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Overcoming Homelessness

John Harrison

John is the community manager of Emmaus North East, utilizing community, work and solidarity to support and empower people who have experienced homelessness and social exclusion to discover a purpose, meaning and connection. Emmaus is a movement with the belief that those who are socially isolated and excluded have power and can develop alternatives, promoting social justice locally and globally. He previously worked in international development, most recently in Liberia. John is a Churchill Fellow and is currently working towards an MA in international development. 

John Harrison is a fellow of the Acumen 2020 Fellowship Programme in the United Kingdom.  

Please explain what you do:



When and why did you come to the decision to do it? 

I met a homeless individual in Edinburgh in 2013 who made me question my values and led me to search for a way to connect with, learn from and support those who may experience homelessness. It led me on a literal journey including a month long pilgrimage in Northern Spain and three years working in Liberia with Mary’s Meals to Emmaus. I was inspired to search and discern by the Jesuits and especially Gerry Hughes in his writing about life and the one question that remains important at the end ‘did you enjoy your life?’

What have been your biggest challenges so far?

Having the courage to walk away and do things differently while going against expectations. At times you can feel like you are alone and going against the tide and the issues we face are just to big and structural to be overcome. We try and build anyway and hope that from  planting a small seed something bigger can grow.

What has been the impact / greatest experience so far? 

Living in Emmaus with those who have been homeless and learning from those with very different experiences than my own has been fantastic. People in recovery, leaving the criminal justice system or who have slept rough have different forms of knowledge and the power of lived experience.  My greatest experience has been being able to journey with them and build an organisation together that can provide support to those facing social exclusion through the power of community, work and solidarity

John_HarrisonGet in contact with Johnfacebook & twitter @emmausne

Apart from your fellowship, what kind of support for your work do you need?

We need more people who are socially excluded to realise they have a voice and power to make change. Homelessness and social exclusion is about more than housing and money, people need connection, community and meaning while also being involved in any solutions or policy that is introduced. Alternatives outside of our existing structures need to be explored as people are excluded for a reason and these barriers need to be identified and others sources of knowledge/experience valued.

What can other change makers learn from your experience?

To listen and learn from the excluded. Recognising that they have knowledge and power that can have a positive impact in wider society as the value of community is gradually being eroded.