Brick by brick to recovery

    St Mungo's client, CarrieAnn

    Our client, CarrieAnn, shares the story of her love for building work at St Mungo’s Bricks and Mortar project and how learning new skills is helping her to recover from drug misuse.

    I was on cocaine for about nine years, and with that came heavy drinking, but that was when I was using. I realised I was spiralling out of control, then I decided that I needed to get help, so I referred myself to a day recovery programme. They referred me here to St Mungo’s Bricks and Mortar project in Euston, London. The project helps people recover from homelessness through social and therapeutic construction skills development.

    I’m 34 years old. I have had four years of decorating experience with my step dad. I was a labourer for him and he taught me how to paint. From there I came here and I’ve been here about eight months. I finished my course, which covered bricking, plastering, dry lining, rendering, and now I do wet lining. Since finishing the course, I’ve gone into volunteering.

    I’m a very hands on person. I’m dyslexic so I steer away from reading and writing. Actually, St Mungo’s Brick and Mortar Tutor, John Gani, taught me to pick up a newspaper every morning on the way in – so I’m reading a little bit now. I like anything hands on, building things, decorating is my favourite. I find decorating therapeutic. When I have thoughts in my head and I am feeling a bit down I find a paint brush and a wall to paint. It takes me into my own little world.

    Coming here has made me realise I now have a future ahead of me, instead of the darkness where I was. I’ve learned more skills. Every morning I look forward to coming here because I know I will learn something new. It gives me a reason to get up.

    I was not good at travelling, now I realise I am ok – I used to be terrified of the tube. I live in Battersea, so when I first started I used to take a really long route to get here, not knowing there was a quicker route. Coming here has been really good for my confidence.

    People who come here are from different walks of life. When I first started the course I met people here as they were finishing. I don’t know how they were when they first arrived here, but they walked out of here full of confidence. I am more confident in myself. We all get on and know that if there’s a problem, we can talk to the boss – he can have a quiet word to sort out any confusion.

    Not only do I get to learn new skills, I am in recovery as well. The tutors are amazing; they’re both in recovery with us. There was an incident a couple of weeks ago. I walked in and one of the tutors knew straight away that something was wrong. I went to walk out and he said, ‘stop’. When I turned around, I completely had a meltdown. I’d had a slight relapse. Because I’m in recovery I stay away from cocaine. But I had used some and it was eating me up inside because I knew it was wrong. The advice my tutor gave me was amazing.

    There are a few others in recovery here. The advice we get from tutors helps us stay clean. They share with us what they’ve learned, and with their encouragement we know we can do it.

    Set up almost ten years ago, St Mungo’s Bricks and Mortar project offers practical skills in construction, including, plastering, rendering, brickwork and dry lining. The course is accredited so students leave with a basic entry qualification in construction.

    St Mungo’s relies on the generosity of the public to run projects like Bricks and Mortar. You can find more information about how you can get involved in supporting us on the website.

    Celebrating St Mungo’s women

    St Mungo's clients

    Cat Glew, Women’s Strategy Manager for St Mungo’s, marks International Women’s Day by celebrating St Mungo’s women and the services that support them.

    International Women’s Day on 8 March 2018 is a chance to celebrate the strengths and achievements of women. Here at St Mungo’s we’ve got a lot to celebrate.

    We work with women every day – women sleeping rough, women facing homelessness and women living in our supported housing who are fighting to recover and build a future for themselves.

    We work will women who have dealt with the most difficult challenges, with lives marked by violence, abuse and poverty. Women who have lost everything, and kept going.

    Four in ten of our residents are women. In London alone, 1,175 women were found sleeping rough by outreach teams last year.

    These are women with incredible talent and strength, and we think they are worth celebrating. Since last March, St Mungo’s women have climbed Snowdon, appeared on The One Show, and been honoured by the Royal Horticultural Society. They have spoken in front of Ministers and MPs in Parliament. They have created art and poetry. They have been parents and colleagues and friends. They have escaped the streets. They have survived.

