Nearby was an Emmaus Community so I popped in and took a look around at the furniture store which used to be a consecrated chapel and had some beans on toast in their unconsecrated cafe. If you don't know anything about Emmaus a charity supporting homeless people, I'll give you a general introduction lifted from the Emmaus website.
'The first Emmaus Community was founded in Paris in 1949 by Father Henri-Antoine Groues, better known as the Abbé Pierre, a Catholic priest, MP and former member of the French Resistance during the Second World War. As an MP, he fought to provide homes for those who lived on the streets of Paris''Emmaus Communities spread across France, as the Abbé Pierre brought the horrors faced by the poor to the world's attention. One January day in 1954 the Abbé Pierre learnt that the baby of a homeless couple had frozen to death in the night. Some days later he heard that an old woman had died of hypothermia on the streets having been evicted from her home. Angered by these needless deaths, Abbé Pierre sent an open letter to newspapers and made a radio appeal to the nation. It turned Emmaus into a major international charity. The French public responded and gifts and support flooded in. Emmaus Communities opened across France. Abbé Pierre became an international figure and travelled the world spreading the word about Emmaus, causing Communities to be established in mainland Europe, French West Africa, the Far East and South America. Each one retains the ideals of the first Communities - giving people the chance to support themselves and help others.'
All very good and laudable. So, don't get me wrong when I say what I'm about to say. The work of Emmaus in the UK at combatting homelessness and helping people find their feet in life is highly successful. The founder of Emmaus, who we know now as Abbe Pierre, I believe, was a man of heroic virtue who follows in a rich long line of Franciscan Priests who dedicated their energy, life, work, skills, talents and love to the abandoned, the dispossessed and homeless.
|Founder of Emmaus, Abbe Pierre|
I talked to one of the 'companions' there, I shaln't give the name. A 'companion' is a volunteer who lives and works in the community. I asked the companion how they were. The companion said 'okay'. I asked how long the companion had been there. The companion said '3 months'. I asked whether they enjoyed the work. The companion said, "Well, it is either this or the streets," which, I thought immediately, was not exactly a glowing endorsement of Emmaus. I found it rather disturbing, since men have been known to have said the same thing about prison.
So, we talked a little and I discovered that Emmaus in the UK require that the 'companions', a name for those who decide to live there, having been referred by hostels or local councils, give up their benefits (JSA/Income Support/DLA etc) in order to live there in a safe community for the vulnerable and homeless. In return, they are provided with accommodation, obviously, a room, a shower, heating and, I think and certainly hope, food.
I asked this particular 'companion' how many hours they worked a week. The companion answered that they work a week of 9am - 5pm, 5 days a week. There is a mixture of tasks, some are drivers, collecting unwanted goods from donors around Brighton, Hove and the surrounding area. Some are working in the kitchen. Some are cleaning, gardening, doing a bit of labouring, furniture restoration and the rest. It is a big house and I'd imagine it needs quite some work on it. The companions all work a 9-5 job and get two days off a week.
"Gosh," I said, "I hope they pay you for working 9am - 5pm, five days a week?" Afterall, as Catholics, we all know that to defraud the poor, or to deny the labourer his wages is a sin crying out to Heaven for vengeance.
"Yes," she said, "I receive £38 a week."
I looked at the companion, having done a very quick calculation in my head and said, "That's really not very much money at all."
It was then that the companion said, "I know...but it is either this or the streets."
Stay with me on this one and hear me out. Apparently, 'companions' do receive £49 a week after the first year but for the first year only £38. Now, I understand that in becoming a 'companion' with Emmaus, many homeless men and women find refuge, strength and a great sense of community where once there was none. In many ways it continues to fulfill the mission of its founder.
"How many people move on from Emmaus and re-establish themselves in the community?" I asked one of the workers there, a staff member, who, I believe, is paid a standard wage.
"Well, we're not really about 'moving people on'", he answered, "We work together as a community."
'Uh-huh,' I thought, 'You work together as a community but you get paid about £20,000 a year while they work for 77p an hour.'
I wish I said that, but instead I asked, "But some workers here are paid formally, have an annual wage, right?"
"Yes," he said, "Some workers here are paid an annual wage".
"I have a couple of friends who are homeless," I said, "What chance they could be referred here?"
He answered, "We have a long waiting list here, at least 12 people are waiting to get in here. Maybe he could try another Emmaus in the country."
