Blog | A morning at Emmaüs Strasbourg: Learning about an inclusive re-use community
When we stepped out of the bus at the ‘Bruche’ station in the Strasbourg’s suburb, we were not the only ones to do so. Most of our fellow passengers – carrying empty shopping trolleys and bags – were heading towards the same direction as us: Emmaüs Strasbourg. On the short walk to the community , we were crossing the path of early birds who already got what they needed to furnish their nest. This place seems popular! As we found out later, the flow of visitors can peak at around 1.800 on Saturdays during the summer.
As we entered the shop, we were pleasantly surprised by its size and by the number of people looking for second-hand furniture, clothes, electrical equipment, and all kinds of other household goods. Sylvain, Deputy Director of the community, kindly took us on a comprehensive tour of both the community and the shop, which was then concluded by a convivial lunch at their canteen. Emmaüs Strasbourg was founded in 1970 and was originally a farm. Although farming is not its main activity anymore, the community still takes care of 180 fruit trees and cultivates vegetables, which are mainly used for the community’s own consumption.
People: The companions of the Emmaüs Strasbourg community
Today, the community is hosting 53 companions. This is the way people hosted by Emmaüs are called since the beginning of the movement, started by Abbé Pierre during the well-known harsh winter of 1954. The companions can have very different backgrounds: some of them were homeless, or people with high debts, or psychological issues, but they can also be ex-prisoners or drug addicts. Since the facility was originally only for men, they are still forming the dwellers’ majority (49 out of 53), but the community opened up its doors to women recently. Emmaüs Strasbourg is known for hosting migrants: 40% of the community habitants come from outside of France. The length of the stays varies according to their needs: One third stays less than three years, whereas some might stay for the rest of their lives. Each week, between 10 and 15 persons knock on Emmaüs Strasbourg’s door with the hope to find a place, most of them migrants. Unfortunately, the community does not have the capacity to host everybody.
Aside from ‘hospitality’, ‘solidarity’ and ‘sustainable development’, ‘work’ is one of the community’s main values. Therefore, the companions are asked to contribute to the work in the community or of the second-hand shop, according to their capacities, in order for the community to be self-sufficient.
Planet: Used items collection and the reuse of second-hand goods and materials
Once we knew a bit more about the people, Sylvain introduced us to the main economic activity that makes this community subsist: the collection of used items and their sale as second-hand goods. There are different ways a used product can find its way to Emmaüs Strasbourg. Each day, six trucks collect donations from private households. People can also deposit their donations at the community directly. Products coming to the community through these two channels are usually the source of what is called the ‘cream’, meaning the best quality products. Emmaüs also collects used goods through containers placed at the dump and in different locations of the city. All in all, Emmaüs Strasbourg collected around 3.500 tonnes of goods in 2018. Emmaüs Strasbourg is one of the biggest collectors of used furniture in France.
The discarded items arriving at the Emmaüs community are sorted in order to decide about the next steps. Out of what is collected, 12% goes to waste, 45% is recycled and 43% is sold for re-use in the shop.
Profit: The sale of goods and materials for a self-sufficient the community
The Emmaüs shop offers many different products, such as clothing, furniture, electronic and electrical equipment, shoes, books, tableware and bikes. Since the quantities collected by the community are quite high and the possibilities to stock goods are very limited, prices are very low in order to sell things quickly. This also makes essential goods accessible to low-income households. The profit made through the sale of materials, such as metals, and the sale of second-hand goods are reinvested into the needs of the community.
 ‘Emmaus communities provide a home and meaningful work to people who have experienced homelessness and social exclusion’ (source: www.emmaus.org.uk)