I was married and running a successful bakery before I found myself on the streets for five months following the breakdown of my marriage.
My wife and I were married for 30 years, with eight children, one of which we fostered after she was kicked out by her mother at 11-years-old. When my wife inherited a lot of money from her mother, she decided to leave me. Although unexpected, I knew the marriage had been going downhill for a long time since our six-month old daughter passed away 15 years before. My wife didn’t get counselling and I always had work to keep my mind off things, so although I saw her daily we just weren’t the same.
I have worked all my life and before running a bakery I spent nine years in the army, eight years working for British Rail overseeing the all the painting and decorating, and five years running my own cleaning company with 30 people working for me. Holding down a job was always easy for me, but when I became homeless, I found it difficult to manage the bakery and lost that job which then meant that I had no income, no home, and most of my children weren’t talking to me.
I was street homeless for five months.
I think being ex-army and being homeless during the summer helped me survive. I chose a quiet area under a bridge by a running stream and slept there for the whole time. I chose that area because there was no one around and I could catch fish from the stream. I didn’t have to get hand-outs or beg, which was something that I couldn’t bring myself to do.
A run-in with police while I was homeless saw me go to prison in Peterborough for four weeks. That was easy compared to the streets, with three meals a day. When it was time for me to be released, my probation officer suggested Emmaus, which I had never heard of, and began calling round different communities so I could have somewhere to stay.
Coming to Emmaus Hertfordshire was difficult at first. I’ve always had my own money, my own place, and didn’t have to share it with anyone apart from my family. I didn’t come here with any drink or drug problems that some people have either. I came because of a marriage break-up which made me a bit depressed but listening to some of the other people’s stories made me realise that I’ve had nothing compared to them. Although I found community living and sharing with strangers hard to begin with I now love and get on well with everyone.
I worked in the shops and out on the vans up until the person doing house clearances left. The office team approached me to ask if I wanted to do it and told me that they were planning on making it a full-time paid job. I said I didn’t mind doing it as a companion, which is how residents at Emmaus as known as, but I never intended to stay on at Emmaus to work as I wanted to go back into baking. However, after a few weeks I got into the swing of house clearances and accepted the full-time job, which started in December 2018.
I now manage a crew of companions and train them on house clearances.
I’m always very busy as our house clearance service is a lot cheaper than other local companies and some days can be hard work, especially if a house needs clearing in one day. I am now on the move-on scheme, which gives people living at the community three months to find somewhere to live and save for a deposit. I’m very pleased that I have found my own place now and will be moving in March 2019.
Without Emmaus, I would have been back on the street or in a hostel after prison.
Emmaus is a great charity and the thing I like most is that it not only helps the people it supports but encourages us to help others too, like the monthly trips to Calais to distribute items to homeless migrants. During my time at Emmaus, I have been on several trips over to Calais, which is something that I found very rewarding.
I am now going to focus on my new job and partner, who I have a one-month old daughter with, and I hope to re-build the relationships with all my other children in the future.