him, he believes he would have bled to death.

But Pete refused to let the attack destroy him and when you talk to the 43-year-old father-of-five and grandfather of three, now an outreach worker for St Paul's Hostel in Worcester, it is impossible not to be impressed by how far he has come from the dark place in which he found himself. Pete is quick to credit the turnaround to the excellent support he received and continues to receive from staff at St Paul's.

Two years after attempting suicide he now has his own apartment in Diglis and a full-time job as a hostel outreach worker. He also has a new car but he says he's not planning to sleep in this one.

His reversal in fortune is dramatic as it is unusual, taking from a position where he was a service user at St Paul's to a full-time employee with the charity which helped put him back on his feet.

Pete began as a volunteer helping out at the night shelter, making breakfast at the YMCA in Henwick Road, St John's, Worcester. At that time he was living in a hostel-run dry house in the city's Bromyard Road.

Homelessness remains a grim fact of life in Worcester despite the work of charities like St Paul's and Maggs Day Centre with 113 people using the emergency accommodation over the 12 week winter period of its operation as part of No Second Night Out, a preventative scheme designed to reduce rough sleeping.

He said: "I tell them I know exactly how they feel. I have been there and done it. They seem more at ease with me then. They open up. They're more honest with me. I can relate to it, having been there myself."

Pete, who has not had an alcoholic drink for two years, said he saw a lot of parallels between the coping mechanisms he used to deal with homelessness and those of some of the people he meets in Worcester.

He finds helping rough sleepers rewarding and hopes people find him approachable.

"Even talking to someone for 10 minutes - you will be surprised how much that means to someone who has got nothing. I will stop at any time, day or night."

Pete is the first to admit that not all of the people he speaks to want his help but he says he is ready to help them when and if they are ready.

One of the main concerns for him is to protect the health of rough sleepers and check on their wellbeing as he walks the streets of Worcester with colleagues.

He often makes his round in the mornings, introducing himself to rough sleepers and telling them about services in the city so they can get the help and support they need.

Ginette Sadler, outreach team leader, said: "Pete has been inspirational. His commitment to the team has just been outstanding. It is not often you see a turnaround like this. We're really proud of Pete."

When he was a volunteer, before he was offered a full-time position, he was helping every day just because he loved the work.

Pete said: "I love life. I never thought I would say that again. It has been a long, emotional struggle. I'm not 100 per cent there but I'm as near as I can be. I like waking up. I didn't like waking up a couple of years ago. I make the most of every day. Two years ago I had nothing. Now I don't want nothing."

Making contact with rough sleepers is vital in getting people support for issues like substance misuse, benefits, healthcare and access to accommodation.

Once accommodation is provided St Paul's can provide other support including financial help and assisting people to find jobs or volunteering opportunities.

Pete is keen to dispel the myths which still cling to homelessness and the stereotype of the bearded man with a brown paper bag and stressed that anyone can become homeless if they lose their job or their relationship breaks down.

Pete has even been able to invite some of his children and grandchildren to stay with him in the new apartment, reconnecting him with his family.

He said: "It's like heaven. I wake up in heaven every morning. I go home to my own place. I could not wish for more at the moment. Life is so good."

He officially started his new job on February 25 and wants it to continue for many years.