Mental health difficulties can be both a cause and a consequence of homelessness. Figures show that 45% of people experiencing homelessness have been diagnosed with a mental health issue. This rises to 8 out of 10 in people who are sleeping rough.
The relationship between homelessness and mental health is a two-way street. Mental health issues can be one of the factors that push people into homelessness. And experiencing homelessness and insecure housing can cause or worsen mental health problems. Debt and financial worries, the breakdown of relationships, bereavement, domestic abuse, and having no safe place to stay can make people vulnerable to mental distress. People who are pushed into rough sleeping can experience social isolation, threats, and violence on the streets.
Emmaus communities offer welcoming, safe spaces for companions. Moving to a community offers people a supportive environment where they can feel a sense of belonging. Being amongst others, especially people who have been through similar experiences, can combat feelings of isolation and help companions rebuild their self-esteem.
Helen spoke about her experience of facing homelessness and being unable to get help from the council. She said:
“They arranged for me to come down to Sussex Emmaus for a taster day, they showed me around and I chatted to some companions about what it was like living here. Then the community manager gave me a ring a few days later, offering me a place.
“It was like this great big weight lifted off me, because I was so worried I was going to have to sell all my belongings and sleep rough. And for a woman my age, to have that hanging over your head is awful. I lost a lot of weight in that time through worry, but luckily since being here I’ve put the weight back on.”
As well as providing a home for as long as it is needed, Emmaus communities offer long-term support to help companions address the problems they have experienced. This can include counselling with mental health professionals, support with debt and budgeting, or accessing services to overcome substance misuse. All support is tailored, providing companions the specific help they need to rebuild their lives after homelessness.
The unique way in which Emmaus communities provide a home and meaningful work can make all the difference to people rebuilding their lives. After feeling ignored and isolated, the friendship and support from others in the community can be invaluable.
The chance to work in a social enterprise and give back to the community helps boost self-esteem and confidence. Our research shows that 79% of companions who have lived at Emmaus for a few months say that working and having something to do every day has been most beneficial part of their experience. It offers a routine and meaning, while enabling companions to contribute and rebuild their sense of self-worth.
And taking part in acts of solidarity, making a positive difference in the lives of others, can contribute to a sense of fulfilment.
Companions can access training and educational opportunities to learn new skills or develop existing ones. Driving lessons, reading skills, cookery classes, warehouse management, and IT lessons are just some of the courses companions have completed. Not only does this boost self-esteem, it can also raise aspirations and help people to fulfil their ambitions.
Brad describes how Emmaus Oxford supported him to improve his mental wellbeing. He said:
“If it wasn’t for Emmaus Oxford, I wouldn’t be alive today, and when I came back I almost wasn’t. This was a true turning point in my life because I realised, in a pretty dark moment, that if I stayed isolated in my room I was going to kill myself. I remember just walking downstairs and saying to staff ‘Please help me’, which was a thing I’d never done before.
“They gave me the support I needed and this included being more social and thinking about finding a hobby to give me a different focus. We settled on ice skating and I’ve been ice skating ever since. They paid for about six months of lessons: as much funding as Emmaus UK could offer. It’s keeping me mentally and physically fit and is probably the reason why I’m still around today.”
Emmaus social enterprises also offer a variety of benefits to the wider community. Each offers something different, tailored to the needs of people in the local area. Some communities provide warm spaces, social supermarkets, free launderettes, and outreach services which help people experiencing financial pressures.
Volunteers also play a vital role across Emmaus, and the act of volunteering can have positive benefits on their mental health. Giving their time and skills to make a difference gives volunteers a sense of purpose and accomplishment. It can also help people to step away from their own concerns and focus on helping others.
Sandy describes how volunteering for Emmaus Hastings & Rother helped her after a difficult time in her life. She said:
“Emmaus has done absolutely huge things for me, for getting my confidence back. I was always a very confident person but had lost some of that, and it’s given me so much confidence back. It’s a big part of my life.
“I just love the atmosphere here – it’s a real community. Sally showed me the accommodation block, and the whole reason of the charity to help people who have experienced homelessness and help them get back into society, I just find that fantastic.”
Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 15 – 21 May. It is an opportunity to open up about mental health, tackle stigma, and find out how we can build a society that protects everyone’s mental wellbeing.
Help Emmaus continue to be a safe place where people can rebuild their lives after homelessness. Donate now.