Chris had a bad start, but thanks to the support of others he has transformed his life. He shares his story below:
I don’t want sympathy for what’s happened to me in my life; I’d hate for anyone to feel sorry for me. Thanks to the support of Emmaus, my life is good now – I just had a bad start.
A few weeks before my 11th birthday, my Dad committed suicide. I was awake that night and I heard my parents argue. Afterwards, I somehow blamed myself. I told myself that if I had run down the stairs and seen him taking the tablets, he would have snapped out of it and stopped. I didn’t run downstairs that night; it still haunts me now – but at the time I really couldn’t get that thought out of my head.
As I grew up I became a nightmare to cope with and I hung around with older lads, getting into a lot of trouble with the police. I was a nightmare to live with and although my family tried to support me, I didn’t want help. I was in and out of different schools and ended up in and out of foster care.
By the time I was 17 I was living on the streets, using hostels and also sleeping rough. When I was first homeless I used to carry far too much around with me; it took me a long time to realise that you can get by with just a piece of cardboard, a sleeping bag and a change of clothes.
I didn’t like to sleep in shop doorways because that’s where trouble starts, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. I’d take myself away from the centre of town and find shelter where I could – in a beach hut maybe, or I’d sometimes make my own shelter by stretching a tarpaulin between trees.
I soon discovered day centres that were always willing to help and I made use of soup kitchens for food. Loneliness can really hit you when you’re homeless; I don’t like to be alone and felt much safer when I surrounded myself with people, deciding who to trust and who to avoid.
After a while, I met a girl; we were homeless together for almost four years. Unfortunately, by that time, I was using class A drugs and she was a fellow addict, so we took drugs together.
I lost touch with my mum for a long time and it at the time that my brother was in a young offenders’ institute. One day my sister called to tell me that he had died of smoke inhalation; I was devastated.
When I was 23 we had a particularly bad winter; my girlfriend and I broke up and I decided to search online for somewhere I could go during the cold winter months. Emmaus came up as an option, so I rang Emmaus Bristol and moved in there a few weeks later. My plan was to get off the streets for a few months, and then go back to living on the streets – being homeless was the only thing I knew.
I was still addicted to drugs at the time, but with the support of Emmaus, I slowly weaned myself off. It was all going OK until just after New Year when I found out that my ex-girlfriend had taken an overdose. It hit me hard; my head was completely messed up. At the lowest point in my life, the people at Emmaus were there to support me. I decided not to leave; without their help, I don’t know what I would have done.
I have since lived in several Emmaus communities around the UK, but I’m now settled at Emmaus Leicestershire & Rutland. I’m back in touch with my family; they live nearby so I see them quite regularly. It took a long time to build those relationships again and it wasn’t easy, but it’s great now.
Emmaus is so different to a hostel – it is a whole way of life. We live together as a community so we have to be considerate of each other’s needs and think of ourselves as a team. Sometimes I have days when I don’t feel happy and don’t want to speak to anybody; I know that the support is there if I need it and having the daily work routine definitely helps. I love working on the shop floor. I can price things and do deals with customers. I answer the phone and help on the van, delivering and collecting furniture. In a hostel you wake up, you might have breakfast if you have any, and then what? What do you do? Stay in bed all day? Play pool? Then what?
I’ve made some good friends here. There’s another companion who has also experienced suicide in his family and he knows I’m there for him – he can knock on my door any time of day or night, and he’s there for me too.
Emmaus has also given me the chance to get involved with solidarity projects – I travelled to an Emmaus community in Finland where we helped load containers full of donations for third world countries. I’ve also been to the Paris Salon twice – it’s a huge sale that raises money for Emmaus projects across the world. It was certainly not a holiday weekend – you work hard, but it’s an amazing experience. Recently I spent four weeks in Bosnia, joining other companions to help out where needed; we handed out aid, put up road signs, did some farming, painting and decorating.
I’m in a much better place now; I can deal with everyday life a lot better and I’m happy being a part of the community. I want to learn to drive soon and I’d also love to travel to India too – I believe you should help those less fortunate, and I would like to volunteer to help with Emmaus projects there.
I‘ve heard it said before, but I really do mean it when I say that without Emmaus, I would definitely be dead now or in prison. I’ll always be grateful to the charity for changing my life. In fact, it means so much to me that I even now have the Emmaus logo tattooed on my arm!