I grew up in Lancashire with my parents and my sister.
After 21 years there, I moved to Yorkshire where I joined the army. I spent two years as a Sergeant in my regiment before I left because of health issues. I then met my wife and was married to her for 10 years before she left me. She took off one night and didn’t let me know where she was going or provide me with a forwarding address. Our marriage had always been up and down since the start, but I was left on my own, paying bills for a flat I couldn’t afford, and had debt collectors turn up daily asking for money that was in her name. I kept telling them that she wasn’t living with me anymore, but they wouldn’t listen, and kept on turning up because she was still registered as living at our address and I was still her husband. They wanted me to pay the debt, but I couldn’t. My mental health has always been fragile and this was the tipping point for me. I couldn’t function, I was living hand to mouth and could barely take care of myself. The debt got worse and I became worse, my mental health started to deteriorate, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I woke up one day and walked out of the house before they kicked me out. I packed a rucksack and walked off. That’s how bad it was. There was no help. No one to turn to.
Living on the streets was an experience I don’t want to repeat. I would sit on street corners begging throughout the day and then spend the nights in my sleeping bag, or if I was lucky enough to find one, a tent. Although I was only sleeping on the streets for six months, I can’t tell you how hard it was. You are living on hand outs. For the first three weeks I couldn’t bring myself to take anything from anybody because I’m proud, but the longer it went on the more I realised that I wasn’t part of society anymore. People walk past you; if you’re lucky they ignore you, if you’re not they spit on you or look down on you like you’re nothing. And you begin to believe it, you believe you are nothing. You’re just a body. Other homeless people can be just as scary, it’s not as friendly or welcoming as you would imagine. They have patches and areas and if you get caught sitting or begging on someone else’s patch they can become nasty and violent. For most of the time living on the streets I felt scared, but because of my army training I slept in trees when I could find them, rather than down on the actual street. I felt safer up there.
People who have never been homeless talk about there being lots of places for people who are living on the street to go to. Yes, there may be hostels, but I tried them first hand and they are not nice places. You should not keep people who have drink or drug issues under the same roof as people who don’t; they don’t mix and hostels aren’t equipped to deal with people with issues like this. They are there to offer shelter, a place to sleep only, not support. Not like Emmaus. If it wasn’t for Emmaus, I would be under a bridge somewhere or face down in the canal. That’s what living on the streets does to you. You feel apart from society. People don’t want to know you, so you constantly question yourself. I used to ask, ‘why am I still here, if no one wants me, what’s the point’?
My sister walked past me one day while I was sleeping on the streets and took me to live with her, but it was a one-bedroom council flat and wasn’t a long-term solution. She was the one that found the number for Emmaus, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Emmaus gave me a purpose, it gave me something to live for. I’ve lived in Emmaus Brighton, Emmaus Dover and now I am at Emmaus Glasgow. I’ve been at this one for just under two years, although in total I’ve been living at an Emmaus community for eight years now. The support workers that you get allocated actually help you, they listen to you. I’ve had training to work in the shop and operate the till and I would never have done that before coming to Emmaus.
Being at Emmaus has taught me how to be independent, at my own pace and in my own way. The staff and team have given me the confidence to be an RC (a Responsible Companion) which means that when staff leave the community for the night, I am responsible for the rest of the companions, as well as the building itself. I am responsible for locking the main doors and the kitchen, and doing routine checks throughout. Before coming to Emmaus, I would never have thought I could do anything like that.
Being on your own on the streets is one of the worst things I have experienced, so, to anyone who is street homeless and looking for a way out, I cannot recommend Emmaus enough. They took me in and helped me when no one else would.