“I’ve been at Emmaus for a year now and it’s flown by. I love it here. They look after me, they listen, they genuinely care for me. I’ve got more friends now than I’ve ever had.
When I was a kid, I fell into the wrong crowd. My nan and grandad brought me up and I had a good childhood, but I fell by the wayside when I got a bit of money in my pocket. I was an apprentice electrician, so I had a good job and good grades from school, but I was easily led.
I ended up going to prison a couple of times for being an idiot, then I came out and met a woman. I had two nice kids with her, I was doing everything a bloke should do, working and putting money on the table, and then we finished. I was never at home, I was always working away, so we drifted apart. That was my first time being homeless. I left everything to her and the kids.
I remember when I was little, my nan was in hospital in London and my grandad took me up to see her. We went through Cardboard City, I was only about 12. I said, ‘What’s this Pop?’ and he told me it’s where all the people that haven’t got a home live. He said, ‘I don’t want you to end up like that sunshine.’ Then when it did happen to me, I couldn’t stop thinking of my grandad.
I was homeless in Blackpool first. I was a ride engineer on the pier, but when that all fell apart, I went to the train station with about 68 quid in my pocket and said to them, ‘Where can this get me? Anywhere by the sea?’ Then I left for Brighton. It was okay there, I never went hungry, but then loads of things started happening. People would squirt petrol over sleeping bags and set them alight, and all I wanted to do was get a couple of hours kip.
I was homeless in Brighton for about a year and a half. I blagged my way into working at a hotel there. I told them I could cook a breakfast. Anyone can cook a breakfast! But they didn’t know I was homeless. One morning, the manager of the hotel said to me, ‘I’ve just walked past them benches up there and this bloke was the spitting image of you. I hope it’s not you.’ I didn’t want them to know, so I left and went to Eastbourne.
I slept on the beach in Eastbourne. I was over 60 by then and had asthma, so after a while I thought I can’t do this no more – I had been homeless for three years. I went to see a lovely lady called Pauline at the Salvation Army and asked her what Emmaus was like. She got straight on the phone to Zach, the Emmaus Hastings Community Manager, and I met him for coffee the next day. The day after that I was in.
Zach was brilliant and Sallie, our Support Manager, she’s like my mum. The staff trust you to do anything. I do PAT testing, the tills on a weekend, phone calls in the week. I’m busy, it’s good. When you’re homeless, people look down at you or walk past you and tell you to get a job, but there are some genuine people that have fallen on hard times. Then you come to a place like Emmaus and you forget all that.
Sometimes, when I’m in my room, I get my old sleeping bag out and sleep in there for the night. It makes me think how lucky I am to have all this now. When I was homeless, I had to keep an eye or an ear open every time I went to sleep, now I’ve got my own room, my own shower, it’s great.
I just can’t praise Emmaus enough. I’d do anything for these people. If all the world were like the people at Emmaus Hastings, what a better place it would be to live in. They’ve put so much oomph back in my life. I feel I’m a better person than what I was. Now, I can save a bit of money each week, I’m on my diet and I’m on 20 weeks of no smoking. I had a mobility scooter ‘cause I got lazy, but I got rid of that and I’ve got a push bike now. My aim is to cycle down to Hastings pier on Christmas Day after our dinner with my good friend Bobby Hurst.
I’m a people person so I think every time I talk about when I was homeless, it makes it a bit easier. It’s nice ‘cause you meet people here that are in the same boat as you. We’ve all been there and have come here to move on. It’s a good little community. I know that if I’ve got a problem, I can go to one of the staff or even one of my peers, I don’t suffer.
My asthma’s actually getting better. Before, I couldn’t even walk across the car park and now I’m cycling! I just feel content again, now I’ve got something to get up for every morning. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I’m learning every day. Especially when I’m talking to people on the phone and they’re asking my opinion on what to do with this and that. It’s getting that trust back again, it’s wicked.
You know what, I don’t think I would be here today if it wasn’t for Emmaus. If I’d have known how good it was, I’d have come here years ago. They never judge you, they just give you the chance to take it from scratch and start all over again. Now, the world’s my oyster. If I wanted to go on a course or something, I know I could. Just ‘cause I’m over 60 doesn’t mean I should be chucked on a pile, I could be the oldest kid at college! I’m hoping in three or four years, I’ll get my own flat and maybe a nice job outside, but I’d always come back and volunteer at Emmaus if I could.”
*This companion wished to remain anonymous so we have used a pseudonym to protect his privacy.