I have lived at Emmaus Oxford since 2017 and I like that it does change people’s lives. It’s not a night shelter where you’re in and out, there is always hope and prospect that you can have a better life.
Before Emmaus, I had spent six months sleeping rough in my car after my wife kicked me out. We have a big family of six boys and three girls together. My older lads didn’t agree with me being kicked out and the family has now broken in half, which is weird because we were all so close. I still haven’t been able to see my younger children who are at home, but I’m hopeful that time is a healer and until then, I’m waiting.
Living in my car
Every day living in my car felt like a week, and it was during a really hot summer. Even at 11pm at night, sweat would be dripping off me. I tried sleeping outside in fields to stay cool, but worried that someone might break into my car, which had everything I owned inside.
It got to the point that I was smoking and drinking to get through the day, and I had no fuel or money left. I knew I couldn’t go on like that and went to the job centre for advice. I was referred to Aylesbury Homeless Action group and they put me in touch with Emmaus after discovering that I had experience with antiques and repairing furniture.
Work and training
Within a week of finding out about Emmaus, I was accepted at the community in Oxford and I’ve not looked back since. I work in the store, mainly in our beds area. Beds sell really quickly in the store, so I like to keep on the ball with rotating stock. I also work on the vans collecting and delivering items and enjoy helping with the eBay shop.
At Emmaus, I’ve done a lot of training too and have an NVQ in Customer Service, Warehousing and completed a first aid course. I’m now learning how to use a computer in our new computer room. That’s been my biggest hurdle to overcome but I’m getting there.
We all pitch in at Emmaus and try to do as much as we can. When new companions come in and want to learn different things in the store or community, I help them out. To me, there’s no point learning if I don’t pass it on and it’s so encouraging to see companions gaining confidence from learning new skills as well as working in a happy environment.
After being at Emmaus for about a year, I started to feel like it was time to give something back. I had repaired and healed, but I knew there were others in need in Oxford and this area of Cowley in particular. I bought up the idea of a homeless outreach evening at a community meeting, everyone agreed we should do it, and it went from there.
My fellow companions and I now give out essential items and food parcels every Thursday to anyone who needs it. Items can be anything from winter sleeping bags, hats, gloves and scarves to toiletries, torches, and toilet roll. People have really started relying on us and thankfully we have had a lot of generous donations from individuals and businesses to keep it going.
The first week we started our homeless outreach, we had someone turn up who later joined the Emmaus Oxford community and has since moved on. We’ve also had another guy who came to us a few times for items and is now living with us. When you get results like that, it’s all worth it. We’re not doing our homeless outreach to feel good about ourselves, we’re doing because we all genuinely know that if we were in that position again, someone giving out food or even just advice is a lifeline.
Emmaus Oxford has done so much for me, but it’s time to look forward. I’ve just signed up to the over 55’s housing scheme called Anchor Housing. They put you on a list and there are various options all around Oxford that are affordable. It could take up to a year, but there’s no rush.
When I leave, I’d love to volunteer at Emmaus Oxford. I love this place and everyone here is passionate about it as well. It’s nice to be in a place where you can feel that something is actually being done about homelessness.
I still have the car that I slept rough in too. Most of my weekly allowance from Emmaus goes on maintaining it. I think I’m attached to it because for six months, it kept me going and was my safety zone. Now, it’s my lifeline to my kids.
When I was living in my car, I never would have thought that in three years’ time I’d be at Emmaus Oxford and looking forward to a future.