Kindness has transformed the lives of our companions, so we’re spreading those stories of kindness on Uprising of Kindness Day (February 1) and beyond.

The Uprising of Kindness refers to when Emmaus founder Abbé Pierre made his rallying speech on Radio Luxembourg on February 1, 1954 calling for public help after a woman died from the cold on the streets of Paris, still clutching her eviction notice. His 1954 Uprising of Kindness appeal triggered unprecedented public generosity and led to the growth of the Emmaus movement.

When Chris became homeless during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, he found himself living rough in central London, sleeping in doorways and then a park, before being shown a pivotal act of kindness by a team of volunteers which changed his life.

I became homeless due to work drying up and losing my home just after the pandemic struck. I was in shock and was hungry, so I went into London to get some food. I spent a couple of nights sleeping in doorways and then I met a man who took me down to the Nishkam SWAT team in Trafalgar Square. I got a sleeping blanket, some food and water and he took me over to the Royal park where four other people were sleeping. He introduced me to them and that’s where I stayed for around four months. Until I started sleeping in the park, I didn’t feel safe. I got robbed twice, only little things got taken but while I was sleeping, I got my phone and tablet taken. But when I was sleeping in the park with four others, we looked after each other. We kept our eyes open.

Act of kindness that changed my life

There wasn’t any members of the public around at that time because London was basically shut down, all the offices were shut, all the pubs were shut, everything was shut. The only people you could see around were homeless people. The general public that were around were alright but most of the time they looked at you and didn’t acknowledge you, they just walked past you and didn’t say hello or anything.

There was plenty of food up around Trafalgar and Leicester Square, Soho Square. There were churches open who would do a breakfast and an afternoon meal. St Patricks in Soho Square were brilliant and the American Church – I used to go there at 11am and you’d get a breakfast and dinner all in one. There was plenty of food around and wagons that turned up including the SWAT team who were brilliant and gave you sleeping blankets, anything you really wanted; if they had it they’d give it to you.

The biggest act of kindness I received at that time was from Under One Sky who at that time weren’t a registered charity, they were a group of people that were putting their hands in their pockets to help homeless people. One of the volunteers Jamie found me a place in a backpackers hostel for a month. They paid the bill out of their own pockets. I went into the hostel room, chucked my bags on the bed and then went back outside and asked Jamie if I could join the team of volunteers taking out food and drinks to homeless people on the streets. We got about 15 people off the streets that night.

I did it for a while with them while I was down there. Then I went down to the Punjab in Covent Garden who turned half their restaurant over to us so we could store stuff and build up stock. They produced food for five different charities and little groups of us would go out to deliver their food and hot drinks to people on the streets.

A new life with Emmaus Hertfordshire

Then Jamie who ran the hostel got me down to Emmaus Hertfordshire who have been brilliant – they gave me a bed to sleep in, somewhere to wash, food and I give back service in the shops. I do all the shops now because I’ve been here three years. We sell furniture and our Tring shop sells women’s clothes, bric-a-brac and all that and it’s a lovely place to work.

I always think about giving back to people, If I can help somebody, a customer, I do. I like giving back, I’m not one of these people who just wants to take, take, take. If I do get a chance, I do give back to people which is why I’m taking part in the Uprising of Kindness campaign.

I’m always looking for opportunities outside of Emmaus to help with such as the St Albans Sleepout which I did in November. Just me, Gemma (Business Development Manager at Emmaus Hertfordshire) and her boyfriend – we slept out to raise money for Emmaus. Emmaus are always showing kindness to us companions so it’s good to do acts of kindness in return.

I would encourage people to be more kind to homeless people by talking to them, have a chat with them, offer them a coffee and basically just talk. Having someone to talk to makes all the difference. Sometimes you don’t speak to anybody for a week or more and you’re just sitting there in doorways with nothing to do, or just wandering around.

When I used to go out with Under One Sky in the evenings and take them hot drinks and wraps and sandwiches, the people on the streets just wanted someone to talk to; it doesn’t matter what it’s about, whether it’s political or their life or whatever. Quite a few times when I was helping Under One Sky I would say “I’ll catch you up” and I would sit down and have a chat with them. Even just saying “Hi” and acknowledging their existence, or giving a couple of bob in their hat if they’ve got a hat out, it makes all the difference.

From homelessness to the red carpet

Chris’s experiences of being homeless during the pandemic are included in a recently-released homelessness documentary film, ‘I’m Still Here’. The movie by Franc Vissers was shot in London during the first year of the pandemic when hundreds of people, including Chris, were left “locked out” on the streets.

This film gives Chris, affectionately called ‘Pops’ in the movie, and his contemporaries a powerful voice during this disturbing time and highlights the efforts of Under One Sky, who defied the virus and stepped out to support these vulnerable people.

Find out more by clicking here.