I’ve been at Emmaus Cambridge for seven months now, but it isn’t my first time. I first came to Emmaus Cambridge about seven years ago after many years on the streets.
When I was younger, I didn’t really get taught what life was all about. I came from quite a dysfunctional family. I didn’t really go without anything but didn’t really get the emotional side of things that I needed. I did alright at school and college and qualified as a firefighter. But towards the end of college, it started to go a bit wrong. I got in with the wrong crowd, and I eventually left home.
I did get my own property in Coventry, but it was an absolute dump. It was in an old tenement block, and my journey of homelessness really began there. I ended up on the streets of Coventry before I moved to Leamington Spa as it was much quieter.
When you are on the streets you get that feeling of being invisible. I already felt pretty detached from society, but I as you watched people walking past, ignoring you, you felt worse.
One of the companions here, Seamus (now a Support Worker at Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney) wrote a poem about my experience of homelessness. It’s called “Invisible”. That’s honestly what being homeless made you feel like. I didn’t matter to anyone; I wasn’t necessarily a member of society. It was very difficult.
At times I wanted to open people’s eyes and show them that behind every homeless person there’s a person in need. Sometimes just giving a coin, or even stopping for a five-minute chat – it makes all the difference. Everyone wants to be noticed.
I was living a non-existent life, just trying to get by. I was working full-time most of the time I was homeless, but I’d never be able to get enough together for a deposit, or a reference for landlords, so I was stuck in a cycle.
I lived in an abandoned warehouse for a couple of years. Each of us living there had our own corner of the warehouse. I was living with drug addicts, and I was drinking heavily. I did try and look after myself, washing and changing my clothes whenever there was an opportunity to do so, but it wasn’t easy.
One morning I woke up covered in emptied bottles of cider and I thought to myself that something had to change. I went down to my local Salvation Army, as I did every morning to get a fry-up, and they told me they had something for me, somewhere to go. They told me about Emmaus Cambridge. We called here and John McGovern answered, and he asked me to come along for an interview.
I was really poorly when I first arrived, really ill. You wouldn’t have recognised me back then. I was so skinny, I looked awful. I was an emotional wreck, broken inside and out.
Over the last seven years, I have left Emmaus Cambridge a couple of times as I got itchy feet and wanted to move on. I spent some time at Emmaus Coventry, I’ve had my own place, I’ve had a job, but I’ve ended up back on the streets a couple of times too. Emmaus Cambridge has welcomed me back, and this time I am going to take it slow and move on when it’s the right time to. I won’t rush it this time.
Before I became homeless the last time, I had been working and was renting a room in a house. But in the lead up to Christmas I just couldn’t make ends meet. I paid my rent, I paid for some Christmas bits for my children and my money just got swallowed up. My employer was paying me for extra hours at work just because they knew I was struggling.
It became too much, and I ended up on the streets. I stayed in a COVID hotel which was terrible, and then I spent some time in Jimmy’s. I popped up to Emmaus Cambridge for a bit of shopping, and the team recognised me and offered me a room. And the rest is history. I have a nice room, support, good people around me.
While at Emmaus a few years ago I got to visit an Emmaus community in Paris. It was amazing to see what they do over there. It’s a different world. It was set in a big medieval cattle market in the centre of Paris, set in a huge warehouse. At the event I attended, Emmaus communities from around the world got together, have their own stall, and sell their own bits and pieces. It’s a time I’ll never forget. It really shows what Emmaus is working for, not just for individuals but for a much bigger community.
I also visited an Emmaus community next to Le Mans 24-hour racecourse. While we were there, the owner of the racecourse came over and invited us to do a lap of the racecourse, in all our vans and cars. There was about 150 of us, all on the start line of Le Mans. It was brilliant, an amazing experience. I never thought I’d ever get the opportunity to do something like that.
Since being back in the community I am mainly on the van, doing collections of donations and delivering things we’ve sold in the shop. I work well with the other companions on the van, using my experience of Emmaus to support some of the other companions. I also enjoy talking to customers about my story, what Emmaus is and how it helps people like me. I talk to them about the history of Emmaus too, how it started and why we do what we do. Customers find it fascinating, and they really buy into what we are doing.
I have two children who I love very much. I am rebuilding my relationship when them, I talk to them regularly via FaceTime and that means the world to me. They mean everything to me, and I am going to keep working to rebuild my life for them. I’m hoping to do driving lessons soon and pass my test as that will open a lot of doors for me in the future, and I’d really like to get my own place. I want my own front door, and I know it’s coming.
If you are homeless, take it from me, you don’t need to be. Emmaus is an option. A good one. There were many years that I was on the streets, I didn’t know there were any other options available.
All companions have to work within the community, but if you are prepared to do that, the other companions, staff… the rest of the team… will meet you more than halfway and support you. You are only asked to do what you can do here. Some companions work in the garden, some in the shop, others in the van. That’s fine with the community. If are able to do that, I’d really recommend it. Emmaus has changed my life; more than that, it’s saved my life.