A turning point in the history of rough sleeping?

    As the Government publishes its new Rough Sleeping Strategy, Beatrice Orchard, St Mungo’s Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research, welcomes a good first step, but calls for more work to ensure no one has to sleep rough ever again

    At the last count 4,751 people were sleeping rough on any one night in England. Each one vulnerable to poor health, violence and premature death. No one should have to suffer the damaging long-term consequences of not having a roof over their head or the support they need.

    Rough sleeping is a problem caused by many individual, structural and societal factors. There are no quick solutions, but that doesn’t mean rough sleeping can’t be solved.

    Stopping the scandal

    Shocked, like others at the sharp rise in rough sleeping since 2010, St Mungo’s launched its Stop the Scandal campaign to demand a new cross-government strategy to end rough sleeping.

    The snap General Election in 2017 provided an opportunity to work with other homelessness charities to make rough sleeping a priority for politicians, and both the Conservative and Labour parties committed to end rough sleeping in their election manifestos.

    The Government’s target is to end rough sleeping by 2027 and this week it has published a rough sleeping strategy as a first step towards realising this vision of a country where no one has to sleep rough.

    A good first step

    The strategy is backed by £100 million to fund measures to prevent rough sleeping, help people off the street quickly and support them to settle into a home. It’s a really good first step.

    The Somewhere Safe to Stay pilots will provide more emergency accommodation where people in crisis can have their needs assessed quickly, in safety away from the street. It is vital these services are targeted at those at immediate risk of sleeping rough, as well as those already on the street. Getting this approach right should pave the way for desperately needed reforms, preventing people sleeping rough in the first place.

    The initial investment in health services for people who sleep rough, in support for non-UK nationals and in floating support services to help people hang on to their home is also welcome.

    The challenges ahead

    The big challenge for the Government, and where the strategy falls short, is providing enough stable, safe and affordable housing. According to the evaluation of the Rough Sleepers Initiative in the 1990s, 5,500 people were housed in 3,500 units of permanent accommodation in London alone over a nine year period. Delivering more homes for people with a history of rough sleeping should be an urgent priority for the Government and housing providers.

    The strategy pledges to learn from new evidence in order to scale up and roll out programmes. We will be holding the Government to this pledge. We must move on from pilots and short-term cash injections and towards a long-term plan and investment.

    When it comes to learning lessons, there is a particularly welcome commitment to ensure there are more reviews into the deaths of people who die while rough sleeping to help services improve. It is desperately sad that this commitment is even needed, but the rising number of rough sleeper deaths is another reminder of why this strategy has to mark the turning point in the history of rough sleeping in our country.

    We share the Government’s vision of a future where no one has to sleep rough. But this is only the first step. While the new rough sleeping strategy is important, to meet their target of ending rough sleeping by 2027, the government must set out a plan to stop people becoming homeless in the first place.

    That’s why we’re launching a new campaign in the autumn calling on the government to end rough sleeping for good. Be the first to hear all about it – sign up to campaign with us today.

    ‘A place for strong women – for 25 years’

    This July we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the opening of St Mungo’s North London’s Women’s project. Julia Jarrett MBE, project manager of the women-only service, and Olivia Smith, deputy manager, talk about how the project supports its residents to make positive changes in their lives.

    Julia: “I was working for St Mungo’s when the North London Women’s project opened 25 years ago, in July 1993. It was such a big thing to have a women-only project.”

    Olivia: “One of the things we emphasise here is about feeling safe. In an all-female hostel, our residents know that they’re safe, their ex-partner not being here, they’re not going to feel that harassment or abuse from them. We support 31 women at any one time. Our residents can be fleeing domestic violence or abusive relationships. Some women may have mental health problems or be tackling alcohol and substance use as well.”

    Julia: “Having also worked in mixed hostels, that’s one of the main difference in services. Women here might experience the same complex issues but they handle them in a different way to men. A lot of the women here have had quite traumatic experiences in their lives around men, which may go back to childhood. Sometimes the men they are trying to escape find them and try to get them back into a lifestyle that is not good for their physical and mental health. Having this women-only space, where they don’t feel harassed or get abuse from men is safer for them.”

