My name is Andy and I’m originally from North Wales. It was a family death and an addiction that led me to become homeless.
At the age of 14 I found my brother and his partner both dead off a heroin overdose. He was my hero and at that age all I wanted to go with him so I scored a bag of heroin. Rather than it killing me I just ended up with a massive heroin addiction for 17 years.
That’s how I became homeless – rather than paying my bills it was more important getting a hit. I was in and out of prison all the time. It was for all sorts of things – robberies, thefts, shop lifting and non-payment of fines because all my money was going on heroin.
In the end, when I was 31, I just thought I’ve had enough of this. There was a new trial drug out called Subutex. They put me on that as a trial drug because it acts as a blocker against heroin and I’ve been on it ever since. I started off on 32mg, gradually reduced it to 4mg and I’m hoping to be off it completely in a few months.
I found Emmaus by chance really. I got in touch with my step-brother who I had not seen for years. He lived in Preston, found out I was homeless and offered to put me up on his couch whilst I found my own flat. I didn’t realise that it was just as hard to find a flat here than anywhere else.
My step-brother’s friend told me about Emmaus and I used to cycle past it every day, not knowing what it was. I called in one day and spoke to the staff members there. They said if I volunteer for a week, see how you gel with the companions and if you like it you can join the community.
I moved in as a companion at Emmaus Preston in 2013 and it’s brilliant here. At first it was a bit daunting, moving in to a new community, but I soon settled in. At first I started out doing up furniture, a bit of shabby chic and furniture repairs. I did that for about 12 months and then worked on the vans for a bit.
Emmaus put me through college to be City & Guilds trained as a bicycle mechanic so we can do up donated bikes. Now I work on bicycles and I also do all the maintenance on the community building and in the shops – painting, decorating and doing DIY jobs.
I enjoy all the work as it gives you a reason to get up in the morning instead of just lying about doing nothing. Being part of the community has given me the incentive to go on and do lots of training. I’ve done fire marshal training, health & safety, food hygiene, the bicycles and I’m hoping to go on a plastering course soon. I want to do more training as I’ve never had so many certificates – I could paper my walls with them!
The thing I love most about Emmaus is the companionship… plus having a roof over your head! You get your ups and downs as it’s just like one big family. You have your rows or fall outs but then you’re friends again the next day.
I’m now in a place that I can go out and speak to others about my experience. There’s me and another companion who go out to schools and universities to talk about homelessness, addiction and the damage it can do.
There’s often a lack of understanding – people thinking that all homeless people are big drug addicts or alcoholics. It’s not always the case. Some people have owned their own businesses and just fell on hard times. If one kid out of them classes can take anything away from the talk and it helps them then it’s worthwhile.
I like being part of an Emmaus community as you can make a difference. People look out for you and care – you’re recognised as a person and not just a number. I now have more friends than enemies, feel part of a family and have the focus of work each day.
I don’t think half of our supporters realise just how much they are helping us. I think some believe that the money we make in the social enterprise shops just goes to a big organisation. That’s not the case as the money we generate in Preston goes to support the companions at Emmaus Preston. We’re always very grateful to our customers and the people who donate items.