For 12 years I was in and out of homelessness; it was all I knew. Coming to Emmaus Oxford was one of the best moves I’ve ever made and now I’ve come to what I like to call the end of my homelessness journey, living in my own flat with a plan to become a support worker.
I lived at Emmaus Oxford for nearly three years, and it was amazing for me. When I first arrived, I knew I needed to set a plan to get myself back on track and the stability and support Emmaus provided helped with this. I was able to sort out my mental health, have counselling, build up my work record and get my own flat. Without Emmaus, I don’t think I’d be where I am now.
I was quite young when my mental health issues started to emerge. I think my parents found me hard work and we never really saw eye to eye. I ended up leaving home when I was 17 but didn’t have anywhere to go.
I remember my first night sleeping rough. I slept in a car park, on the floor. I didn’t have anything to sleep on and was just wearing my jacket. It wasn’t too cold that night, but it was noisy and security kept asking me to move on, so I hardly slept.
Sleeping at the side of bypasses and in hedgerows became normal for me. When you’re tucked away out of sight at night, you feel more at risk because you can’t see what’s coming. I preferred sleeping in more visible places so if the worst did happen and someone tried to intimidate me, it felt like I could shout for help.
When you’re sleeping rough, most people ignore you, but some look at you like you’re dirt. A few people can be kind and buy you a cup of coffee but most just walk past like you’re not there.
Occasionally I did find a place to stay for a while, but a lot of the services only give you a certain amount of time before you need to move on again. It felt like I was patching over problems instead of solving them. You can only paper over the cracks so much before they start to show again. I did find work too, on and off, but my mental health problems meant that jobs never lasted long.
When I found out about Emmaus Oxford, I got in touch and very shortly after that moved in. I remember thinking that my bedroom at Emmaus was actually a bit smaller than the one I had in my last hostel, but I didn’t get any support there. You can give me the nicest room in the world but if I don’t address my personal problems and issues then there’s no point: my situation won’t improve.
Within six months at Emmaus, I started to feel more secure and began counselling which helped my mental health improve slowly, day by day. It was such a good feeling to have.
The work aspect of Emmaus meant I was learning things too. I helped to run the charity store van service, collecting and delivering furniture for customers. I even got the chance to gain some qualifications and completed an NVQ Level 2 in Storage and Warehousing and one in Customer Service. I had never really done much of that sort of thing in the past, so it was a great achievement and helped me build up my CV to take away with me.
Emmaus Oxford helped me get on the council list and in June 2021, I moved into my own flat. I have never lived on my own before, so at first I was nervous. I wasn’t sure if I was ready, but now I’m really enjoying it. I’ve got freedom and independence, and it feels nice.
The flat was unfurnished when I moved in, which meant I could put my own mark on it and Emmaus helped me with furniture from the store. The staff at Emmaus have also helped me set up all my direct debits and standing orders so I feel like I’m in a good place.
I’ve left Emmaus Oxford, but that doesn’t mean I’m not part of the community anymore. I still volunteer in the store three days a week and cook for the current companions here on the weekend. It’s nice that I’m still connected to the community, and it’s helped make the transition of moving easier.
Emmaus has helped me progress and achieve things I didn’t think were possible for me. Next, I’m looking to get back into work and just about to sort out training to become a support worker.