    Re-establishing contact

    Olivia: “Also, a lot of the women have lost their children or they’re in care or with guardians. One of the things we support women with is to establish contact, whether it’s by letter, or to re-establish contact with extended family who are looking after their child, or contact with social services. It’s not always a happy ending but at least we can help.

    “We also work with women who have a history of involvement in prostitution. We work with women who have been raped and who then come to us the next day to tell us that they have been sexually assaulted by a pimp. You have to work through that trauma with them. Sometimes this can take a toll on the team, but we are not easily fazed. The amount of work our team put into supporting women with horrific complex trauma is testament to their dedication.”

    Julia: “I’ve worked with people who had been given up on completely. People said they’re never going to change or they’re going to die. Next thing you know they have a partner, a flat and kids. It can take somebody decades to change. We keep the atmosphere quite laid back, focus on building up good relationships.

    “We’ve just finished some trauma informed training. I want the service to be more trauma informed and staff to have a better understanding when women behave the way they do, that there is reason they do that. We’re also looking at PIEs (psychologically informed environments), focusing on making the hostel friendlier and more welcoming to improve people’s psychological and emotional wellbeing.”

    The small things that count

    Olivia: “Sometimes it’s the small things that count. Sometimes it’s about making their lives a little richer. Sometimes you can do that with a small amount of food and general basic items. You don’t have to do the heavy things a lot of the time; it’s just being there and having a listening ear because you don’t know what’s best for the client. The client knows what’s best. If someone doesn’t want to engage with recovery at the initial stage, I’m fine with that, as long as long as they are feeling safe. We can offer support and comfortable and safe surroundings. But if they are willing to engage in their recovery journey and willing to receive support from staff, hopefully we can move them on to a richer life.

    “Some of the highlights for me have been the two photo calendars we did with the women. We were also involved in producing the Pregnancy Toolkit for expectant mothers who are homeless. That was quite inspirational. It’s also the little moments. If the client gives you a compliment about the work we’ve done with them. That’s what’s is moving for me. That ‘thank you’. Sometimes we get external agencies especially with clients who have been referred and have very complex trauma and they thank us for our work, our patience and tolerance, and how we’re willing to work through women’s journeys with them.”

    Recovery isn’t a quick fix

    Julia: “Recovery isn’t a quick fix. People forget that and they want to move people too fast or if they’re not doing this or not doing that, they’re not going to change. People do change. You just need to give people time. We’re not on a schedule.

    “Olivia does a lot of mindfulness and yoga with clients and staff. Sometimes the issues of the women here can lead to burn out and other consequences. The women who work here are so committed to the women that live here. I think we are quite resilient women ourselves. To work here, you have to have sorted out your own issues.

    “We marked the 25th anniversary with a small party, food and music for residents and staff, to celebrate what the women themselves have achieved, and the project, over that time. The project is for strong women – and it’s still standing, still going strong.”

    “The dignity and respect she deserved”

    Image: Map of London

    St Mungo’s project worker, Shayeena, explains how the Street Impact project enabled her to provide innovative, holistic support for our client June when she really needed it

    Working at St Mungo’s you sometimes receive some difficult phone calls. But last week I got a call that really made me smile.

    I received a voicemail from a man who had recently been bereaved. He said he was a relative of June, and was sorting out her affairs. While he was doing this he came across her old phone, and by looking at the messages she had saved, he came to understand more about June’s story, and the part St Mungo’s had played in helping her rebuild her life after experiencing homelessness. He had called to thank me for all our support for her.

    I met and supported June. She told me she had come to the UK from Ghana in 2002, fleeing domestic violence, on a three-month tourist visa. She overstayed her visa and worked informally, before borrowing a friend’s document to get official work in a supermarket.

    However, in 2010 she was diagnosed with a serious illness and her accommodation and social networks started to break down. She ended up rough sleeping in central London and eventually was picked up and placed into a detention centre.

