Why Emmaus? Dave and Sam’s Story.
I am Dave Chatham, one of the founders of PiC. I met my wife, Sam, in Manchester where at the time we both worked. I grew up in Birmingham but my job in Manchester was the first time that I’d worked in a city centre. Up to that point I’d spent my career in a number of locations; in the Cheshire countryside, Macclesfield, Erdington, Warrington and Leek – all places that were far away from the hustle and bustle. The chance to go shopping at lunchtime in the run up to Christmas and nipping out to coffee shops was a welcome change.
By night however the city changed and something struck Sam and I really hard – the number of people living on the streets. It would be wrong to plant a political message within a personal story, but you have to wonder how on earth this can happen in one of the strongest economies on the planet. Dozens and dozens of people trying to brace themselves for the cold night ahead.
Sam is one of those people who will try and help someone even if it is easier to walk on by. She would often start a conversation with some of the people we encountered, asking if there was anything they needed. Sometimes the answer would be a simple ask for small change to buy a hot drink. Sometimes there was more of a conversation. Always the interactions were polite.
We’re well aware of the labels that sometimes get attached to homeless people and the linkage, perceived or real, to drugs and crime. For twenty years or more I have regularly bought the Big Issue. Inside the front cover there is always a story about one of the sellers and how they became homeless and how they coped on the streets – or not.
I recall one man’s story about how he felt he had no choice but to take drugs each night because it took away the pain of the cold. For me, as a reader of the Big Issue, but usually working away from city centres, the enormity of the problem was out of sight. Those evenings in Manchester were a wake-up call.
I also recall listening to the radio after the footballer Ray Wilkins had passed away. A listener had called in to pay tribute and told the story of how Ray had chatted to him on the street. The caller was ex-military and was living on the street outside a train station. Ray had sat with the caller on the piece of cardboard he was using to protect him from the cold. He chatted about playing for England and how lucky he was to have been a footballer. He took him to a coffee shop and bought him a meal and a hot drink and as he left, gave him some money to use at a nearby shelter. That same night he stayed in the shelter and met a guy who offered him work. The work earned him enough money to rent a flat and he met a girl there. They got married and had a child who, at the time of the call, was a toddler.
Whilst we might not be able to comprehend why a country like ours has such a huge problem with homelessness, the story above shows that there is hope. Small gestures might not change the world for everyone, but they have the power to change everything in the world for someone.
Update – March 2023
We’re lucky enough to live in a place called Birkdale village, near Southport. It’s the kind of place where, on the other side of the tracks from us, you’ll find a few ex-footballers, and of course Royal Birkdale golf course. It’s not the type of place you would typically see homelessness, or so you’d think…
Sam and I were walking the dog a few weeks ago, on a typically cold winter evening. We noticed a guy sat outside the local shop. He looked cold and had probably been there some time. He asked us if we had any spare change. Sam’s ability to think fast in the moment still impresses me – she told him we could help, asked him what he really needed and if anything from the shop would help him. He was grateful for the offer asking only for a hot drink and a sandwich. A few minutes later Sam pops back out with a coffee, a sandwich, and a bag full of food / drinks that should see him through the next few hours. A very grateful man then walks away in a different direction.
We’d solved his immediate problem, but walking back home we wondered what happens next? We’ve no real idea if that little gesture helped, or if the same process was repeated the following day or week.
This story highlights why we support Emmaus and their mission to overcome homelessness and social exclusion. They offer long term support to those who need it and have programmes that help people get the support they need to get back on their feet, however long that might take.
Please consider supporting Emmaus. Small gestures have the power to change the world, even if that world is for one person…