Developing a career in the homelessness sector

    Sheila Akao-Okeng, Housing First Worker for the Tower Hamlets Street Outreach Response Team, explains how St Mungo’s approach to recruitment helped her develop her passion for helping people sleeping rough into a career in the homelessness sector.

    My journey at St Mungo’s started as an Administrator in the Volunteer Services team. I had previously worked for an International Development charity, and loved my job, but was aware of the rise in people sleeping rough in London and keen to do something to help tackle this. The Administrator role at St Mungo’s gave me the perfect opportunity to transfer my skills into a sector that was closer to my passion.

    Focusing on transferable skills

    St Mungo’s uses competency based recruitment methods. This means that even if you don’t have specific experience in the homelessness sector, the interview process looks at the transferrable skills that you have got. If you haven’t worked in this sector before, don’t let that discourage you from applying for a role here; you can bring innovation and creativity from outside experience into your role.

    As an Administrator, I learnt more about the homelessness sector through visiting and working alongside services like StreetLink, Outreach teams and Clearing House to support them in their volunteer recruitment processes. The role was the perfect introduction to the breadth and diversity of St Mungo’s work. It also enabled me to start thinking about what my next career step would be.

    Involvement in diversity networks

    St Mungo’s champions personal and career development and, as part of this, I joined the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Network, one of our seven diversity networks. Staff are allocated three days per year to take part in network activities. This enabled me to have time to be involved in the network and build on my communication and influencing skills. I worked alongside the senior leadership team to strive for equal representation of people across all areas of the organisation.

    I learnt a lot as an Administrator and used this experience to apply for a Volunteer Advisor role a year later. This role gave me a new challenge as I spent more time working with our Recovery Colleges to support their volunteers. This role also gave me an opportunity to support our clients to volunteer to aid in their recovery journey.

    Career development at its best

    Throughout my career here, I’ve had so many opportunities to shadow different teams, understand their work and take on tasks. This has helped me to develop numerous transferable skills, meaning two years on, I have been able to apply for a Housing First worker role.

    I love St Mungo’s and I am passionate about the work we do to end homelessness and support people to rebuild their lives. Alongside the diversity networks, St Mungo’s also offers structured and supportive line management, job shadowing, mentoring and coaching opportunities; all of which are aimed at encouraging staff to be the best that they can be in their current role and for a role that they may be working towards.

    We’re always looking for positive people with a can do attitude, consistently professional approach and who are passionate about doing their best to join our team. In return we can offer an exceptional employment deal shaped by what our people tell us they value. Find out more about our available roles in our careers pages.

    Helping people sleeping rough from Europe and beyond

    Petra Salva is St Mungo’s Director of Rough Sleepers, Migrants and Criminal Justice Services. She has been working directly with people sleeping rough in London for over 20 years and heads up St Mungo’s rough sleeper and outreach teams across London boroughs and south east England. Petra also represents St Mungo’s on a pan European network which shares best practice and ideas across Europe to help reduce street homelessness. In a blog first published on the Huffington Post, she explains how we work to help destitute non-UK rough sleepers to move away from the streets for good, with the right support in place to rebuild their lives.

    Every week I hear stories and get updates about people who St Mungo’s outreach teams are trying to help off the streets. I also try as much as possible to meet people myself so I can see first-hand how things are working and understand more about the issues that homeless people face, and the challenges for our outreach colleagues.

    Peter’s journey

    Recently I heard about Peter*, a 45 year old man from Poland. Peter had lived and worked in Poland and then the Netherlands with his partner for many years before moving to London with hopes of work and a better life here in the UK. However, once in London things didn’t work out as he hoped. After working in construction as a machine operative, his life was turned upside down when the relationship with his partner broke down and she returned to the Netherlands.

    Peter dealt with his sudden loneliness by drinking and then moved on to using cocaine. Eventually he lost his job and soon after his accommodation. He, like many others in a similar situation, ended up sleeping rough on the streets of London.

