A woman living in Bridgend is keen to share her experience of homelessness and mental health to inspire others who may be faced with similar challenges.
Michelle lost both her parents and sister within a short period of time. Struggling to cope with the grief, Michelle was put on anti-depressants, couldn’t hold down her job as a carer, and went on to spend two years sofa-surfing.
On Sunday 10 October, World Homeless Day and World Mental Health Day coincide, and Michelle, now supported by homelessness charity Emmaus South Wales, wants to share her story to show others that help is available.
Michelle’s mum died first, in 2014 of cancer, then two years later her sister died, and her dad followed a few months after that: “Up until my dad passed away, I was living with him in Cardiff. I was working as a full-time carer, which was a job that I had done for nearly 30 years and loved. I had to move out of my dad’s house when he passed and that’s when two years of sofa-surfing began, on top of struggling with the grief.”
Sofa-surfing began to take a toll on Michelle, and she lost her job: “I wasn’t mentally fit to look after people anymore. The uncertainty of sofa-surfing had start to take its toll. I was always down, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to act on it and get proper help.”
Michelle was already on the waiting list for a council house when her doctor requested that she be moved up the list because of her mental health. Nearly at the top, Michelle was forced to leave the catchment area and accidentally took herself off the list: “When I was waiting for a council house, I was jumping around friend’s houses but exhausted all my options. I ended up in Barry living in a summer house in my friend’s garden. Leaving Cardiff, only temporarily, meant that I was taken off the list for a council house.”
The summer house Michelle lived in was a welcome change, but winter was soon approaching: “Don’t get me wrong, the summer house was lovely and I was so grateful, but I couldn’t face staying there in the winter months. That’s when I found out about Emmaus South Wales, and I wish now that I’d found them sooner.”
Emmaus South Wales provides people who have experienced homelessness and social exclusion with a home for as long as they need it, daily support, funded training, and the opportunity to gain work experience in the charity’s social enterprises.
Moving to Emmaus South Wales terrified Michelle at first: “I used to work in supported living environments as a carer, and at first I thought crikey, I’m an inmate now instead of a staff member. I wouldn’t say boo to a goose to begin with.”
Quickly settling in, Michelle sees herself as a different person now: “My time has Emmaus has helped me to overcome my grief and I have now been anti-depressant free for more than a year. Early on, the support team at Emmaus put me in touch with a counsellor, who I spoke to every week and eventually, I didn’t need that service anymore. I do still get down days, even now like when anniversaries come up and I have a little cry, but I know that’s okay.”
To Michelle, the other people living at Emmaus have become family: “I’ve met some great people here. I never feel lonely, and there is always someone to talk to. I lost my family, but at Emmaus I now consider all the other people living here as family and that means the world to me.”
When Michelle is ready, she hopes to find work and her own place to live: “I don’t want to be at Emmaus forever, but at the moment I’m very happy. I’m currently refreshing my skills as a carer with the help of Emmaus, and my goal for the future it to get working again and find a little flat of my own in Bridgend.”
Now with the support she needs, Michelle wants to let other people know that they can get help too: “I was a shell of a person when I came to Emmaus South Wales. I didn’t care about myself and was at rock bottom. Asking for help was the best decision I ever made. For anyone reading this that was in a similar position to myself, know that there is help out there for you so don’t give up trying.”
The purpose of World Homeless Day is to draw attention to homeless people’s needs locally and provide opportunities for the wider community to get involved in responding to homelessness. Taking place on the same day, World Mental Health Day aims to raise awareness of mental health around the world and to mobilise efforts in support of mental health.
If you have been inspired by Michelle’s story and want to support Emmaus South Wales help others like her, visit www.emmaus.org.uk/south-wales to find out how you can get involved.