[TW: self-harm, addiction, overdose]

Emmaus Gloucestershire saved my life when I came here in 2017. It was like a hand pulling me out of a dark hole. I’m still here, I’m still breathing and I’m happy.

Before Emmaus, I spent five years sleeping rough on the streets of Watford, struggling with depression, anxiety and addiction. It’s a hard life on the streets. I would sleep about one night a week because I was so scared. I went into a very dark place. I was drinking heavily and doing a lot of drugs. I became so fed up and tired of my life that I just wanted to harm myself. I tried to end my life a few times because I couldn’t see another way out.

I remember spending Christmas in the snow alone, thinking about my family in Portugal. My sister is in the UK now, but when I was homeless, she and my mum were both in Portugal. I didn’t tell them that I was homeless. I was embarrassed. I couldn’t call them often as I had had no money, but when I did, I pretended I was okay, that I had a job and a flat. But when I hung up, I was actually on the streets crying my eyes out thinking, what the hell am I doing? I spent five years on my own, sleeping in the cold and snow, and thinking about my family.

The same year I came to Emmaus, I wanted to get rid of the life I was leading. It was a nasty life full of addictions. I was drinking every day on the street and another homeless person saved my life once after a drug overdose. I really appreciate that he saved me and every time I saw him after that, I made sure to help him out.

I couldn’t see anything positive about the world until a woman asked me if I wanted help, and I said that would be nice. I was tired of being on the street. The woman told me to come to a day centre the next day, and she called Emmaus for me. After asking me a few questions, the person at Emmaus asked if I had any questions for them. My only question was, when can I join?

Reconnecting with people

When I first arrived at Emmaus Gloucestershire, it took me about six months to start trusting people. Joe, the Chief Executive, was a great help. At first, I wasn’t really talking to anyone and spent most of my time on my own. But Joe’s wife, who is Portuguese like me, started visiting and we would chat. Speaking in my own language made it easier to start opening up. It was really great.

I didn’t have a phone when I arrived, and Emmaus bought me a smart phone so I could video call my mum and sister. The change was instant, and I was smiling again! My family noticed something was different; I went from hardly calling them to phoning every day. They asked what was going on and I told them what had happened. We now speak twice a day and my sister lives in the UK. They keep me going. I saw my mum recently for the first time in 15 years too. It was amazing and I was so happy. My mum is coming over in the summer and I’m so happy knowing I’ll see her again soon.

Overcoming addiction

I knew that if I wanted a future, I’d have to stay sober. I didn’t do any treatment for being an alcoholic, I did it all myself. I think alcohol was harder to give up than drugs; I nearly died and spent a few days in hospital after throwing up blood. I managed to quit by swapping alcohol for milk. Every time I was in a shop, I would look at the cans and then the milk debating which one I should get. I took the milk every time, for six months. It wasn’t easy and you have to be strong because of the cravings and cold turkey. After 30 years, I was finally not using any drugs or drinking alcohol and I’ve been sober since.

Physical and mental health support

I’ve got depression and anxiety. Sometimes it gets me down, but Emmaus is very supportive of this and I’m accessing the help I need.

Physically, I’m now paying the price for what I’ve done to my body, but I’d rather have the pains than not be here at all. You can catch anything on the streets, and I had Hepatitis C when I was homeless. I started the treatment in Watford, but lost half of the tablets and couldn’t finish the course. I phoned the doctor the next day, and I had to go back on a waiting list. When I moved to Emmaus, I told the staff here and they said it could be sorted. They helped me go through a GP and then the hospital. I was able to do the full treatment for 12 weeks and my six-month blood test was clear. I was so relieved. I hope that lots of other people can get access to the same treatment because it’s a life saver.

When I came to Emmaus, my teeth were destroyed because of the drugs and alcohol. Now, I have all new teeth. It took a long time to get there. The dentist took 16 teeth in one go and I spent five months without any in my mouth at all. People did laugh at me, but I thought if I can spend five years on the street, I can handle people laughing at me because I have no teeth! When the dentist gave me the mirror to look at my new teeth, I started crying. I just couldn’t believe it.

A purpose and new skills

I do a bit of everything in the social enterprise at Emmaus Gloucestershire. I like to drive so my favourite thing is doing the collections and deliveries. It’s nice to get out and about. Sometimes I also help on the till, do PAT testing and other bits and pieces. I’ve been here long enough to know a bit of everything! I love talking to the customers too and would like to thank everyone for coming to our shops.

Emmaus provides online courses too and I’ve done 16. I’m so happy with that. There are too many to remember, but some of them are Emergency First Aid at Work, Conflict Resolution, Customer Service, Health and Safety, and Food Safety.

When I became homeless, I only had the clothes I was wearing so I arrived at Emmaus with no ID or documents. The support team helped me apply for my British citizenship, so soon I’ll be getting my ID card and British passport.

Looking forward

I’ve had really bad times and I’m sure I could write a book about my life. I will never forget about my past, but I’m trying to look forward. I just want to live in peace. I’m happy at Emmaus Gloucestershire for now, but when I’m ready to move I’ll go somewhere closer to my sister. Emmaus saved my life, and I’m sure it will save many more.