    At this time St Mungo’s had just established our Street Impact project, which was designed to develop innovative ways to tackle rough sleeping in London. It was the first such project to be funded by a Social Impact Bond (SIB). This meant the running costs were funded by social investors, who were reimbursed by the Greater London Authority on a ‘payments-by-results’ basis.

    This meant we only received payment if it achieved certain agreed outcomes, including reducing rough sleeping and helping people into tenancies, while working with a group of 415 rough sleepers.

    Payment by results meant we were free to innovate in the ways we supported people, and take a much more holistic model in helping them rebuild their lives. June was among those 415 people.

    When we contacted the detention centre about June they told us she had been released but gave us no other information. We eventually tracked her down in north London. We sent her a letter with our phone number and she called us straight away.

    At that point June was 69, depressed, withdrawn, clearly isolated and in need of assistance. While in detention, she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer but was still living on £35 vouchers per week and sharing a room with a lady suffering from post-traumatic stress who would wail throughout the night, meaning that June was getting very little sleep.

    The Home Office eventually granted June exceptional Leave to Remain on medical grounds. Alongside her solicitor, I was able to support June through this stressful experience, and then help June to get a home in a sheltered housing scheme. This was an incredibly complicated process, involving her council’s homelessness team, supported housing team and social services.

    Because of the innovative way we were able to work within Street Impact, however, I could support June with everything from taxi fares to hospital visits, gathering evidence for an appeal and securing donations of furniture. Eventually we were able to establish a support network for June that included medical staff, social workers, the local hospice, a minister from her local church and a St Mungo’s palliative care volunteer.

    We also helped her to stay in contact with her family in Ghana, which had become harder for her as her speech deteriorated. She was 70 by then, not used to computers, and found it hard to speak on the phone. With her consent, I started emailing her family and asked her daughter to send photos of her young granddaughter (who June had never seen) and printed these all out for her and framed a couple so she could keep them in her living room. She was so happy to have these… I remember her laughing with joy and looking at the prints over and over again. In her final years she was treated with dignity and respect that she deserved.

    Much of this would have been impossible under a more conventional outreach model. Despite everything she had been through, I think June managed to trust me and my colleagues and this allowed us to help her.

    Find out more about Street Impact.

     

    A safe, secure future for homeless hostels

    The government’s decision to not go ahead with proposed changes to funding for supported housing is a victory for our #SaveHostels campaign. Robyn Casey, St Mungo’s Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, explains why this is so important and why we now need to secure funding for support costs

    This week the government announced that it will not go ahead with proposed changes to funding for supported housing, including homeless hostels.

    We have campaigned hard to protect funding for these life-saving services over the last two years. Our #Save Hostels campaign focused on this issue, and more than 12,000 people signed our petition calling on the government not to put homeless hostels at risk.

    We’re thrilled that the government has listened to us and our campaigners, and committed to continue using Housing Benefit to fund hostel housing costs.

    Why is it so important to fund housing costs in this way?

    Homeless hostels are a type of supported housing which help people to get back on their feet after a period of crisis as they look towards living independently. They enable people to live in a safe environment, while receiving support to rebuild their lives away from the street.

    Hostels are funded in two ways:

    • residents claim Housing Benefit to pay for the cost of their accommodation
    • the local council provides funding for the support staff who work closely with residents to help them to achieve their goals

    The government had proposed to change the way these services were funded by taking housing costs out of Housing Benefit. Instead, local councils would have been responsible for funding both housing and support costs.

    At St Mungo’s we were very concerned about these proposals. We felt they would have put homeless hostels at serious risk of closure, and left many people without anywhere to turn for support.

    The government stated that using local councils to distribute funding wouldn’t lead to a reduction in the amount of money available to services. This was a welcome reassurance, but our experience with this type of funding told a very different story.

    Funding for the support provided in our services has massively reduced over the past decade, after a ring-fence around this funding was removed. In fact, a report by the National Audit Office found that it has declined by 59 per cent since 2010. (PDF) This has left some services struggling to survive, and funding housing costs in the same way could have been devastating.

    Instead, the government has listened to calls from across the sector and retained funding within Housing Benefit.