    Our outreach team met him on the streets and offered support. Initially Peter refused to engage with us. We didn’t give in though and kept visiting him on a regular basis. Eventually as winter and freezing temperatures set in he became more willing to talk and think about what to do.

    Peter began to talk about returning to Poland and getting help with his alcohol and drug use. He realised he could not “get clean” without support and that he couldn’t access treatment in the UK. He hadn’t considered that he might be able to get the treatment he needed in Poland. Through our supported reconnection service, we worked with Peter to make this option a reality.

    Getting the right help

    My colleagues told me that Peter completed his treatment in Warsaw and is now in full time skilled employment assembling electrical components. Just days before my outreach colleagues met up with him again in Poland he had finally been helped into his own flat. Peter was proud to tell us about his work and show us pictures of his flat where he enjoys having his friends and sister visit him. As they chatted, he reflected on the moment he arrived at the treatment agency in Warsaw and was met by his sister who had gone there to welcome him back.

    You might wonder why we couldn’t help Peter to get the help he needed in the UK? The simple answer is he, like many others, had become stuck on the streets. Government policy meant he wasn’t eligible for housing or publically funded support services in the UK. This situation has led many people to become destitute and eventually very unwell on our streets. We know of some who have died.

    In London about 57% of people sleeping rough are non-UK nationals. That means their options are legally limited when it comes to accessing housing, treatment services and any other welfare assistance that is possible for UK citizens. Our Routes Home service, funded by the Mayor of London, works with vulnerable people like Peter. Last year, the team helped over 60 people who had really complex and high support needs to voluntarily return to their home country into accommodation and treatment with the support and assistance they needed.

    Why couldn’t Peter get help in the UK?

    When we met Peter he didn’t have many choices. We didn’t want him to die on the streets of London. We wanted him to have a second chance. That meant persevering with him, and working with many different agencies and being realistic about the legal and practical limitations he faced.

    When our outreach teams meet people who are sleeping rough but have no support needs and are able to work, our focus is on helping them to find a job as the only way to stay in the UK and resolve their homelessness. Where people have physical or mental health needs or have issues around substance use, we work with partners in the UK and in people’s home countries to ensure they can receive appropriate housing and support, often through our Routes Home service.

    When they have complex immigration issues, we also support people to get legal advice through Street Legal, our partnership with migrant charity Praxis and Refugee Action UK.

    Working with migrants who are sleeping rough is challenging and complex work. We often get asked about the approach we take and the partners we work with, in particular what our relationship is with the Home Office in such cases.

    Supporting and advocating for our clients

    In terms of our approach, our first response to non-UK nationals sleeping rough is always to offer help and support, ensuring people understand their rights and entitlements and, where possible, are provided with assistance to take up options in the UK including work and housing. Where this is not possible, and people are not eligible, St Mungo’s will offer services to provide treatment and housing options in home countries through supported reconnection like Routes Home.

    In areas where local authorities have decided to engage the Home Office to take action against individuals or groups of rough sleepers, St Mungo’s outreach teams work alongside the Home Office teams to provide support and advocate on behalf of vulnerable individuals. This decision to be present on the street during such operations means we can ensure that the best solution for vulnerable people is sought and that any work being done with individuals to resolve their homelessness is not jeopardised by Home Office interventions.

    I am very clear about our approach, which has been developed over many years and is based on the realities of what we face out on the street every night working with people sleeping rough, often in extremely desperate conditions. Our position is clear: our role is to support and advocate on behalf of people sleeping rough so they can move on with their lives and leave homelessness behind them.

    *Peter is a pseudonym but he is happy for us to share his story.

    This story was first published on our website in March 2017.

    Team St Mungo’s climbs Scafell Pike!

    Image: St Mungo's climbs Scafell Pike play

    This September a group of 10 St Mungo’s clients climbed Scafell Pike, England’s highest peak. The challenge was the idea of St Mungo’s client and volunteer Mandy. She explains more about how she wanted to take part to remember all those who have died sleeping rough and to show it is possible to recover from homelessness.

