Some might say I had quite a bad start in life. I grew up in care, and when I was old enough to leave, there was no support available to help me begin my adult life. I started travelling from hostel to hostel, but ended up getting in trouble and going to prison for a short while. When my release date came up, I found myself with nowhere to go; my only option was to sleep rough.
For seven years, that was my life. It was very scary, especially at first. Life on the streets was hard; everything was so new and I didn’t know how to act around people. Eventually I started to make friends with the other lads that were out on the street. We formed a little community – homeless people will always help out other homeless people, so I was never that far away from somebody’s help. It could be quite dangerous though, especially at weekends. When the pubs kicked out at two or three in the morning, I would often see guys who’d had one too many spot a homeless person and start on him for no reason – I’ve seen people kicked, punched and even urinated on. Living on the streets was a really difficult thing to do, but in winter the freezing temperatures make it almost unbearable. I used to try and find any shelter I could, but when you’re out in that weather there’s not much you can do to escape the cold.
There’s a huge stigma around homeless people. When I was on the street, some people would deliberately cross the road to avoid walking past me. No-one would make eye-contact. They tar all homeless people with the same brush – that we’re all alcoholics and drug addicts - but we’re not. None of us actually ever made the decision “I want to go out and sleep on the street” – we’ve all got our own stories which led us down that path, and they are all different.
My story finally changed for the better when I was back in prison for a second time, having got into trouble again. It was about two weeks before my release and my cellmate told me about a place called Emmaus. I’d never heard of it, but I wrote them a letter asking if I could go and see what it was all about. They came and had a chat with me, and then on the day of my release they took me to my local community, which was Emmaus Village Carlton in Bedfordshire. I loved it from day one. From having nothing, Emmaus has helped me to get back my sense of pride.
I now live at Emmaus Leicestershire & Rutland and have been here for six months. I get out of bed each morning to do something that is not only changing my life, it’s changing other people’s lives too. My work is helping to keep our charity shops full of furniture so we can raise money to keep the charity going and help more people off the streets. Emmaus is all about solidarity – helping those who need it most. Sometimes we help people who really need furniture - it could be people coming out of prison or refuges. They come to one of our shops and, for a small amount of money, we kit their full house out. When I go round to deliver it, and see the smiles on their faces, it all feels worth it.
What I love about Emmaus is the fact that each community is made up of such a mixture of people from all different backgrounds all living and working together and supporting each other. When I look to the future now, I am happy to wake up each morning alive and safe, being part of community and able to help others. Emmaus has changed my life completely; I now have a warm place to sleep and every day my work is helping the charity to help more people like me.