“I grew up in Ashford and have lived there most of my life, but for a very long time, I was completely alcohol dependent.
In 2018, I had spent the best part of two years drinking a bottle of spirit every day. When I ran out of money, I started to use my rent to buy alcohol and consequently, was evicted from my flat under a dismission order. That’s when I became street homeless.
Four days before my eviction, I remember saying out loud to myself: ‘Right Mand, you’ve got to do three things. You need to keep your head down, keep your wits about you, and just focus on getting yourself rehomed ASAP. And you can’t do one, let alone all three of those things if you’re still drinking.’ So I didn’t, and that was that. Three years and one month later, I’m still sober.
On my eviction day, I went to the council to see what they could do to help, but I didn’t get very far. The best they could offer me was the winter night shelter in town. I felt like I’d lost my independence, my freedom. Also, everyone at the shelter had an active addiction apart from me. When I watched people around me drinking and losing control, whether it was aggressive or just falling down drunk, it reminded me that I could not do that to myself again.
As a woman, being on the streets was hard. It was the lack of privacy. There was only one shower and toilet in the shelter, so in the morning I used to walk 40 minutes to the nearest library. I would stand outside waiting for the doors to open, my hair in a ponytail, no makeup on, hood up, just hoping I didn’t see anyone I knew. Then I’d go straight into the library toilets, clean my teeth in the sink, put on my makeup, and do the best I could with my hair under the hand dryer. It was difficult, but it’s taught me never to put myself in a position where I could become street homeless again.
In the end, after nearly a month of living in night shelters, a staff member at homelessness charity Porchlight gave me a list of six phone numbers to call so I could get rehomed. Emmaus Medway got back to me two days later inviting me in for an interview. The Salvation Army funded my train fare there, and I always get a bit emotional when I think about that. It was just so fabulous that they believed in me.
After my interview, the chief executive of Emmaus Medway told me all about the founder Abbé Pierre, and straight away I got it. I felt a connection with the community and was told I’d do very well there, so they offered me a place.
When I was homeless, I had nothing to do all day except sit in the library and keep warm. Then I moved into Emmaus and all of a sudden I was setting my alarm and working 40 hours a week. It was so lovely, just to have something to get up for. My background is in retail anyway, so it was really rewarding to get to speak to customers and be treated with respect and dignity.
I was at Emmaus Medway for 18 months, but decided to leave after my relationship with one of the companions there broke down. I stayed with a friend for three months, then moved in with my son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren – but my son was in crisis mode at the time.
It’s really hard to talk about this, but they were both very abusive to me, not physically but mentally. If I didn’t lend them money or couldn’t babysit for them, they would threaten to throw me out. There were lots of mind games. I was so scared. I couldn’t face being back on the streets again, so I contacted Emmaus Medway and asked them to refer me to Emmaus Dover – and the rest is history.
When I first arrived at Emmaus Dover, I had to quarantine for a week, which gave me the chance to reboot myself, to get my head straight and think everything through. I came here with the attitude that I’m not going to get close to people, I’m just going to blend in and become part of the furniture. Then I opened my mouth that first morning and it all went out the window!
I’ve been at Emmaus Dover for around nine months now, and I am happier than I ever remember being in my life. It’s like a different world here. It’s such a strong community, we’re more like family. The staff go way beyond duty of care, and they always treat me as an equal. I’m so lucky to call it my home.”
Listen to Mandy sharing her story: