Wednesday 31 January 2018

Bring more people like Andy in from the cold this winter

Andy

My name is Andy and I’ve been a companion at Emmaus Leeds since 2014. Before I joined the community I’d been living on the streets for six years and I didn’t think I’d survive my last winter outside.

It was one of the wettest and windiest winters on record and when it snowed, there were drifts nearly three feet high. I had no money for hostels or night shelters and all I had was my sleeping bag and the clothes I stood up in.

To keep warm at night, I searched in supermarket skips for dry cardboard and newspaper. I put a layer of cardboard underneath me, one inside my sleeping bag and I stuffed newspaper in between my clothing. But the cold was still indescribable. It ate right into me and I knew that if I fell asleep or didn’t get up and move around, I might not be alive in the morning.

Those pieces of cardboard may have stopped me from freezing to death but I believe it is really Emmaus that saved my life. 

It isn’t just the cold that’s a killer. If your clothes or sleeping bag get soaking wet, there’s no way of getting them dry so you can easily end up with bronchitis or double pneumonia, as I did.

There are also the feelings of utter despair.

It’s never easy to be homeless but it’s so much harder in winter. You’re more likely to turn to alcohol or drugs to numb yourself against the cold, even though this actually makes you more vulnerable. Suicidal thoughts can also creep in. It’s often hard to see the point of fighting all night to stay alive when, in the morning, everything is going to be the same. You still have nowhere to live, nowhere to go, nothing to do and no one who seems to care whether you’re here or not.

But now I feel so lucky because, since I came to Emmaus, I’ve discovered people who do care. People like you who have given money to help get homeless men and women get back on their feet - and also the staff, volunteers and companions who live and work in Emmaus communities all around the country.

Living in my community has given me stability and the chance to sort out health issues, which are the result of years of rough sleeping. Working every day gives me a purpose and has helped to restore my self-esteem. I’ve also met some really good, supportive people who will be friends for life. Emmaus has even helped me to re-establish contact with my two sisters. Sadly, neither of them is living in the UK but it’s great to be back in touch.

When I see just how effective Emmaus is at helping homeless people to rebuild their lives, I want to give everyone who’s still on the streets the same chance that I’ve had. I can’t bear to just walk on by when I know how physically and emotionally damaging their way of life is, especially in winter when overnight temperatures can really plummet.

By supporting Emmaus, you are also enabling and encouraging hundreds of companions, volunteers and staff to perform acts of solidarity – everything from helping to run soup kitchens to distributing sleeping bags and warm clothing. All of which could help to save precious lives.

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