The story of why Emmaus is so important to CMMNTY.
When I grew up, I knew Emmaus as just a place your parents took the old coffee table when they got a new one. Or somewhere we went to get a coffee table when we rented our first unfurnished chunky flat with friends. But Emmaus is much more than that.
When I was twenty something I read a book called Stewart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters, later turned into a film starring then less well known actors Tom Hardy & Benedict Cumberpatch. It tells the touching story of a man struggling with alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness and the rehoming process in Cambridge. What scared me was how close the character - a real life person who had lived in my real life home town - was to people I knew and cared for. There was only a couple of bad decisions between his life and the lives of more than one of my friends. In some cases, only a few moments of chance separated their lives & eventual circumstances. There are even friends I went to school with who chose homelessness & soon fell in serious heroin addiction. I have another friend who has been living within the rehoming process the whole time I have known him. There But For The Grace Of God, and all that.
Around this time I began to see homelessness differently; began to see it as it was. I understood it’s not only a cycle that some can’t break, it’s a cycle that some choose to not break for fear of what that would mean. I never realised that some of the people sleeping in the same lower levels of the carpark where we would spend rainy days skateboarding were there by a different kind of choice: they knew that to begin the rehoming process would mean close proximity to the drugs, alcohol & chaos that they did not have the strength to bear. The only option open to them seemed simply too dangerous to brave again.
Here is where Emmaus makes a real difference. They take people in, give them meaningful work and a place to stay, give their life some order & calm, and most importantly they give people a chance. In their words they “offer much more than food and shelter. We help them to regain their self-esteem by carrying out meaningful work in our social enterprises and supporting those less fortunate than themselves. This, in turn, provides a lasting solution that restores self-esteem and confidence.”
This may sound like the same thing you might expect normal homeless shelters to do, but as helpful and well meaning as many other shelters are, there are some key differences here. For a start, Emmaus is a much less chaotic environment due to the close proximity to daily work and social interaction. Those being helped by Emmaus in Cambridge live right on site & work there daily, dealing with customers & assisting with the day to day running. Emmaus doesn’t just give people somewhere to sleep; it gives people something so much more important. It gives them purpose. Not to put too fine a point on it, Emmaus gives them a life again.
And that’s what scares me the most when I read through the stories of some of the people helped by Emmaus; for most of us there is no guarantee we ourselves won’t need them at sometime in our future, no matter how secure our lives might feel. There are those there who are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction of course, but there are also so many that found themselves homeless via relationship break ups, illness or sudden unemployment. In fact it’s frightening how quickly it can happen, with one story recounting a journey from house owner without a cloud on the horizon to living on the streets in just 6 weeks.
If you would like to get involved in the community you can contact Emmaus or just follow them on the internets here.