I have lived at Emmaus Bristol since August 2019 and it has given me a feeling of contentment and shown me that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I now have a reason to get up in the morning, the chance to help other people and give back to society. If it wasn’t for Emmaus Bristol, I’d be six feet under by now.
I was born in Wales and my mother, who was a working girl, put me up for adoption. A couple in Bradford fostered me initially when I was three weeks old, and officially adopted me when I was 6 months. As far as I was concerned, they were my mum and dad. It was a bit of a rough start, but I was always loved throughout my childhood. I did the usual things that kids get up to and sometimes I was a bit naughty and what have you, but they still loved me right up until the end of their days.
It was in 2000 when the events that led me to Emmaus began. I had been living in the Isle of Wight for many years. I lost both my parents within three years of each other, my wife and I ended up divorcing and we lost both our children through separate car accidents. I became very depressed and was put on medication; I couldn’t see a future for myself and spent some time in a respite centre.
I ended up leaving the Isle of Wight and went to North Devon, spending 18 months in Ilfracombe and eight years in Torquay. It was hard to hold a job down with how I was because of my depression, and I didn’t do anything when I received the two months’ notice on my flat. I didn’t have any self-esteem and didn’t really care that much about myself at the time.
At the age of 62, I became homeless. I went to a little town called Sidmouth in East Devon and spent a month living in a tent wherever I could pitch it up. It was a very hard time, especially at my age. I’ve always liked to look presentable too, which is difficult whilst homeless. I made sure to dry shave every morning, and someone once commented saying they wouldn’t have thought I was homeless. Now, at Emmaus Bristol, I’m known as Dapper Dave.
In Sidmouth, a gentleman at the tourist information centre directed me to a social enterprise café called The Mustard Seed, saying that they could probably help me. I went there every day and they made sure I had something hot to eat, a cup of coffee and let me charge my phone and laptop up. It was here where I met a lady called Ann Worthington, who I can’t thank enough. Ann worked with an organisation called The Gateway Homelessness Action Group and knew of Emmaus. She helped me put in an application, and two weeks later I moved to Emmaus Bristol. I have visited The Mustard Seed and Ann twice since leaving to let them know how I’m getting on.
Hearing that I had been accepted at Emmaus Bristol was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I knew that I couldn’t have lasted much longer out in the cold. Not only has Emmaus Bristol given me a place to live, but I have no financial worries whilst I’m here. All food is provided, bills are sorted out and I receive an allowance every week which is enough to get by on. Everything Emmaus offers is a real safety net.
I also have the companionship of all the other people living in the community too. When I was living in a flat, I was all on my own, all the time. I do keep to myself a fair bit, but I know that when I need to be in company, all I’ve got to do is go downstairs and there will be somebody to chat to. We all try to help each other out when we can. Most recently, I was asked to take on the Companion Representative position and I’m happy to be helping others out through this role.
At Emmaus, I mainly work in our Bedminster and Stokes Croft shops. I have worked in our vintage shop on Gloucester Road a few times, but more staff are needed for the other two. I’ve had a lot of experience in retail and I do have quite an outgoing personality. I believe that everyone here is happy with the way I do my job and I know a lot of customers by name now. I’ll tell them all about Abbé Pierre and how he started Emmaus in France in 1949, and now what we’re trying to do here in Bristol to help other people who are homeless. Emmaus also offers companions training opportunities, and although I’m a bit long in the tooth to learn Spanish or something like that, I would like to renew my emergency first aid and fire awareness training.
Within four months of being at Emmaus, I had weaned myself off my medication too. It was difficult right at the beginning and I still do have the odd bad day, but I am now 12 months anti-depressant free. One of the support workers here at Emmaus Bristol can generally tell when I’m feeling a bit down and she will pull me to one side and give me a little pep talk – she’s very good at that.
Gateway and Emmaus Bristol have given me back my self-esteem and I can’t praise either enough, and I certainly can’t thank Ann enough for helping me find Emmaus. I will live out the rest of my life at Emmaus doing what I can to help them and help others. Back in Torquay, my doctor wouldn’t prescribe me sleeping tablets when I was struggling to sleep because of one question I answered honestly. The question was – “have you ever thought about doing yourself harm?” My answer was yes, but things have now worked out for the better and I’m so glad that I’m still alive. I really am thankful that I found Emmaus.