“Emmaus Bristol has given me a door to my future and I’m really happy I moved here in July 2020. If I didn’t make that decision, I don’t know what would have happened to me.”

I’m from Poland and came to the UK when I broke up with my wife after 12 years married. I needed a reset for my brain and went to see my friend in London for a break. At first, I thought I would stay for a month, two, maybe three. After three months, the money in my account was going down so I found a job to keep me going. I came for a little break, but that was eight years ago!

Becoming homeless

I’ve lived and worked in lots of different cities since – London, Birmingham, Doncaster, Scunthorpe, and now Bristol. Everything that happened and why I’m at Emmaus Bristol started just over a year before the first lockdown. I was in Scunthorpe, and everything was going alright. I had a place to live and I was working, but I wasn’t being a very good guy. I was using drugs, drinking, and being a party boy.

“Then lockdown and Brexit happened, and I lost everything in my life. I lost my job, and after that, I had no money, so I then lost my room and became homeless.”

I stayed at friend’s house a couple of times, but I mostly slept under a bridge in my tent. I started volunteering Monday to Friday with an organisation called The Forge Project, helping in the kitchen. For that part of the day, I was inside, but at night-time I was going back to my tent. Sometimes I would get a bed in a night shelter, but that wasn’t every night. It did help though to wash clothes, shower, and get breakfast.

It was when I was homeless that I stopped using drugs. One day, I woke up in my tent and thought, what I am doing with my life? I’ve been clean since. I felt really rough for the first few weeks. I had started taking drugs in school when I began partying and DJing, so they’d been in my life for nearly 20 years. A couple of weeks after I stopped, my energy started coming back and I realised that I didn’t need drugs anymore.

Finding Emmaus

I was homeless when the councils started helping people get off the streets in lockdown. For me, the local council did a brilliant job, and I was sent to a beautiful lodge. It wasn’t too far from Scunthorpe, and we had donkeys, pigs, and lots of farm life there. I stayed for nearly a year and the other people living there became like family.

My support worker told me all about Emmaus and how it’s a working community. I was really scared to leave the lodge, but I didn’t have a future there, so I thought maybe I could have one at Emmaus. When I got accepted, I was happy but scared. I’d never been to Bristol before and knew then that my life was about to change.

“I quickly became part of the community.”

I arrived at Emmaus Bristol in a lockdown and my first ten days were spent in isolation. It was a hard time. It was a new place, I wasn’t mixing with people, and I didn’t know anyone. After that, I quickly became part of the community. Some people join Emmaus and hide away at first, not really talking. But I talk all the time, and I’m really open and friendly. I’m not sure everyone liked me, but everyone accepted me.

Work, training, and support

The biggest thing Emmaus Bristol has helped me with is getting my documents. Before I was homeless, my documents were stolen, so then when I became homeless, I was Mr. Nobody. Ewa, Fran, and Nicola from the support team helped me get my passport, National Insurance number, and settled status. Believe me, it was a really hard fight, but it’s now opened so many doors for me.

I’ve worked in all areas of Emmaus Bristol since joining. I was van crew for the first year helping to collect and deliver furniture, but I’ve also worked in the shops and cooked a lot for the other companions, usually Polish dishes. I was cooking nearly full-time at one point until I became pescetarian, which is another step I took to change my life. I was a little scared that cooking with meat might make me want to eat it, but I’m free from that now and cooked for everyone recently. I made homemade burgers, white chicken goulash, croquettes with pickled cabbage and mushrooms, homemade tomato soup and cucumber salad with yogurt.

A couple of months ago, I got a position here as part of the Warehouse Team. That means everything that happens in the warehouse is on my head! I have experience with warehousing in Poland, so I think I know what I’m doing. I look after deliveries, sort donations for resale or recycling, make sure that everyone is working together as a team and that we’re following health and safety rules. It’s a little hard for me to ask for help and I don’t like delegating. I’m just the same as all the other companions so I prefer to start doing something and then ask others to help me. That means I’m still working with the guys and doing the same work they are.

I’ve done lots of training courses as well. I’ve got my CSCS card, did three Level 2 courses in Catering, Food Hygiene, and Food Safety, and next I will be doing a Hospitality and Catering course. I also got money for a new push bike through the Companion Training Fund. I feel much better if I’m riding on my bike. It’s given me the chance to exercise, and I have loads more energy by not sitting in my room watching TV and getting fat… although I’m already there with my belly!

Future plans

I’ve got lots of plans. This year, I was thinking about doing proper life and moving out, getting a job and my own place. That plan has stopped for now because I’ve hurt my shoulder and might need an operation, but it also means that I can do more courses and get more work experience at Emmaus Bristol. I always say that every bad thing is doing something good for you. If something bad happens in my life, it can either give me the opportunity to do something else or it might give me a life lesson, sometimes a hard one, that I can learn from.

“Emmaus Bristol is the best place to come if you need help to get back on track. I’m a really good example of how it helps and I’m happy that I have a chance at life now.”