    The St Mungo’s women’s strategy is about finding and creating ways for women to recover from homelessness. Our research has shown that the causes and experiences of homelessness are different for women, so we know that the solutions for women should be different, too.

    The majority of women who have slept rough have experienced violence or abuse from a partner or their family. According to figures from London’s CHAIN database, 60 per cent of women sleeping rough last year faced problems with their mental health. Safety from violence and support to deal with trauma are fundamental for women’s recovery.

    So this International Women’s Day, we are celebrating our projects designed for women. St Mungo’s runs women-only projects in London and Bristol, including emergency shelters, hostels and a women’s psychotherapy service. We are also working hard to develop and improve our work with women in our mixed services.

    We do this work because we know how important it is that women feel safe when they access support to end their homelessness, and that they can work with someone that understands their experience.

    So this International Women’s Day, thank you to all St Mungo’s staff and volunteers supporting women to recover. And thank you to our supporters who make this work possible.

    I will be in Parliament on this day with a group of St Mungo’s women, learning more about the Suffragettes and their campaign for voting rights. There’s plenty more for us to do. The government has committed to end rough sleeping, so we’ll be asking them to deliver a new rough sleeping strategy that understands and invests in women.

    A strategy to end rough sleeping for women ­- that really would be something to celebrate.

    Share this article and #PressForProgress this International Women’s Day.

    Helping people inside from extreme weather

    Dan Olney, St Mungo’s Assistant Director of Pan London Street Homeless and Outreach Services, tells us about Severe Emergency Weather Protocol (SWEP), the emergency response to prevent homeless people from dying or developing serious health conditions in extreme weather.

    Sleeping rough is harmful and dangerous any time of year. Our outreach teams, and others across the country, go out early morning and late at night throughout the year to find people who are sleeping rough and to support them away from the streets.

    However, when there’s a “Beast from the East” or Storm Emma, it really can mean life-threatening temperatures for anyone who is street homeless.

    The Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) is an emergency response to prevent deaths of people sleeping rough during winter.

    SWEP is activated by local authorities across the country when temperatures are forecast to be lower than zero degrees for three nights, or in London for one night.

    St Mungo’s supports SWEP actions across London and the south and south west of England where our 17 outreach teams are based, working alongside other organisations and with a range of local authorities in Oxford, Bournemouth, Brighton, Reading, and Bristol for example.

    ‘An additional safety net’

    In London, we are also commissioned by the Greater London Authority to operate the ‘pan London SWEP’ provision. This essentially provides additional capacity emergency beds for people, when local borough provision is full. This acts as an additional safety net, if the temperatures drop for a sustained period – which they have over the last week. This is the longest period of sustained SWEP in seven years.

    We’ve not had a winter like this in many years and I’ve been overwhelmed by the support and response from the public, volunteers, partners and St Mungo’s staff. Across London, we currently have around 100 people in emergency shelters who would otherwise have been sleeping out in freezing temperatures. We’ve made around 150 bedspaces available – and yes, welcomed in dogs as well as people as much as possible, and worked in partnership with dogs’ homes and other charities to offer kennelling or other options so that having a dog wasn’t a barrier to the person coming in. We’ve even had a cat in as well!

    When people come in, it’s not luxury but it is warm, there are hot drinks, the chance for a wash and a chat with people. We also use the opportunity to talk to people about their situation and see how we could help people to move away from the streets for good, not just while the weather is extreme. The extreme cold has meant some people have been persuaded to come inside and have those conversations when perhaps they were reluctant previously.

    We are continuing to run SWEP shelters over this weekend, and outreach workers continue to check and follow up referrals for anyone still out, for whatever reason. And rest assured, our outreach work won’t end when the weather improves. Teams will still be out, night and day, helping people with the first steps to rebuilding their lives.

    What can you do to help?

    • Refer someone you are concerned about to local support through the StreetLink website or app
    • Contact your local homelessness organisation and see what kind of practical help they need.
    • Give – either your time, or your donations. For example, in London, the London Homeless Charities Group has set up a coalition of 18 charities, and a No One Needs to Sleep Rough campaign, supported by the Mayor which is coordinating donations.
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