13March, Desert 16: Surviving the Waste Places of Homelessness

campers s mildreds

The sight above, taken in January, is troubling and it is repeated across Canterbury and indeed elsewhere in Britain: homeless people camping out in all weathers. It’s clear from the picture that people have tried to help them with bedding and the tent that they are using. But talking to someone who is involved with the churches’ work, it is also clear that some people, including these campers, do choose not to accept all the help available to them.

About the same time as I took this photo I was talking to a companion of Emmaus in Dover. I was in an Emmaus community while studying in France many years ago, and it seems many things continue from those days, and indeed from the 1940s, when Abbé Pierre started the organisation near Paris. Working for the community is an important part of regaining one’s self respect.

The man I  spoke to has become a spokesman for the community. He described how, once he was on the street, he too was unable to take the hand reached out to him. It was months later that he was persuaded to give the community life a try, and it was a life saver. Now he is something of an ambassador, better able than many to get alongside those who do – and those who don’t – use the services that the churches and charities, as well as the local council, can provide. ‘And perhaps in a year or two, I’ll move on; I’m not ready yet.’ Meanwhile, practical help to cope with supported or independent living is part of Emmaus’s service; this can include help to work for qualifications that employers will recognise.

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