Posted by editor 19/09/2012 0 Comment 3713 views
Day manager John Gall.

Day manager John Gall.

“If I hadn’t come here, I would be dead.” John Gall, the day manager at Emmaus Cambridge, doesn’t look at all like a man who spent 10 years on the street. He is sure of himself, looks healthy and is happy. He is open about his story of living rough and finally being recommended to Emmaus 12 years ago. He has stayed there ever since in the alcohol-and drug-free community, working hard, developing the Emmaus business, gaining qualifications, getting married, re-building his life. Now he is an example to new ‘Companions’ coming in.

Companions I met told me exactly how long they have lived at Emmaus. It’s a source of pride to see time extend away from their previous existence of insecurity, lack of control, insignificance, apathy, or self-induced oblivion. Living without work, a home and a healthy lifestyle is no joke.

Abbe Pierre started the first Emmaus community in France after WWII. He had was hosting homeless people at his house, called ‘Emmaus’, but eventually he needed help to care for them. So he enlisted the homeless and unemployed to work for the wellbeing and finances of the group.  Working to help others, made the most impact on individuals to take control of their own life again. And this in turn encouraged others to work rather than remain as one who is cared for.

A sculpture of Emmaus founder Abbe Pierre.

Emmaus Communities have spouted all over the world since 1954. There is nothing religious about the communities despite being started by a pious and good man. Anyone who is ready to help themselves and who can tolerate the day-to-day challenges of living in community, can come.  More men than women live there, but both are welcome. There is growing support for couples who are both living homeless. Emmaus is one of the only facilities aiming to provide Answers for couples.

Today, the ‘Companions’ I saw at Emmaus in Cambridge are living healthy, good lives – and none are living on government benefits. The group must make money together by running their business well.




They take donated 2nd hand furniture, crockery, clothing, tools, electrical goods, games, books etc. They repair, categorise and price them, then market and sell the goods to anyone who knows the value in a reduced-cost household necessity. As a customer, you can count on their products to be in good nick.

It takes hard work, high ideals and good management, to make money enough to pay for all the needs of a large community. A new Emmaus Community takes up to 5 years to become a sustainable business. Keeping Abbe Pierre’s principle of help-yourself-by-helping-others, established Communities help newer ones through their initial years with advice, money and products to sell.

In the UK, Emmaus is an Answer for up to 530 adults in 45 Communities. However, Emmaus UK is driven to accommodate a further 220 people within the next 4 years. Some new Emmaus Communities will be started, some will build more accommodation, and some will venture into a new type of dwellings called ‘Move On’ houses.

A ‘Move On’ house allows a Companion to take a first step into looking after their house bills and living costs without leaving the security of the community altogether. It’s a perfect ‘nearly there’ solution for someone ready to brave the demands, pressures and personal triggers the world outside will undoubtedly throw at them as they take on work and join back into society.

In Cambridge, John wishes more homeless people knew about the Answers offered at Emmaus Communities for maintaining healthy work habits, staying sober, drug-free, and building up a sustainable life. It’s not for everyone; you have to make huge changes to your life and shake off old habits. You also have to be able to live in community – eating together, sharing ups and downs, making sure everyone works equitably and shares the load. It’s a challenge for anyone to live in the pockets of other adults, like a family, but this is also part of the solution.  Better to be told ‘You can do it!’ by someone a little bit like you, who managed already to jump the hurdle you are facing .

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