    I’m Mandy, I live in Islington with my dog Skye and I volunteer for St Mungo’s, the charity that helps people experiencing homelessness. On 3 September, I stood on top of the highest peak in England and it was one of the proudest moments of my life.

    St Mungo’s helped me when I was sleeping rough

    Unfortunately, life hasn’t always been this good. Throughout my life, I have struggled with mental illness and, due to family problems, I found myself homeless. In 2014, I slept on the streets for two and a half weeks.

    Living on the streets became so tough that it led to an attempted suicide. However, after visiting a local church for a shower and some food, I was introduced to St Mungo’s. They offered Skye and myself a place in a hostel and I have lived in their accommodation ever since.

    I’ve come a long way since then, which is why last year I had the idea to climb a mountain with other people with experience of homelessness. I wanted to do this to show it is possible to recover from homelessness and to remember all those who aren’t as lucky as me, who have sadly died sleeping rough. Our first mountain in 2017 was Snowdon and this year, we chose Scafell Pike.

    Preparing for the 3,210ft summit

    So on 3 September 2018, we all caught the train from London to Penrith in the Lake District and nervously waited overnight for the next day’s climb.

    We were a mixed group of 10 men and women. Our age, our fitness, our hiking experience and our mental and physical health needs were all varied. But, we had one thing in common; we all knew what it felt to be homeless and we all wanted to prove that it is possible to recover from it. We did this alongside St Mungo’s staff, supporters and volunteers.

    After next to no sleep in our youth hostel in Borrowdale due to nerves and excitement, we set off the next day at 7.30am for Scafell Pike. Walking the streets of London is second nature for lots of us. However rocky, steep terrain is different and it became clear quite quickly that it was going to be a challenge to get us all to the top. In fact, half way up, our guides became concerned that some of the group would not make it.

    Reaching the peak

    It took resilience, determination and a lot of encouragement but every single person reached the peak. I’ll never forget that moment. I’ve spent my life hiding under a rock and suddenly I was on top of the highest one in England!

    What we didn’t realise, was that making our way down was going to be even harder. It took over 12 and a half hours before we arrived back at our youth hostel at 8pm in the evening.

    When my aching body got into bed that night, I thought about how far I’ve come in the last six years and how grateful I am that I now have a place to call home.

     

    Outreach on the streets of Connecticut

    This summer Ed Addison, Case Coordinator for St Mungo’s project Street Impact London, took part in an eye opening two week long cultural exchange programme, travelling to Connecticut in the USA to learn about their approach to supporting people who are sleeping rough. Ed explains more about the homelessness situation in New Haven, the challenges they face conducting outreach and what he has taken away from the experience.

    I travelled to the USA as part of the Transatlantic Practice Exchange run by Homeless Link, the national membership charity for organisations working directly with people who become homeless in England. I applied because I wanted to learn more about different approaches to engaging with and supporting people who are sleeping rough.

    Like much of New England, New Haven, a small city in Connecticut, has seen an unprecedented increase in rough sleeping. With long waiting lists for shelters and few other resources, my hosts, the Columbus House outreach team, have a challenge on their hands.

    Personal experience helps outreach work

    The outreach team explained to me that working with certain groups, like couples and people that don’t engage, can be challenging. They also told me about their own experiences of homelessness and how this helps them in their work.

    Recovery support specialist Stephanie said, “I too have been homeless and lived through this experience myself and used that experience to help others.”

    The team see a lot of people with mental health needs who also use alcohol or drugs, but place an emphasis on recovery.

    Stephanie explained that using lived experience to help others is a crucial part of the recovery programme, saying “[you] show them you can live through this experience and get to the other side.”

    Supporting others is its own reward

    What struck me is that, despite the challenges, the team were so motivated and passionate about their work. Their persistent and flexible approach provides a lifeline to those experiencing homelessness.

    As outreach worker Rhonda explained, “Someone helped me, so I am going to in return… It gives me a sense of satisfaction knowing that I am helping somebody to better their quality of life.”