    This means homeless hostels will have a stable income and a more secure future. We will continue to be able to invest in improving existing services and developing new ones and, crucially, provide safe places for people to stay and rebuild their lives after sleeping rough.

    What next?

    Increased oversight

    Housing costs within supported housing can be higher than in other rented properties. This is because there is a higher turnover of residents, and additional costs for the maintenance of communal spaces. The government recognises that these additional costs are justified, but would like to increase oversight of the sector to make sure that taxpayer money is being used effectively.

    St Mungo’s would welcome the opportunity to contribute to these plans. We are proud of the services we provide and the support we give our clients, and look forward to working with the government to ensure that the high standards we hold ourselves to is reflected across all services.

    A long term, strategic approach to funding for support

    While the government’s decision on housing costs is very welcome, there is still work to be done to restore funding for support costs. We are pleased that the government has also announced that it will review housing related support to better understand how the system currently works. We look forward to working with them on this issue and demonstrating the need for a secure support system which is fit for the future.

    But there is much more to be done to make sure that everyone has a safe and secure place to live. That’s why we’re launching a new campaign in the autumn calling on the government to end rough sleeping for good. Be the first to hear all about it – sign up to campaign with us today.

    Making London Bridge green

    Victoria has been working at St Mungo’s Putting Down Roots project in London Bridge since 2014. She tells us what the project has achieved and what she’s got out of it herself

    How long have you have been working with Putting Down Roots (PDR) in London Bridge?

    I’ve been working at London Bridge almost from the start in various capacities: firstly as a client in spring 2014, then as sole trader, locum and since last December I’ve been working here full time.

    What does the LDN Bridge project involve?

    We are working with Team London Bridge, the Business Improvement District for the area. We work with them to make areas greener. Not the whole of London Bridge, the council looks after some of the public spaces. But we have about eight sites from Borough High Street leading down to Tower Bridge Road. We’re at the NCP car park opposite the Greenwood Theatre which we also maintain. That was a really interesting project with Joe Swift and Zandra Rhodes. We  have a hub on Melior Street where we do a bit of training with our clients and we’ve got a small scale allotment. Then there’s Snowfields Primary School where I teach workshops. Through these workshops we have a link to Borough Market and I grow veg with the children for the Borough Market young marketeers event..

    What challenges have you faced?

    The challenge is that in such a densely populated area we must deal with plant damage and litter. As a project we are looking at training up people to go and work in gardening jobs. The chances are the jobs will be with the council or in that sort of environment. So this is a perfect training ground. They learn a lot about keeping themselves safe and members of the public safe. The urban area isn’t a massive challenge. As long as we’ve got permission to green up the space, we just get to it as long as we’ve got good soil and a water supply.

    What are you proudest of?

    Personally I am most proud of my young marketeers. Though it’s not really in my job spec, I get a lot of enjoyment from it. The children are so enthusiastic and learn and retain so well. They’re just enthused by growing vegetables and selling. I feel like I’m bringing something to inner city children that they might not necessarily get anywhere else. A lot of them live in flats around here, they don’t have gardens or even balconies.

    Regarding the project in this area, I am proudest of how we are managing to maintain green spaces in such an urban area. And doing that alongside some really fantastic people who just fell on hard times I guess. It’s wonderful when you can work alongside someone and they start to turn up earlier and earlier in the morning.They start to take ownership of specific places that they enjoy working at. That’s why I do this job.

    Have you got any nice feedback from members of the public?

    Oh gosh yeah, all the time. Whenever we’re out people will pass by and comment about how beautiful things are. Or they remember when it wasn’t such a green area. It’s lovely.

    Read about how Victoria was honoured by the Royal Horticultural Society

    We’d like to thank the teams at Network Rail and Team London Bridge for their support and dedication towards making the pop-up garden day in London Bridge on 7 August 2018 such a great success.

    The power of words

    How can creative writing help people to recover from homelessness? Some of the students at our Recovery College in Bristol share their stories

    The Recovery College is one of St Mungo’s most innovative projects, based on the principle that learning can be a transformative experience. Courses are designed, delivered and attended by St Mungo’s clients, staff and volunteers, and they are also open to the general public. All courses are free and run by volunteers.

