by Victor Karmazyn
Well, we may as well go back to the beginning
Some 7 years ago I took on a project at Emmaus in Mossley for a local college I was working for and my task was to assess some 10 people who lived in a community which housed them and paid them an allowance for their upkeep, and also set them to work.
I was warned that some of the people, in fact, all of the people, I would be assessing were previously homeless.
I was an experienced assessor in warehousing and storage and knew the logistics industry inside and out. What I did not know at the time was what it was like to be homeless.
Some 7 years later, having left the college and still working independently for Emmaus I found myself at Hull with a group of 22 learners.
Hull Emmaus, was the very first place that in my 52 year life I actually felt lonely. It was not down to the staff who were very thankful and who had let me stay in their community at no cost and indeed fed me 2 good meals each day, but it was down to the fact that when assessment was completed each day and my office work was done in my bedroom, I would return down to the tv room and talk with different companions about our different life journeys.
One by one they would either vanish to the smoking area, and sure enough they would walk past me and bid me goodnight until the next day.
Eventually, when all companions had retired for the night, I found myself in a building that was alien to me.
I would walk up to my 2nd floor guest room which had been prepared with clean fresh bedding on, and lie in my bed thinking of how it must be for some people who do not have a choice, who may not have the family that I have, who may be lay in another bed in another room thinking how they would like to share their company with people who they truly love and miss.
For the first time ever I actually felt lonely.
I felt guilty of my lifestyle and also quite emotional and somewhat ashamed of the things in life that mattered to me so much. Some of these things were material possessions which of course mean nothing when you are in an empty room with minimal furnishings.
I missed my warm bed at home and hearing my youngest daughters tv until the small hours of the morning. I missed not having to creep to the toilet as I would have to do back at home, so as not to disturb my wife who would wake at the slightest floorboard creaking. My toilet in the guest room at Emmaus is en-suite. And although I still went the same amount of times throughout the night, my bed was empty and my wife was not there.
Was I feeling sorry for myself?
God, I was lucky not to be sleeping outside on the streets as it was bitter cold.
I was offered the opportunity to go out on the outreach project which scours the streets of Hull and less desirable places that “homeless” people congregate and indeed habitate.
This was not going to affect me as I have heard lots of stories from lots of companions over the years about their rough sleeping.
I set off with the female outreach worker who had worked with the homeless and indeed less fortunate individuals who were out on the streets for the last twelve years.
I was prepared for anything, or so I thought.
Our first port of call was not what I expected at all. I think I was expecting to see a clean sleeping bag on folded cardboard under some heated extractor fan at some shopping mall.
Again, I don’t know what I was thinking? This was nothing like this. We waded through brambles and thick mud to find a broken pop up dome tent with 3 people rough sleeping in it. They were intoxicated and the outreach worker was struggling to get any sense out of them as her accent was clearly from Hull and these chaps were from Eastern Europe. The one person who attempted to talk to the worker was bleeding from the head and said that he was ok and all three of them intended to stay there all night. Accommodation was offered to these men but was declined as they did not want to go to Dock house. “No Dock house! We don’t want go Dock house!”
We then bid them farewell and moved to the next location.
Although we talked constantly on our marathon journey, I felt numb and indeed quite in shock. I have never been a quitter and would not abandon what I had driven 50 miles to see.
I used to think I was a hard man, but what I witnessed had reduced me to a mental wreck.
I thought I was born and live in Great Britain, but was struggling to try and identify what was so great about what I had just witnessed.
Having met numerous other rough sleepers throughout that evening, when we finally got back to the orchard and I went to my room for a warm shower. When I took off my muddy boots and walking socks I noticed the blood coming from an open wound on my ankle which had rubbed a hole through my skin.
The proof was there in front of me.
My blood was the same colour as the blood on the head of the first rough sleeper we met that night. My ankle pain had now gone and had transferred to my head.
What I had seen and experienced that night has changed the way I look at everybody. I have never been better than anybody but always been more fortunate than lots of people.
Emmaus Hull and the outreach project has been a godsend to me as it has given me a reality check.
I could not begin to try and explain to anybody in my social circle of friends. The power of television means that we see things like this occasionally and we continue to ignore the plight of homelessness and loneliness.
Nothing I had ever seen before had affected me the way I had been affected that night.
Tonight, as I type my memoirs, I am warm, I am dry, I am safe in my home, I am not lonely.
I am very lucky and fortunate.
I will never forget.