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How Tom was at risk of returning to life on Cambridge’s streets until homelessness charities stepped in

A man with a debilitating alcohol problem who was at risk of going back to living on the streets of Cambridge is putting his life back together after two homelessness charities stepped in to help him.

A year ago, Tom Smith’s round-the-clock drinking meant he could not hold a job down.

Tom at Emmaus. Picture: Keith Heppell
Tom at Emmaus. Picture: Keith Heppell

He was living on the city centre’s streets until Wintercomfort, the Cambridge homelessness charity, helped him to find a place on a rehabilitation programme at a centre in Ipswich.

When lockdown restrictions came in, the centre was forced to close and Tom’s treatment was cut short by three weeks.

This could have spelt disaster for him – a previous attempt to come off alcohol on his own had failed.

But Wintercomfort stepped in once more to help him find accommodation at Emmaus in Waterbeach.

Following a spell in quarantine at the homelessness charity, he joined its supportive community.

Tom, who has just celebrated his 40th birthday, said: “Wintercomfort – Sarah Taylor and Amanda Staples in particular – were an absolute lifeline for me. They helped organise just about everything in the way of getting me off the street, clear of alcohol and into accommodation at Emmaus.

Tom at Emmaus. Picture: Keith Heppell
Tom at Emmaus. Picture: Keith Heppell

“All the little things they did in between, like ensuring I got myself to appointments, were of equal importance on my journey. Otherwise, I would likely still be scraping around the streets as an alcoholic.”

Tom expects to be at Emmaus for about a year.

“I’m looking forward to working in the bookshop and the cafe. I love the classics, especially Russian writers and the English novelists George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. And poetry too, particularly Keats and Byron,” he said.

Tom is also enjoying walking and cycling in the countryside around Emmaus. A box of pastel crayons supplied by Wintercomfort means that he can enjoy drawing, which is one of his favourite pastimes.

He said: “I’m 40 and I knew it was time to change. My mind is now re-engaged with the incredible world around us in a sustainable and alcohol-free life.”

The Emmaus shop is opening from Wednesdays to Sunday, 10am to 4pm. Due to the overwhelming volume of donations to it recently, and the quarantine and processing time required, it is only accepting them on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

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