“It’s strange to look back on a time in my life when I was homeless and desperate. I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing in life and damaged a lot of relationships through poor life choices… I think you can never underestimate the power of one conversation… and how one night can transform your whole life.” My name is Emma, I’m 26, and I live in London. When I was 16, I was going through a difficult time with my family, not really through any fault of their own, but because of how I perceived certain things and the choices that I made. I ended up running away from home. I worked my way round staying with different friends until I ran out of options and I ended up sleeping rough on the streets of London. I’m really glad that this experience wasn’t drawn out for very long, it lasted about a week. I was desperate but resourceful – I survived on 20-pence crackers, I would stay on tubes or 24-hour buses to keep warm. You can’t really sleep when you are homeless, as you always have to have your wits about you! My mind was just racing and I kept thinking: “This is all my fault, I could end up on drugs, I could end up in prostitution…” Luckily, none of my fears were realised. I think God was really looking after me. One day, I was standing outside a church, crying. A woman came out and asked me what was wrong, so I told her. She decided to do quite a risky thing and said I could stay over at her house overnight, and use her phone to call around and find a place to stay.
I talked to the Westminster City Council and they told me that Church Army had an emergency women’s hostel called the Marylebone Project. I had never heard of Church Army before, I had no idea what they did, but I was really desperate and I jumped at the chance. The Marylebone Project’s staff members were attentive, caring and compassionate. People who live on the street get judged so much and walked past all the time – so to have someone treat you like a human being, that’s really important. I was a young, vulnerable female and they were very protective of me and made sure I didn’t have too many people around, they let me take my time. Even though this happened 10 years ago, things like that really stay with you. They took me up to my room and there’s something special about being told this is your room, this is your safe space – you can get a really good night’s sleep, have a hot shower, no one is going to disturb you.
I remember feeling overflowing with gratitude. I only stayed at Marylebone for one night, then I was referred on to a longer-term hostel. I know it can sound like a real cliché to refer to it as ‘the night that changed my life’ but it’s true: that one night was the catalyst that led to other opportunities that followed. I am very grateful to God for organisations like Church Army that exist to help people through really difficult situations. Emma currently works for a community-focused church in central London, which works extensively with the most vulnerable members of society, including the homeless and the elderly. Describing her faith, Emma said: “My first identity is as a Christian and all the other things that make up who I am and what I do flow out from this. Jesus is at the centre of my life and I believe we are called to be Jesus’ hands and feet on earth.”
To watch a video of Emma’s story, visit www.churcharmy.org.uk/emma