World Homeless Day: how Emmaus Herts changed the life of street sleeper Richard

Emmaus Herts companion Richard has told his story of sleeping rough as part of World Homeless Day.

Emmaus Herts companion Richard has told his story of sleeping rough as part of World Homeless Day. - Credit: Archant

A former street sleeper has told his story to as part of a campaign by charity Emmaus to highlight the rapidly growing issue across the UK.

As part of World Homeless Day on Saturday, the charity has also launched an online forum designed to bring together all the organisations working across the county to support those experiencing homelessness.

The Hertfordshire Homeless Forum will run between October 10 and November 20 and will bring together several groups and organisations including charities and housing providers

Emmaus Hertfordshire currently supports 38 people who have experienced homelessness by giving them a safe home, meaningful work in a social enterprise and an opportunity to regain lost self-esteem to help rebuild their lives.

They include Richard, who joined Emmaus Hertfordshire in 2015 after losing his home of 26 years. After becoming homeless in the middle of the winter, he spent five months sleeping rough in freezing conditions.

Describing his time sleeping on the streets, Richard said: “Being homeless at any time is terrible, but over winter is brutal and the physical pain is awful. The day after I was evicted, I can remember it rained heavily and I was wearing trainers with holes in.

“During the daytime, especially in the cold weather, you can’t really lie down. I ended up walking hours every day to keep warm and became very sore doing that. I remember one night in February 2014 it was so cold that I couldn’t sleep for more than ten minutes without waking. Even then, I felt like I was being bitten all over my body.”

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Richard moved into Emmaus Lambeth in May 2014, before arriving at Emmaus Hertfordshire in July 2015.

During his time at Emmaus, he said he has found the space and stability he needs to start rebuilding his life.

Every companion at Emmaus is provided with a home for as long as they need it and are given meaningful work opportunities in one of the charity’s social enterprises. For Richard this includes collecting donations of furniture which are sold in the charity’s five stores across the county and delivering items to customers. He also works in housekeeping at the Emmaus community.

He is finally looking forward to the future and building a positive life for himself with the support of fellow companions and staff at Emmaus.

“The best thing about coming to Emmaus after five months on the street was simply being able to sleep in a bed again and to have a regular shower – it straight away felt like normal life had finally resumed.

“Since being at Emmaus, I’ve learned a lot of different things through working in the social enterprise. I thought I would be doing just one job all the time, but staff encourage us to try working in all the areas to see what we like best.

“I want to continue working on the skills I am gaining at Emmaus and l hope to look for employment in something I can apply those skills to.”

Research published by Crisis in June shows a sharp increase in demand for front-line homelessness services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than half of frontline services surveyed saw a rise in homelessness since the start of the pandemic and nearly three-quarters reported an increase in demand for their services.

As job losses continue, the ban on evictions is lifted and rough sleepers housed in temporary accommodation are forced back onto the streets, the coronavirus crisis continues to place additional pressure on people already struggling with low wages and unaffordable rent, pushing too many to the brink.A

Visit to find out how you can get involved. It can be as simple as donating your unwanted furniture, old clothing or bric-a-brac, or picking up a bargain at an Emmaus shop. All the money Emmaus Hertfordshire raises in its shops goes directly towards its vital work supporting formerly homeless people in the county.