When family bereavement led to Gary Fitzgerald (48) losing his job and house, homelessness charity Emmaus stepped in to help. Gary is now being supported to turn his life around by Hinckley-based Emmaus Leicestershire & Rutland and is sharing his story on World Homeless Day (10 October) to thank Emmaus for saving his life.

Gary’s brother and parents died within a short time of each other; his mental health was severely affected:

“I had a nervous breakdown. I started drinking and smoking cannabis to cope with life and lost my job as a sous chef. My dad’s house was repossessed. I had lost everything and given up on myself.”

With nowhere to go, Gary found himself living on the streets:

“I found a secluded place and pitched my tent. Every day I’d try to stay busy; I would wash and brush my teeth in the sink of a shopping centre, go to the library and visit a soup kitchen. I was lucky as I was homeless during the summer so it wasn’t very cold, but it was at night that I struggled – it was extremely lonely.”

Eventually, Gary approached Emmaus for help, and was offered a home and support for as long as he needs it:

“When I arrived it was like a breath of fresh air.”

“I have a reason to get up in the morning, a routine, newly made friends and I enjoy life again. With the help of Emmaus and specialist counselling, I’ve learnt how to deal with my grief.”

Emmaus Leicestershire & Rutland provides a home, support and meaningful work to 16 formerly homeless individuals. Some stay for a while as they gain confidence and skills before they feel ready to move on to independent living; others are in need of longer-term support and are able to stay for as long as they need to. Funds are raised through two Hinckley charity shops: the Emmaus Emporium on Stockwell Head and La Boutique on Castle Street.

Gary helps to run the Emporium shop and has also gained qualifications in safeguarding, drug and alcohol first aid and mental health support. He is keen to put these skills to good use:

“This winter I’m going to volunteer to offer supplies and support to people living on the streets in Hinckley and other nearby towns. Emmaus really saved me and I want to thank them by paying that kindness forward to help others affected by homelessness.”

If you have been inspired by Gary’s story, find out more about how you can support our charity. It can be as simple as donating unwanted furniture, clothing or bric-a-brac, or visiting our charity shops, enabling us to continue our vital work with formerly homeless people.