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These people turned their lives around thanks to this Cambridge homelessness charity

Hundreds of homeless people have been helped by Emmaus since it opened its doors 25 years ago.

The ..

By admin , in Cambridge , at February 11, 2018

Hundreds of homeless people have been helped by Emmaus since it opened its doors 25 years ago.

The community in Landbeach is home to 34 formerly homeless people, who have been able to drastically change their lives thanks to the charity.

But the community is expanding – new rooms are being built to house 10 more vulnerable people – and now Emmaus needs your help.

Here are the stories of two men who have been helped by this incredible social enterprise.

From a job and a loving wife, to sleeping on London's streets

Tom, 55, was homeless for nearly two years after his relationship broke down.

Just three months before he ended up on the streets, he had a wife, a job, and a home in Kent.

Tom's story is proof that anyone can become homeless in a very short amount of time

Tom said: "The thing about homelessness is that it can happen to anyone, they say over just three paydays.

"I had a good job as an engineer working on the London Underground, and I loved working in London because I had a lot of friends there.

"My wife and I had a lovely relationship and a beautiful house in Bexley village in Kent.

"But we just grew apart. We are very good friends now – I'm going to see her next week.

"She had a very good job which paid more than mine and I couldn't afford the mortgage, so I told her I'd move out and leave the house to her.

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"I had some savings and I thought I'd be fine going to a hotel for a bit.

But as Tom's savings ran out, he went from staying in a hotel to a bed and breakfast, to sofa surfing, and finally sleeping on a bit of cardboard in Westminster, London.

One of the rooms at Emmaus

He said: "That happened in less than three months, and I woke up one day wondering how on earth this happened to me.

"It wasn't through drugs or alcohol – I was offered them on the streets but fortunately I didn't turn to them."

Tom moved from place to place while he was homeless, sleeping in Westminster, Greenwich, Chatham, Rochester, Colchester, and Dartford.

He said the worst thing about being homeless was how ashamed he felt.

"The worst thing was when it came to night time, and getting into your sleeping bag and lying on that piece of cardboard, and you're conspicuous, people notice you.

"That was when I couldn't escape the fact that I was homeless, and I felt so ashamed.

Building work is underway to provide another 10 bedrooms at Emmaus Cambridge

"I knew a lot of people in Westminster, I used to see them walking past, and I was worried they would recognise me.

"I used to wear a big hat and pull it down over my eyes, and a scarf right over my chin so people I knew wouldn't spot me.

"Years later I've told them this and they've chastised me for not approaching them – but I was embarrased.

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"As a man you tell yourself and everybody else that you'll sort it out. But most of the people on the streets are men, and homeless British men don't get as much help as women, children and migrants because we're not considered as vulnerable.

"I was once told by an outreach worker to tell the homeless shelters I was gay, as that would class me as more vulnerable and mean I was more likely to be helped.

Tom has been at Emmaus for two years, and loves keeping busy working for the Landbeach community.

"I've got a heart condition, I had a heart attack in 2008, and I had gout flare-ups, and I had to make sure I could get hold of medication on the streets because I have to take eight different tablets a day.

"The chemist would give you a whole month's worth of meds, and keeping that safe and carrying that round when you're homeless is tough."

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'If you're willing to work for them there's nothing they won't do for you in return'

Tom, who has lived and worked at Emmaus in Landbeach for two years, said: "Emmaus is fantastic. I was on the streets for almost two years and I had never heard of Emmaus, but I knew about all the homeless hostels and night shelters.

"I found out about them through No Second Night Out, a service which gives people a bed and doesn't turf them out again the following day. They put me through to Emmaus.

"Emmaus do so much for you – if you're willing to work for them there's nothing they won't do for you in return.

"They're helping me get a driving license so I can drive the vans. I'm about to take my driving theory test.

"I love it here. I'm planning on going back to the places I was homeless to tell other homeless people about Emmaus.

Building work is underway to provide another 10 bedrooms at Emmaus Cambridge. Picture: Keith Jones

"You can be afraid to reach out and ask for help, but the help is there, don't give up."

'I didn't see myself as homeless, I just thought that the party never stops'

34-year-old Kiel's story is quite different from Tom's.

Kiel has been at Emmaus for four years altogether, but said some "silly mistakes" meant he had to spend some time away from the Landbeach community.

"The first time I was here, I worked on the maintenance team, and there is a certain amount of trust and respect that comes with that", he said.

"I made a couple of silly mistakes when I first got here. If you get drunk, you're not allowed to be in the communal areas, but I went out one night, got drunk and decided I was going to make myself some food in the kitchen.

