Housing

Homeless charity Emmaus responds to suspected arson at their Gloucester shop

The charity have lost stock and storage space, but are still open for business and encouraging people to donate what they can

UK wide homeless charity Emmaus’ Gloucestershire team is in recovery mode this week, with their Gloucester shop on Chequers Road severely damaged by fire on Monday, but chief executive Joe Feeley has insisted that they are going to “have to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes.”

Feeley went to investigate the fire on Monday evening. When he left at 9pm, the fire brigade had things under control, but upon returning the next day, the scene was worse, and it became clear another fire had been started overnight, with arson the suspected cause.

“We’ve lost quite a lot of stock and all of our storage space as well,” Joe told The Big Issue, “but we’ve had a couple of local businesses step up to help, and a couple of local musicians have said they’ll do a fundraiser for us. We’ve had a massive response from the local community bringing in donations.”

It’s not what happens, it’s how you respond to it

Emmaus UK helps the homeless by providing housing for the recently homeless across 29 communities spread around the UK, with a target of 1,000 rooms by the end of 2020.  As well as housing, they offer work opportunities across the charity’s social enterprises, which include cafes, house clearance businesses, and high street shops. In total they’ve helped over 11,000 members of the homeless community since their first UK site was opened in Cambridge in 1992

Emmaus Gloucestershire currently houses 34 people in the city, with more still – formerly homeless people who’ve been helped by the charity, referred to as ‘companions’ – volunteering, doing soup runs in the centre of Gloucester and providing hot food, clothing and sleeping bags to those who are still street homeless, and other economically vulnerable members of the community. While noting that a new 46-bed YMCA facility has been a benefit to the town, Joe mentioned that the problem of homelessness does seem to be increasing.

“The companions have been through a lot worse,” Joe added, “but it’s been really upsetting for some because they put so much into it. One guy in particular was upset to the point where he’s had to take a couple of days off, he doesn’t want this to be a trigger for returning to substance abuse issues.”

The other issue facing Emmaus at the moment is the one that’s affecting the entire country, that being how to prepare for an increase in coronavirus cases in the area. “Is it stopping customers and donors? I would say not in great numbers yet, but we’re spending a lot more management time planning and thinking ‘right, how are we going to self-isolate someone in the community?’ which is a challenging concept.”

Emmaus has reiterated via social media that it’s business as usual as much as possible. “It’s not what happens, it’s how you respond to it,” Joe concludes, and it seems that response is already well underway.

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