Indeed, their waiting list is long. People are desperate to get out of the hostels hamster wheel that comes from being homeless in Brighton. However, it doesn't look good for those who are waiting to get in to Emmaus, since, once there, few of the homeless actually leave. Given that some staff, as you can see from the screenshot of their 'jobs' section, are on a good salary and the homeless are on 77p - £1 an hour, it struck me that Emmaus are manning something of a workhouse for the poor.
The homeless have been given a purpose there, sure, something we all crave, perhaps even institutionalised there. Many people struggle to live on the 'outside world'. To live in a Community, even if it means working all day and nearly all week long for peanuts, can be quite appealing if you find it hard to cope in wider society.
Unfortunately, however, there appeared to be a blindness among the 'companions' about there existing anything in between being a companion at Emmaus and sleeping in inner city hostels or sleeping rough. The two companions that I talked to seemed to have forgotten entirely about the idea of independent living - like, you know - having a flat or having a flatshare, or building a life outside of Emmaus, but, then again, how easy would it be to save up for a deposit for a flat or a flatshare outside of the Community and live independently, when you receive £38 - £49 a week? I mean, at Emmaus you may have most things paid for, but you'd need that 'pocket money' to buy toiletries, clothes, a bit of food, top up your mobile and all the rest. How would you get out of there once you'd recovered, found your feet and go out and meet the love of your life and settle down with someone or build a relationship with someone, or put roots down in a town and all the rest of the things we take for granted?
After all, if a homeless charity is there to do anything, it is to 'serve first the one who suffers most', as the founder said. One 'companion' said, "It is either this or St Patrick's Nightshelter". St Patrick's is a nightshelter which hit the news locally because the Anglican vicar who founded it and his family appeared to be driving around in Ferraris and were all conveniently trustees of the Lorica St Patrick's Trust, leading some to accuse the vicar who then fled Brighton and its local news reporters, of "tramp-farming".
|A workhouse in Victorian Britain|
One would have thought so, but perhaps not. The great sin of Emmaus, or rather the terrible sin of those who run it, is not just that they get the homeless to work for 77p an hour, but that they refuse to work for the same wage themselves. The paid workers of the community no longer live in solidarity with the poorest, something that the founder, a Franciscan at heart, most certainly did do. Emmaus continue to claim to be running 'communities' across the UK, yet if it is truly a community, then why are some men and women on £15,000 - £37,000 a year or more and some men and women working for less than £1 an hour. Where is the justice in that? There is none - it is a shocking scandal and crime against Justice that Emmaus can any longer even claim to be a charity working for the poorest.
Charlatans! For, as you can see, the screenshot image which headlines this blog post shows that Emmaus, who do indeed take the housing benefits of the homeless who live there for their, ahem, "running costs", are able to pay some of their dedicated staff relatively well. What is the chance of any of the 'companions', the very poor, the vulnerable homeless, getting a job with Emmaus for £25,000 - £37,000 a year? I don't know, but possibly not that good!
That is why I came away from Emmaus rather disturbed and concerned. There is something strange about the Emmaus Community in Portslade. People come to their cafe from around the local, surrounding area. Many of those who come to visit, walk around the gardens, have food and coffee in the cafe and look at some second hand furniture are wealthy - substantially more wealthy than those who are doing the labour. And yet, Emmaus's cafe is an inversion of the Gospel. It is anti-Christ. Perhaps, once the founder of these inspiring movements die (yes, often they are Catholic Priests) it does not take long to be secularised and its mission to be distorted, de-Christianised, worldly, superficial and even usurped by the Devil. After all, the consecrated chapel is now a furniture shop. Even the little grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Bernadette is overgrown with weeds and ivy, left unattended. Abbe Pierre's mission was to serve the poorest, save souls and preach the Gospel.
And yet, there, at Emmaus, the poor serve the rich food and drink, for next to nothing in return. According to Our Blessed Saviour, it is not the calling of the poor to serve the rich for the love of God, as slave masters presumably justified their unjust employment arrangements, but the rich who are called to serve the poor for the love of God. Furthermore, if you are going to set up a charity, a community of people willing to be full-time volunteers in serving the poorest, it really is rather important that that policy goes for all workers - not one policy for the homeless workers and another policy for the other, 'real' workers! Otherwise, it is a con, a fraud, a sham charity that has betrayed its mission and now works not to serve the poor but to defraud the poor of their wages while others live off what rightfully belongs to them! I wonder what the Director of Emmaus UK is paid annually? I'm quite sure it wasn't Abbe Pierre who set up the wage structure!
Once you call yourself a charity, you see, you can get away with just about anything. Just look at Marie Stopes International. They're a charity and they get away with murder.