On Tuesday I went to the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) to see Selwyn Image CBE, the founder and vice president of Emmaus UK, be presented with the 2013 Albert Medal for tackling homelessness and social exclusion through enterprise. Without a doubt, it was one of the best moments of my year ...
I knew very little about Emmaus when I booked to attend the event. I had been told a few good things by the manager of a homeless shelter the week before, but I didn't really know what they were about or what they stood for. When I Google-ed Emmaus, the event popped up, and since it was free and just down the road on the Strand, I decided to go.
Sometimes, you strike gold; this was one such time.
Selwyn Image himself is an eloquent, interesting and interested individual, coming from a background of marketing and then introducing the incredible social enterprise Emmaus to the UK in 1992.
Essentially, Emmaus creates 'communities' which take in homeless people, providing food, shelter, and most importantly work, alongside therapy and rehabilitative care. Chances are infinite, patience prevails and targets don't exist - surprise surprise, Emmaus is a huge success. Within a few years, the communities are self-sufficient, since the services sold create profit, and any money left over beyond maintaining the communities is used to benefit people worse off than themselves.
Hear Selwyn say all the most important things for yourself ...
This is charity at its strongest - it is practical, goal-orientated and what is more it works. For every £1 put into Emmaus, the public purse is saved £11; if people stay on the streets they tend to cost the NHS a great deal through poor health, potentially cost our courts and prisons a huge sum if they are involved in crime, and continue in a negative spiral of claiming benefits and losing more self-esteem as time goes on. Emmaus tackles these problems head on and has spectacular results. Based upon solid values, and entirely secular in nature, perhaps Emmaus can teach us all a lesson that the real future of homeless charity is social enterprise.
Emmaus has 25 successful communities in the UK at the moment. However, this needs to grow. Emmaus is a little known charity in this country, despite widespread success in France and further afield. This needs to change. The website is not particularly flashy, but the results are - so, visit today, and sign the petition Selwyn mentioned in his interview here.