    Unlike traditional colleges, the main focus is not on achieving a qualification. Instead, the Recovery College provides a supportive educational environment in which people have the opportunity to sample a wide range of subjects and wellbeing activities alongside a diverse group of peer learners.

    Our Recovery College in Bristol runs a range of arts and music classes, offering our clients a safe space to be creative. Among these is the popular creative writing class, led by published novelist Dawn Maria Kelly.

    Creative writing is a powerful outlet for self-expression, which can be therapeutic for people who have experienced homelessness or who are in recovery for substance use issues. In addition to improving self-esteem and wellbeing, creative writing can also improve clients’ interpersonal skills and confidence, helping people to find employment or further study opportunities in the future.

    The weekly class receives a steady turnout of clients, each with their own stories to tell, in their own unique way. The quality of writing produced in the class has been so high that Dawn and a group of her students made a booklet called St Mungo’s Magic Tales, which they hope to publish soon.

    “Making the booklet, something physical that you can see and touch, has made a huge difference to the people who contributed their writing and illustrations to it,” says Dawn. “It’s something they can feel proud of, and show to their friends and family.”

    Eddie

    “I’ve learnt a lot about myself.”

    “I avoided creative writing in the past because I thought it wasn’t for me. I used to come to the Recovery College just for the music classes. I saw the creative writing class working in the garden one day in summer, and I thought, why not give it a shot? So I joined in, and I’ve been coming ever since.

    I’m quite an emotional sort of person, and I find writing is good for self-expression. I’ve learnt a lot about myself coming here. A lot about myself, and a lot about other people. Normally it takes a long time to get to know someone. But in the class, people write about themselves, and they write about intimate things. They pour their hearts out sometimes.”

    Sara

    “Being here has really helped my confidence.”

    “I couldn’t read and write a lot before, I’ve taught myself since school really. When I first started the class, I wouldn’t ever talk in the room. I’d just sit there and write for myself. But I share my work more now. Being here has really helped my confidence.

    I put my writing and drawings in the booklet which I never thought I’d do, ever! Now I’ve done it, I want to write a book about my life, from my first memory to now. Not for anyone to read, just to challenge myself. I want to become an art therapist in the future. It’s way down the line, but I’ve been volunteering at some of the art classes here for experience. The staff are amazing. You have your bad days, they are here, your good days, they are here. They’ll help you with any kind of problem.”

    Tracy

    “It’s a way to escape.”

    “I always liked writing when I was a kid, but as an adult I don’t really do anything artistic or creative in my everyday life. So this class is a good creative outlet – it’s my time just for me. It’s a safe space to be a bit vulnerable. I can write something really personal, and no one ever says ‘that’s rubbish!’ Everyone is incredibly supportive.

    But the great thing is that you don’t have to talk about yourself if you don’t feel like it. You can experiment, and be completely ridiculous if you want. I’m in recovery for addiction at the moment. It’s going fairly well, but at recovery groups there is obviously a lot of recovery talk… which is important, but sometimes it’s nice to have a break from that. In the class I can write about whatever I want. It’s a way to escape.”

    Jayne

    I was proud to show it to my children.”

    “I started coming to the Recovery College when I was homeless. To start with it was just to get me off the street for a few hours. I’ve been in my own flat for three years now, but I’m still coming to classes. I like the writing class because you can say what’s in your head. Out there, I talk about my children a lot, and some people in my life tell me I talk about them too much. But here I can write about them asmuch as I like. It’s nice to come here and figure out what you like. I love words, and lots of description.

    When my work was published in the booklet, I was really chuffed. I was proud to show it to my children. The group worked together to edit it and decide where the stories and pictures would go. It was nice to share and collaborate, and boost each other’s work. I like encouraging people who don’t feel good about their writing. You tell someone how wonderful their piece of work is, and see how happy they are. And you think, I did that, I made someone feel good. Giving out praise is actually nicer than receiving it.”

Go back