My name is Jason, I am 49 years old and from Mersea. My circumstances changed very suddenly in February 2018 when I was made homeless. In the spate of one hour my whole life turned upside down.

I’d been living in the family home and caring for my dad. He’d developed glaucoma four years before and had become blind. But in 2017 it became evident that he was suffering from dementia, and I was no longer able to take care of him. The house was quite rundown because my dad was on a pension and I had no income, we had no money for anything. Eventually Social Services moved him out of our home and into care and due to debts, the house was repossessed and I was left homeless.

I was in a state of shock. I’d lived in the same house all my life. I felt helpless and didn’t know where to turn. I got the bus into Colchester but returned to Mersea in the evening, the place I know best, and spent my first night under a beach hut. I lit a fire to keep warm, but it was still cold. It was during the Beast from the East and I didn’t think I’d survive the night.

For the following days I found a bed at the Night Shelter, but I felt lost during the day with nothing to fill my time and I was rapidly running out of money, because it cost £3 a night. I spent a week and half there until one of the keyworkers, Lynne, told me about Emmaus. I came here the next day and was given a bed for the night – I’ve been here ever since.

I did a work trial and now I work in all the shops – the Works, the Emporium and the New Life Shop and Café, I’ve also worked in the transport office and been a kitchen porter at the Companion’s House. I’ve done a bit of everything, although I particularly like working in the new shop on Crouch Street.

Emmaus has given me a sense of purpose and I’m very grateful for the help I’ve had. I’ve taken advantage of counselling with Diane. I think in recent years I don’t think I’ve ever gone through such a traumatic time and I’ve had to rebuild my life. Dad’s dementia started a long time ago, he used to love his boats, and when he lost his eye sight he couldn’t do the things he loved. He said to me, ‘everything I love has gone’. And now I can understand how he felt. You never know what you’ve got until it’s disappeared. Coming here has saved me.

Gia, the development and progressions manager, and Flo, the progressions manager, have both helped me overcome my lack of confidence, which held me back when I was younger. Flo referred me to a basic confidence course, and I’ve done a cookery course too, and I’m currently doing an NVQ in customer services as well. I’ve become more confident and assertive and stand up for myself. I don’t have a fear of failure anymore.

It has helped me set career goals, after three months I started to think about jobs, but within the last six months I’ve become more focused. I’ve got a new CV and I’m sending emails, I’ve had a few interviews, but no luck yet. A year ago, this would have been unthinkable. Gia has been helping with my CV and interview techniques and Flo has offered me lots of support, she’s always got a sympathetic ear. I’ve been able to cope with things a lot better since being here and I’ve felt supported when I get overwhelmed with everything.

Apart from the work ethic, being a companion at Emmaus has got me used to living alone and preparing me for moving one. When I was living with my dad, I didn’t have a clue and I was very reliant on him. I can’t rely on other people to pay bills for me, I have to do it. It’s helped me overcome the fear. It’s also got me used to preparing food for shopping, I can go to the shop and buy things easily – I know what I need. It won’t come half as hard when I move on.

Now my life is moving on I feel much more confident and self-reliant. It’s made me look at what I want to do in the future. I’ve always had a strong interest in history, especially military history and WW2 and I’ve always been good at writing. I’d like to go to university and then teach – knowledge is wasted unless you use it. I’d also like to have my own house by the beach in Mersea. I’m registered with the Gateway Housing and registered with SpareRoom, I also look on Zoopla for property.

The last year has been a learning curve. It’s been a journey but I’m ready for the next stage. You learn all the time. When my time comes to move, I’ll look back knowing that without Gia and Flo, I wouldn’t have got this far.

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