I had a woman sleeping at the back door of the presbytery for a couple of nights last week. Obviously this is not supposed to happen and the authorities would have us believe it can’t or doesn’t happen. As a Christian active in the homeless field I was particularly unhappy. I wouldn’t want to give an impression that I was less comfortable than she was but she was known to us from the street café the church runs and knew she was in a safe place. She was most grateful for the use of the facilities in the morning and a hot breakfast before she went off to rejoin her drinking buddies. When I met them all later in the day they were full of laughs about it.
Should I have phoned Emmaus to get her in? Absolutely not. Emmaus has picked a vital niche in the homeless market which is for those who have decided they are going to have a shot at living and working with others in order to stabilise their lives. It is not easy to grasp what an enormous step this is. Many of our companions have recent experience of homelessness and prison, addiction and mental health difficulties. Doing a day’s work for and with others is an enormous achievement. Emmaus exists to reinforce the message that such change is possible. The staff and volunteers are there to support the transition together with its ups and downs.
This doesn’t mean we are to forget those for whom the threat of the gutter is no mere metaphor. We offer solidarity in a number of ways with those who are worse off. First of all our companions take a turn each week staffing the night kitchen in Cadogan St, preparing the soup and sandwiches for it and talking to those who come. Our companions also go out of their way to help those whom they spot in our shops looking for second hand goods and who have not the money to get what they need when they have got to the stage of qualifying for an unfurnished flat. But most of all our companions are a sign that the homeless are a highly mobile group. And just as some fall down, so others are picking themselves up and rejoining society, perhaps better and wiser for the experiences they have had.
Willy Slavin, Chair