Recovery College helped me re-find my identity

    Jaq (not her real name) tells us in her own words how St Mungo’s Recovery College helped to transform her life and find her passion for art. She also found the courage to leave a life of alcohol and drug dependency behind her.

    My way of hurting them back

    My addiction started in school. I was 10 years old when I started drinking. I drank because I was bullied at home and at school. There were a lot of problems at home. My dad was an alcoholic and I guess I copied him. It was what I knew. I used to steal from him and my family. It was my way of hurting them back.

    I drank alcohol for three years. Then I met some dealers and was introduced to cannabis, amphetamines and any party drug going.

    I have been homeless four times in my life. The first time was when I was 16. I was living in a hostel because my mum couldn’t handle me. My dad didn’t want to know. I had some trouble with one of the other residents and I ended up sleeping rough for a couple of weeks.

    I had my own flat after that, but I was burgled. I was petrified. They took everything. I didn’t feel safe. I took to the streets again for a number of months and lost the tenancy.

    I was offered a place in a women’s hostel, and after some time I was offered another flat. I stayed there for eight years and it was a really lovely place. My own home. But I started mixing with the wrong people and my drink and drug taking increased, my mental health deteriorated.I ended up back on the streets. This time for nearly nine months.

    By the time I was rehoused in the women’s hostel again, my mental and physical health was on the floor. Throughout this cycle, I had always managed to work, but this time I couldn’t.

    I found Myself

    Through the support at the hostel, I met Maddy. She introduced me to the  St Mungo’s Recovery College and I have never left. I came back every day. I just wanted to learn and stop using. It didn’t take me long once I found Martin’s Café Art. I found myself.

    I was around people who weren’t using for the first time. The staff allowed me to grow. I took part in the Bridge the Gap course and I had a mentor for nearly a year. Throughout our year working together I had some ups and downs, it was great to know he was there for me the whole time. Within the first few months I realised I had more control over my life than ever before. Since then my confidence and self-belief has grown and I’m now volunteering with the New Street women’s group and have attended training to start my own art group.

    Recovery College gave me trust in myself and the time to understand who I am. It has given me confidence to take a part in art exhibitions and work with new people. I have been clean for two years now. I would love to study art therapy and give people what St Mungo’s has given me.

    The St Mungo’s Recovery College is a pioneering, inclusive learning programme, based on the principle that learning can be a transformative experience. All activities at our College are underpinned by our recovery service ethos.

    The Recovery College learning experience is based on principles of co-production. Courses are designed, delivered and attended by St Mungo’s clients, staff and volunteers, and they are also open to the general public. All our courses are free and run by volunteers.

    St Mungo’s relies on the generosity of the public to run projects like The Recovery College. You can find more information on how to get involved in supporting us on our website.

     

    On a typical day…

    “For me, if I can go home knowing I have helped at least one person away from the streets, or just one person away from the distress of mental health illness, I feel blessed.” St Mungo’s Mental Health Practitioner, Fatima, shares her experience of working in Outreach, helping people sleeping rough in the Tower Hamlets area.

    I’ve been a mental health nurse for 18 years. In 2011, I became and an approved mental health professional, which incorporates social work. I will work typical outreach shift in terms of going out early in the mornings and staying out late in the evening, as late as two or three in the morning, speaking to clients who are sleeping rough to try to form therapeutic relationships with them to help them move away from a life on the streets.

    ‘Blinded to homelessness’

    I was one of those people who was blinded to homelessness. I could walk past a homeless person or rough sleeper and not really see them to understand what they’re going through. It’s been an eye opener for me and I’ve fortunately been able to influence others to see homelessness through what I do at St Mungo’s.

    It can take a week or months to be build a relationship with a person. Sometimes they are in denial – they have no insight about what is happening to them so I try and to slowly educate them. I take decisions out of people’s hands when they’re experiencing mental distress.

    I enjoy my work. I can get people registered with a GP surgery, then get them to start medication, stabilise their mental health illness and then help into accommodation whilst we support them. Many people may have been de-registered and have been turned away from Accident and Emergency (A&E) wards. They can go through those revolving doors three or four times a month, back and forth from A&E.

    I also work with the clients to ensure they engage with the process of recovering from homelessness. You cannot take someone off the streets and expect them to turn up for every appointment. I have to build that relationship, that rapport and that routine of them coming to see me to talk about their mental health, the medication and the side effects.

    ‘Long days full of drama’

    My days can be very long and full of drama. Sometimes I get abused, which can be quite stressful. But my job is also fun and flexible. For me, if I can go home knowing I have helped at least one person away from the streets, or just one person away from the distress of mental health illness, I feel blessed.

    It’s brilliant to see someone who has been sleeping on the streets for five or six years leave that life behind. The kerb becomes their family so getting them into accommodation is not easy. When you put them in a room in a hostel it can be very lonely. The silence can be deafening for them because people out on the streets give them money and say hello – some people get to know them as they walk past them on their commutes. So they run back onto the street and people wonder why because they have accommodation.

    ‘Everybody is unique, everybody has a journey.’

    A lot of clients can lose their accommodation in hostels because of poor mental health – some people cannot understand their journey. Everybody is unique, everybody has a journey. How you hold their hands to support that journey is what makes a difference. People might think, ‘go to housing and get a property, get off the road and get your benefits’, it’s a much longer journey, however.

    Different clients talk about their living conditions. Finances are a problem. People have not been used to managing money and paying bills. Universal Credit has also caused a lot of problems for our clients.

    I have one client, for example, who believes he has all his money invested in stocks and shares. He says when his investments mature, he’ll pay his rent. He has a diagnosis of schizophrenia with delusional disorder. I ask for my colleagues to work with him in terms of hand-holding to ensure he does not get evicted from his hostel.

    I’m working with this lady that I’ve known since I was a student nurse. Up to now she will not allow anyone else to work with her. She was sleeping in a bin shed. She became mentally unwell, and started using drugs to self-medicate the voices she was hearing. Her children were taken into foster care when they were young. I worked with her and got her a place in a hostel. He son got in touch after 15 years and they’re building a relationship again.

    ‘You cannot be judgemental’

    Because of the nature of the people we work with, many with chaotic life styles, who are extremely marginalised, it’s very difficult to get through to the NHS. Even though I am that link between the NHS and homelessness services. Sometimes the nurses have no understanding or knowledge of homelessness. They’ll say, ‘he needs to go, he might bring drugs in here’. It’s a big challenge to get my clients treatment because of the way they look, or dress and their circumstances.

    Working in outreach, you cannot be lazy. I have gotten used walking everywhere. You must be able to multitask as you’re dealing with more than one client, sometimes up to seven a day, who are in crisis. I’ve jumped over six feet walls and walked along canals to help people – it’s part of what we do. You must have people skills, respect humanity, and you cannot be judgemental at all. It takes a lot of character to try and support people who are not ready to receive help.

    It’s a nice feeling to know you’ve helped someone from being a hermit to re-engage back into society and to be part of a community. I think that’s what has been missing in [conversations about] homelessness. Our country has forgotten how to be a community. To me, it feels like in London everyone is in a rush, so in that mad rush, we are blinded to homelessness.

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