Kiel has managed to get sober with support from Emmaus and works full time at the charity's Landbeach furniture shop

"So I was transferred to Emmaus in Coventry and did a year there, and I did reasonably well, but I preferred it here.

"I made myself voluntarily homeless and came back to Cambridge as it was the only place I wanted to be."

Kiel was homeless for 15 years and struggled with alcoholism for much of his childhood and youth.

"I grew up in Coventry. I was never really shown how to live life in a decent way. My father was an alcoholic and he was never around much.

"I love my mum but she has been really poorly for a lot of her life – she has had Multiple Sclerosis for about 15 years.

"What I did see of my dad, it was him taking me to the social club, taking me to the pub, taking me to the bar at the golf club.

"From a very young age, I remember him passing me a half pint of beer underneath the pool table. I pretty much learned it was alright to start the day off with a drink.

"I know there's everything wrong with that now.

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"Materially I didn't want for anything when I was a kid, and I would get money from my parents.

"But if I got into a scrape at school, I would come home and my dad would give me a hiding.

"I probably could have done with a hug instead. You need your parents to be parents."

Kiel said it wasn't until he was an adult that he realised he was homeless.

"I was very energetic when I was young – I was a bit of a little shit, actually – and not much affected me.

"I didn't see myself as homeless, I just thought that the party never stops.

"I slept under a roof a lot, but it would be in someone else's house or car or caravan."

Kiel said he didn't think he'd be alive today if it weren't for Emmaus.

"Finding Emmaus changed my life, without a doubt.

Building work is underway to provide another 10 bedrooms at Emmaus Cambridge. Picture: Keith Jones

"I've been shown how to live life in a proper way, and enjoy the proper things in life, like cooking yourself a nice meal and going to the gym, or going on a bike ride or watching a film at the cinema. That was all pointless to me before.

"I didn't care about eating, but I'm excited about food now – you can't beat a nice spaghetti bolognese.

"Emmaus gives us all the tools we could possibly need to make things better.

"I work in the cafe here one day a week, and I'm getting my Level 2 hygiene qualification, and getting my driving license.

"I'm hugely passionate about giving back to Emmaus.

"They have saved my life, that's not an exaggeration. I don't think I would be around now without them.

"I owe them everything, so why wouldn't I want to give back?"

'Is this all it's going to be?'

Kiel is proud to say he has got his drinking under control since coming to Emmaus.

"I remember standing there one day with a bottle of cider in my hand, and I said to myself, 'Is this it for me? Is this all it's going to be?'

"I really wanted more than just a bottle of cider.

"I slowly got my drinking under control, from every night to every other night to once a week.

"I couldn't handle the hangovers anymore, and I didn't want to be turning up to work here not giving 100 per cent.

"I didn't want to be that person anymore. I've got friends on the streets still who inject themselves.

"But they're my friends because I see past what they're doing to themselves.

"They are some of the most genuine people, and they are going through so much pain.

"I don't drink now. Although I do have a thing for scratchcards. I love scratchcards."

Changing lives, brick by brick

Director Diane Docherty Community with companion Kiel Frank. Picture: Keith Jones

Emmaus are fundraising to build ten new rooms on their Landbeach site so they can help more people like Tom and Kiel.

They are inviting people to buy – and sign – a brick, which will become part of the new block, and help raise £150,000 for the building costs.

Emmaus Cambridge's director Diane Docherty said: "There has been a massive increase in homelessness across the country in the past few years.

"The Universal Credit system is making more people homeless, without a doubt.

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"We could see this problem approaching and we knew we had to create more accommodation to give more people the chance to be part of our community here at Emmaus.

"The extra 10 rooms would mean we can help 44 people rather than 34, and in doing that increase the social enterprise we deliver.

"Our aim is always for self-sufficiency. About 80 per cent of our earnings come from our own work.

"I fundamentally believe that nobody wants to live in complete isolation – living on the streets is an incredibly lonely place to be.

"But there is a real community here. And if and when companions move on from Emmaus we encourage them to come back, eat with us, and stay involved.

"We've got companions here who are family and they will be with us for the rest of their lives.

"Ppeople don't just recover in a year or two, it takes a long time. But all of the government provision for homelessness is in the short term only.

"The short term is of course important, but what we need to achieve as a society is long term, affordable solutions for individual that actually work.

"We need to have more sustainable communities like Emmaus to give people long-term support.

"We provide long term support for the companions, we give them a full-time job in our shop or cafe, and we help them to get college qualifications they need to move into the world if and when they can."

To support Emmaus and their #10FreshStarts campaign for the new rooms, head to their website, Facebook page or Twitter.

Head to their Landbeach shop off the A10 to pick up a 'Sign a brick' form.

You can stay up to date with how the building work is going here.

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