Dedication and commitment

    Adil and Mohammed pictured above with Horn of Africa project manager, Pippa Brown

    To mark Refugee Week, Helen Kirk, Refugee Skills Development Advisor at St Mungo’s Horn of Africa Health and Wellbeing Project, tells us about two inspirational people who volunteer on the project

    The Horn of Africa Project was set up in in 2013 to respond to the needs of people from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan who were turning to our centre in Shepherd’s Bush for support. Over half of our clients have been recognised as refugees within the last few years. We help them with advice, signposting and one-to-one holistic casework.

    Employment outcomes for refugees are well below the UK average, with over half of those employed feeling overqualified in their jobs. It’s my job to help bridge this gap, through things like one-to-one careers coaching, providing advice on education and training, co-facilitating peer-led groups and creating volunteer opportunities.

    Our project is supported by a small number of fantastic volunteers, but this Refugee Week, we would like to particularly thank Adil and Mohammed, who both sought sanctuary in the UK. Despite the many challenges they have faced, they both have shown dedication and commitment to the project. They have helped with casework, shared their ideas and their knowledge about the practical and cultural needs of the Horn of Africa community, and have given us suggestions for how the project might respond to those needs.

    Adil says: “When I came over to this country, I was very much in need of help. The only people I found to offer me this support was St Mungo’s. They taught me how the humanity look like. For this reason I strongly need to involve in this community to reduce destitution amongst the refugee and homelessness… I am very fascinated of helping the destitute people as I am one of them and born in a very poor environment, that is why I know how the person feel when he is in a trauma or suffer a loss.”

    Mohammed told us: “I … volunteer because I’m a refugee and was homeless at one point in my life. I want to give back to the people who are in need of any help.”

    Mohammed and Adil are working towards rebuilding their respective careers in law and finance, and are re-qualifying at university. They are driven to support others as they do so. They both recently won Volunteer of the Year London Awards at St Mungo’s Volunteer Awards in partnership with the Marsh Christian Trust, and we can’t think of two people who deserve it more. I feel privileged to work alongside them while they fulfil their goals.

    Find out more about the contributions refugees have made across the world.

    We must not let fatalism set in

    Image: rough sleeper

    Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer at St Mungo’s, explains why we’re calling on Government to enact urgent measures to stop the scandal of people dying on the streets

    One week ago marked the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster. It was a time to reflect not only on the lives that were lost on that day, but also on how we all respond when faced with a human disaster on that scale.

    This week St Mungo’s has been highlighting another human disaster: the rising number of people dying on the streets. It is less visible, more dispersed and slower moving. But it is a disaster nonetheless, when so many people are dying in circumstances that are preventable and shockingly premature.

    Data suggests that, in London, someone dies on the streets every fortnight. In the rest of the UK, as many as two people are now dying every week, a rate twice as high as five years ago. The average age of someone who dies sleeping rough is 47 for a man and just 43 for a woman.

    What is worse is that these figures are likely to be an underestimate, given that recording deaths is infrequent and not done systematically.

    Our new report Dying on the Streets: the case for moving quickly to end rough sleeping looks into these figures in more detail. We found that mental health support needs among people who have died has increased dramatically, from 29% in 2010 to 80% last year.

    To find out more about what is going on the ground, we also carried out a national survey of street outreach services earlier this year. The picture that emerged is one in which the number of rough sleepers is growing, at the same time as access to vital service is getting harder. This is creating a perfect storm to which the most vulnerable homeless people are falling victims.

    Some of the findings were shocking. 70% of respondents said access to mental health services for people sleeping rough had got harder compared to five years ago, and 64% said this was true for emergency accommodation. The majority of respondents had experienced a death in their area, but only one-quarter of those had any experience of a review being carried out.

    In short: there is less help available, people are dying, and these deaths are going ignored.

    But statistics don’t capture the most tragic consequence: the sense of acceptance and inevitability which increasingly meets the death of someone sleeping rough. As such tragedies become more commonplace, we come to expect, and sadly, accept them.

    We must not let fatalism set in. Dying on the streets should be unthinkable. It is certainly preventable. There are ways to stop this scandal from continuing, but only if the determination and political will is there.

    To achieve that end, earlier this week we held a roundtable discussion in Parliament. This was attended by the Minister for Mental Health, MPs, and experts in the field, who all recognised the gravity of the issue and resolved to stop the scandal of deaths on the streets. With the Government’s rough sleeping strategy due for publication next month, now is the time to turn those warm words into firm action.

    We are calling for a package of measures to ensure rapid relief from rough sleeping, to get people off the streets and prevent future deaths. This includes access to specialist mental health services, an expansion of emergency accommodation, and full reviews to learn the lessons from every single death that occurs on our streets.

    Without such interventions, I fear current trends will worsen, lives will be cut short, and our claims to being a compassionate society will be left in tatters. We hope the Government uses its upcoming rough sleeping strategy to avoid this fate. The price of failure is too high.

    Thanks to our award-winning volunteers

    Iver Morgan, our Head of Volunteering, Apprenticeships and Placements, thanks our amazing and dedicated volunteers as Volunteers’ Week 2018 comes to a close.

    On Monday I had the great pleasure of hosting our annual Volunteering Awards celebration in Southwark.

    This is a wonderful occasion when we get to say thank you and present awards to some of our outstanding volunteers who’ve supported our clients and our work over the past 12 months – and in many cases, much longer. Once again, we held this at the Table Café, who generously support us in many ways throughout the year.

    One award recipient was Jen Burnham, who’s helped us publish our Homeless Diamonds magazine for 20 years. I encourage you to read her blog about how she got started and what she enjoys about it – a great read.

