Emmaus offers a holistic approach that helps people overcome trauma, restore wellbeing, and rebuild their lives.

Trauma, mental health issues, and homelessness are deeply interconnected issues that often form a vicious cycle. Research by Homeless Link shows that living through trauma can significantly impact mental wellbeing, making it difficult to maintain stable housing. Our companions have told us that experiencing homelessness and insecure housing can cause or exacerbate mental health problems. Those forced into rough sleeping can face isolation, threats, and violence, thereby worsening mental health issues.

Emmaus provides personalised support that enables people to regain self-esteem, improve their mental health, and find a sense of purpose.

Supporting the mind by supporting the body

At Emmaus Dover, Steve uses his personal experiences to support his fellow companions living in the community. He said: “I had gone through some childhood trauma, I hadn’t got out of my system or spoken about. I was suffering from depression, which was spiralling out of control. Everything was getting worse and worse.”

After hearing about Emmaus by chance, he moved to Emmaus Dover where he found a support system of people with similar experiences. Steve said: “That’s a good thing about Emmaus – if you want to talk, there’s always somebody you can have a chat with. They may not have been in your position fully, but they can empathise with you. Somebody who’s lived through the same kind of experience as you can understand it.”

Since moving to Emmaus, Steve has gained qualifications in mental and physical health, using them to help others to boost their own mental and physical health. Steve said: “As a firm believer in the link between mental health, nutrition, and physical exercise, I train some of the companions in the community gym and help with their diet.

“I’m a qualified personal trainer and the Emmaus wellbeing fund has allowed me to go for my next level. I’ve qualified as a sports massage practitioner, sports nutritionist, and dietary advisor. I’ve also done mental health awareness courses, and I’m doing a sports wellbeing and nutrition course. Emmaus has given me the opportunity to reset my life to discover myself and work out where I want to go when I leave.”

Verity speaks at the Emmaus National AssemblyTransforming support across Emmaus

Emmaus UK has embarked on a journey to build on the existing support for companions across the Emmaus federation through positive approaches and trauma-informed work.

Verity James-Sinetos, Development Advisor at Emmaus UK (pictured), says: “Trauma-informed work is about understanding how someone’s past can show up in their present, and how traumatic or distressing experiences play a part in how someone responds to different situations.

“We approach individuals with compassion and understanding, focusing on their skills, strengths, and resilience, rather than what needs to be ‘fixed’ or seeing them as challenging. Instead, we try to understand where that behaviour comes from. We look at what a person brings to a situation – their skills, strengths, and resilience, and how we can build on them in the present.”

Trauma-informed support empowers individuals to shape their recovery and make about their time at Emmaus. Verity said: “Companions decide what they want from their support, the activities they do, and how they operate in the social enterprise. It’s more of a collaboration between staff and companions, giving them a sense of agency and empowerment.”

Using the power of community to build good mental health

The Emmaus approach provides a sense of purpose that Verity says ‘sows a seed of a feeling that I am of value. I am important and I am enough.’

She said: “Many of the people we work with have experienced adversity or trauma. As a result, they can have a difficult relationship with themselves, with others, and with the world. Trauma robs people of feeling safe and like they have value. Emmaus communities offer a place of physical safety, but also psychological safety that comes through trusting, safe, and compassionate relationships.

“So much of experiencing trauma is feeling completely alone and like you are the only person in the world who could be feeling as terrible as this. Trauma breeds feelings of shame, blame, and self-judgement. But when companions support each other and help others through solidarity, it can shine a light on some of these dark experiences that other people might have shared. Shame and isolation can’t thrive in the light, so there’s power in supporting each other through those experiences.

“Emmaus is special because as well as an opportunity to reflect on and process what has happened in the past, we offer a sense of purpose and meaning through developing skills and interests, and through solidarity. It enables people to give practical help to others and to share experiences. That sows a seed of feeling, ‘I am of value. I am important and I am enough.’ It helps rebuild those foundations of good mental health.”