    Applying learning in London

    The Street Impact London project I work for is all about supporting people who have experience of sleeping rough to sustain their lives off the street. I’ve been inspired by the multi-disciplinary approach in New Haven which brings essential services, including street psychiatry and healthcare, to people directly on the street.

    I’d like to highlight the challenges people have accessing support here in the UK and continue to ensure that St Mungo’s clients are given as much choice and decision making capacity in their recovery journey as possible.

    My time in New Haven has also highlighted the importance of a community based approach to working with rough sleepers. The experience is shaping the way I build relationships with people to encourage positive change in their lives.

    You can listen to an interview Ed conducted with the New Haven outreach team here.

    Find out more about Street Impact here.

    Homeless Link’s Transatlantic Practice Exchange is supported by the Oak Foundation and delivered in partnership with the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Placements are funded for five frontline homelessness staff to spend a fortnight in the United States, exploring different practice topics and sharing this learning on their return.

    How we’re supporting local authorities to help more people off the streets

    Image: St Mungo's outreach worker with person sleeping rough

    In March 2018 the government announced a targeted £30m fund to support local authorities with high numbers of people sleeping rough help more people off the streets. This funding is welcome, but scaling up and developing new services quickly and effectively can prove challenging. Petra Salva, Director of Outreach Services, and Julie Middleton, Head of Resourcing, explain how St Mungo’s is helping local authorities recruit for and deliver services that really make a difference.

    “We are currently working with 19 commissioners from local authorities,” says Julie. “When they found out they had been successful in applying for the new funds, they realised that some of the services would need to be set up by the end of August. It quickly became clear that we would need to recruit over 90 staff to get these new services up and running ahead of winter.

    “But recruitment naturally slows down in the middle of the summer – and with the hot weather, summer holidays and World Cup football we knew it would be even harder.”

    Effective planning and processes

    Building on St Mungo’s long-standing success in recruiting outreach workers and learning from how other organisations have managed a rapid scale up of their workforce, we set up a talent pool recruitment pilot project, involving colleagues in HR, Services and Business Development.

    Over six weeks, we set up ten open days in London, Bournemouth, Bristol and Brighton to give candidates the opportunity to hear about St Mungo’s, our services and the roles we were recruiting for. The sessions were facilitated by experienced operational staff and, when possible, some of our clients, so candidates could hear about homelessness from people directly involved in delivering and receiving support from our rough sleeping services.

    “Our aim was to give people the opportunity to talk to people who currently work in these services and share the challenges they face, set expectations and hear what they love about their work,” said Petra. “It was also an opportunity for people to ask questions about St Mungo’s and understand more about the work we do.”

    Tailored recruitment campaigns

    Behind the scenes, two dedicated Resourcing Advisors managed the recruitment process. “When you’re quickly responding to a big recruitment campaign, you need effective planning, recruiting methods and processes, as well as technology to help you manage a high volume of applicants,” said Monique, Resourcing Advisor.

    We tailored the recruitment campaigns to ensure we could attract people who had never worked in homelessness services before but who had transferable skills and wanted to actively take part in reducing rough sleeping.

    As a result of the advertising, we received 604 expressions of interest, reviewed 392 job applications and so far we have offered 53 positions. We have another 14 interview days scheduled during September.

    Delivering for clients and partners

    “What I am the most proud of is that we didn’t compromise on our recruitment processes,” said Julie. “We have a robust competency-based recruitment process which includes online tests, written exercises and role plays, in addition to the usual job application and interview.”

    “This means it may take us longer to recruit people and some candidates may drop out along the way, but we know it is a risk worth taking to honor our primary commitment – providing excellent services to our clients and partners.

    “It has proved a great success so far and we are hoping to recruit a further 42 posts during the second phase.”

    “We have learnt a lot from this project and are looking at ways we can build on this experience to further improve our approach in future,” added Petra.

    Find out more about St Mungo’s services models and see our latest vacancies.

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