I came to England from Romania in 2010 with plans to find work, earn money and live a better life. I looked for work everywhere, but all employers were asking for a National Insurance number.
At that time, I didn’t even know what a National Insurance number was. Then by the time I found out what it was and how to apply for it, I had spent all my money. With no work in the pipeline, I ended up on the streets.
I realised I could stay in England as long as I wanted, but I wouldn’t be able to work, claim benefits, job seekers or housing benefits. I felt frustrated because I was eager to achieve something with my life. That was why I came to England in the first place.
Finding myself in Emmaus Leeds was really interesting because I was just coming off the streets. It was after 3 months of sleeping outside and sleeping in bus stations. I fell asleep in the park on a bench once which was all covered in snow. I thought that night I could have died. So coming to Emmaus Leeds felt like somebody handed me a saving gift in the middle of my despair.
At first it was brilliant. I was filled with gratitude. I was doing my best to work as best as I could and beyond. During at my time at Emmaus Leeds I did every job. I was a cook, a cook’s assistant, I was a cleaner, I ran the coffee shop, I was on the till, I was sorting bric-a-brac. The only thing I didn’t do was drive the van as I don’t have a driving license.
I really enjoyed working in the Emmaus Kirkgate Market stall. Although it was very cold, I enjoyed meeting a lot of people and you see so many people passing by. Towards the end of my stay that’s where I worked most of the time.
The staff were brilliant but would often change a lot. Then the recession came and they had to make cuts. We had some team building exercises such as go-karting, sea fishing and ice skating in Millennium Square. I once got the chance to go to Paris with Emmaus for the World Assembly with Emmaus International. We got to see the Eiffel Tour and the Louvre and it was brilliant. I took so many pictures.
There were times when companions were very supportive. Paul Cloke (Emmaus Leeds Deputy Community Leader) also helped me a lot. I was always looking forward to my sessions with him because I felt like they were always very beneficial for my mental state.
I tried to understand why I couldn’t get a National Insurance number. It took me some time before I realised what the law was regarding working in England. Emmaus Leeds tried to help, they sent me to Citizens Advice. I remember that the support worker brought my a cup of coffee as I waited in the very long queue.
After I found out the real situation with my eligibility to work in the UK, I started to become depressed and began to slack off. Then I was told off for slacking off because they knew I could do so much more. I started to become resentful because my only options were to stay at Emmaus or to go back on the streets. It was a difficult time.
In 2013 I moved on from Emmaus Leeds to Emmaus Gloucestershire as I had a friend in that area. It was there I met my wife who was a support worker at the time. After she quit her job, we got married.
I had to wait until 2014 when the British Government created a law that made Romanian and Bulgarian citizens eligible to work in England. I applied on the 2nd or 3rd of January for a National Insurance number and got it straight away. Once I had my National Insurance number I left Emmaus Gloucestershire and found labour work, assisting painters and decorators
My wife and I saved up some money went to travel around Asia for a year. We visited Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Australia.
I then got accepted to study Religion, Philosophy and Ethics and the University of Gloucestershire. Alongside my studies I found a new job as a Support Worker for people with learning difficulties. I always saw Support Workers as a job I’d like to do.
I got second-class honours (2.1) in my degree and I want to become an RE teacher (Religious Education). I tried to do an extra year of PGCE teacher training, but I didn’t manage to get accepted for that as I applied too late. Now I am working as a Support Worker for a charity and I am going to try to apply again for the teacher training in summer 2021.
There are some plans in the pipeline. My wife and I want to buy a house in France so that we could partially retire there. She could do counselling online and with my teaching degree, I could teach. We are putting money aside, working our butts off, and want to be able to buy a house. I am looking forward to retiring!
I do believe that everyone has the opportunity to change their life. I always recommend Emmaus to anyone that is homeless. It gives you a respite and a chance to rearrange your thoughts and to get the things that matter in life.