    I’d also like to thank the Marsh Christian Trust, who enabled us to present these awards for the last four years. We very much appreciate their support.

    Over an average year around 900 people volunteer with us. They provide support to outreach services, helping people sleeping rough, run activity groups and offer information and advice. This makes it very difficult to pick out individuals.

    However, alongside Jen, we thought this year that awards should go to Mohammed, Adil, Tee, Juliet and Rebecca.

    Volunteers of the Year went to Mohammed and Adil. They volunteer with the Horn of Africa Health and Wellbeing Project in London, which was set up in 2013 to respond to the needs of individuals from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan who had been affected by homelessness. The project is funded by Big Lottery Fund, through the Reaching Communities funding stream, and provides advice on entitlements, access to physical and mental health services, work and learning opportunities, community activities and support to overcome isolation. Mohammed and Adil had both previously approached the project for support when they found themselves homeless as a result of being recognised as a refugee and wanted to give something back. This is a fantastic achievement.

    Outstanding Achievement (London) went to Tee. She is a volunteer with the Women’s Group of our client body, Outside In, and facilitates creative and therapeutic sessions each month with women across St Mungo’s services. She is also a Client Advisory Board Member and meets with the Board of Trustees every six weeks to work on the strategic aims of the organisation and ensure the client voice is heard at the top level of governance. Tee draws on her own experiences and uses this as her motivation. Tee spoke in Parliament recently on behalf of St Mungo’s at an event led by SafeLives, a charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse.

    We were also pleased to recognise volunteers who work with us in the south west of England.

    Volunteer of the Year (south west) is Juliet. She volunteers with the Bristol Assertive Contact and Engagement (ACE) service, where she is an invaluable asset to the service, thanks to her unwavering commitment, enthusiasm and energy. She volunteers with the Women’s Morning wellbeing support group, the Breathing Space group, which provides mental health support for single parents in Knowle West and the LGBTQ+ group, One World. The team says “she goes above and beyond what is expected of her by stepping in and helping whenever she is needed”.

    Outstanding Achievement (south west) went to Rebecca. She now volunteers as a Peer Mentor at Mulberry House and Mews in Bath but since completing Peer Mentor training, she has offered a different form of arts or crafts each week. This has engaged clients and enabled them to try a range of new things. She is now able to offer one-to-one support to clients both at Mulberry and in the local community.

    Volunteers are an integral part of St Mungo’s and we recognise and value the huge contribution they make. In return, we aim to offer a rewarding experience by providing opportunities to make a significant contribution to help end homelessness, to develop skills in a supportive environment, access training and meet like-minded people.

    If you’ve been inspired, please do take a look at our Volunteering opportunities. We look forward to hearing from you.

    Twenty vibrant years at St Mungo’s

    Jen, St Mungo's Creative Arts Volunteer

    “The enjoyment of it has kept me going for 20 years. It’s a great pleasure. It’s all the people that I meet and talk to, and the work that I see.”

    As we celebrate Volunteers’ Week, Jen Burnham, St Mungo’s Creative Arts Volunteer, tells us about what she’s learned through volunteering.

    I’ve been a volunteer at St Mungo’s for 20 years. I was one of the first volunteers on a programme called ‘Make It Work’ which I think was the beginning of a formal volunteering programme at St Mungo’s. Now I understand it has something like 900 volunteers a year!

    I’m almost 75 years old now. I’ve always had an interest in art but I never did much with it. In 1998, I was at a dead end in my life and I decided to do some art-related volunteering, including an art group at St Mungo’s in Argyle Street, King’s Cross. I was made very welcome there.

    A few years later a member of St Mungo’s literacy team produced a booklet of poems by Argyle Street residents and asked if we had some artwork that could be included. The resulting booklet was much admired and one resident Joe asked, ‘why don’t we do this on a regular basis?’ That was the beginning of Homeless Diamonds magazine. It started as a photocopied A5 booklet for art and writing from the King’s Cross area; it’s now a glossy A4 magazine for all of St Mungo’s and a bit beyond (thanks to support from Regional Director David Devoy, who from the start has supported the project).

    We produce three editions of Homeless Diamonds per year, each containing the work submitted since the previous issue – no more and no less. Everyone who submits will have something printed. On the suggestion of contributors we have recently set themes for particular editions, but always maintain this submission policy.

    Producing Homeless Diamonds is a big, varied job; the hardest (and most rewarding) bit is gaining contacts with residents throughout St Mungo’s and encouraging them to contribute. We are very lucky to have our volunteer designer, Gasan, who has designed most of our editions. When all is gathered, typed, corrected, photographed and laid out for the printers we can look forward to celebrating with a little launch party; then the task is to get our 350 copies distributed, to all the contributors and to as many residents of St Mungo’s as we can,

    It’s clear that contributors value the magazine, and that it gives them a great boost to see their work printed in a quality publication. It’s a wonderful way to communicate across boundaries, at a more personal level.

    The enjoyment of it has kept me going for 20 years. It’s nice to see contributors as they progress in various ways (including working at St Mungo’s) – many have told us how much their engagement with the magazine has helped them. There is a huge pool of experience, and talent, at St Mungo’s, a resource of great value to society.

    Volunteering has helped me a lot. I had lost confidence in myself when I started, and it gave me an experience of being valued that I really needed. And I stumbled upon such interesting people, such remarkable characters! So the feeling was mutual!

    I hope Homeless Diamonds will continue, perhaps as part of St Mungo’s Recovery College, when I get too dotty to carry on.

    If you have some spare time and would like to make a difference to someone who is experiencing homelessness or a decline in mental health please visit St Mungo’s current volunteering opportunities. You can also email: VolunteerServices@mungos.org or call 020 3856 6160 for more information.

     

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