Emmaus is a home for as long as you need it.
An Emmaus community is often viewed as a place from which people recover from past homelessness and trauma, then ‘moving on’ to find accommodation, work, and success, however they measure that. There are many such stories, but I decided to take the principle in the title, which is one of Emmaus’ ethos and investigate what that may mean in practice.
Mike is a companion at Emmaus Village Carlton. He agreed to meet with me and talk about how he feels about being a companion for over a year and having no concrete plans at the moment to leave the community.
Mike is a qualified and very talented stonemason. More of that later. He told me he lost his job through no fault of his own and became increasingly isolated and depressed, living on a canal boat with his dog, Patch. He knew he was going downhill, not eating, and becoming increasingly reliant on alcohol. Patch certainly had a better diet than his master!
Mike was helped by being referred to an organisation called ‘Compass’ which found him a place in a Night Shelter from where he was referred to Emmaus Village Carlton. Patch has been adopted by one of the workers at the Shelter and has occasional ecstatic meetings with Mike, but there are no plans to re-unite permanently.
Clearly, community life anywhere has its ups and downs. 40 or so people living together, all with their own stories and varying backgrounds would be a challenge for anyone. Of course, there are disagreements, but Mike’s view is ‘Live and let live’ as much as possible. Companions try to give each other space, not questioning backgrounds or trying to find information, but the gossip and rumour mills work as effectively at Emmaus as anywhere else!
Mike said, ‘It’s fantastic to be here.’ For a companion coming from the street to an ensuite room, good food, and a staff team always ready to listen and give support is a revelation. The work ethic is strong, and companions have to be prepared to get up and get to work, as well as agreeing to daily breathalysing. For some, having to take orders is, in itself, a real challenge, and for others, the ‘home for as long as you need it’ is not for them and they have to leave. Having said that, many return to Emmaus and try again…and again.
Mike is very artistic and painted our Bistro with beautiful hand drawn stripes during lockdown. He sculpts in stone and presented an ‘Emmaus’ carving to Terry Waite when he visited last Christmas. The latest string to his bow is haircutting. He started this during lockdown when the local barber couldn’t visit, and now charges companions £3 a time, thus raising money for ‘The Stomp.’ This is an activity managed by companion Christian, where two or three companions collect clothing and toiletries and go out to the homeless in Northampton with sandwiches, hot drinks, and chat. They are not there to preach about Emmaus, but sometimes people show a real interest. Not everyone who is homeless though, is prepared to work and try to fit into a community. Maybe one day.
Mike feels no pressure to think about moving on, although he sees his time at Emmaus as a real springboard to the future. For now, he is grateful for what Emmaus offers him; content to see what might develop, but happy to let things take their course.
Kathy (Volunteer, Emmaus Village Carlton)