“Hiking brings out the best in people”

    In September, a group of St Mungo’s staff, supporters, volunteers and clients are hiking up Ben Nevis. We spoke to two staff members from Haringey Assessment Centre, Geran and Leo, about the hiking challenge and why it can help clients in their road to recovery.

    How did you hear about Ben Nevis?

    Geran: I was asked by Leo, to head up a training walk for our service before we head to Ben Nevis. We have two residents from our service with us on the training walk who have overcome significant hurdles to be here. Both clients are on alcohol detox programmes. This is the first training walk they have attended and they will come on the Ben Nevis walk if they are able to reduce their drinking.

    We are the highest support service in the borough, so we tend to be the first place clients come after moving away from the street. As a service we see the hike as a good opportunity for them to have something to aspire to, something to overcome and a reason to reduce drinking.

    We have a few other clients who are interested and might attend future training walks. Any clients from our service who want to do it have the opportunity to do so. It is often the ones you don’t expect that have the most interest so it’s a good mix of people.

    Why are these hikes important?

    Leo: I have been on a lot trips like this and have seen the beneficial effect it has on everyone. It brings people together in such a way that it brings the best out of people. It is a really uplifting experience. It helps the clients we work with get more motivated to achieve good things in their lives, which is ultimately the purpose.

    Geran: It takes some of the barriers away from the different levels of management. Clients are able to see the human aspects of the staff who often call the shots in a lot of aspects of their lives. I think it’s a humanising experience that shows we are not that different.

    Why do you think it is important for clients to take part in this challenge?

    Leo: There is so much to gain for clients. They can find out more about St Mungo’s from other perspectives. It can also change relationships between service workers and clients as it takes away the power dynamic.

    Geran: I think it’s inspiring for clients to have something to push themselves to do. Some clients have been struggling on this training walk and it is a good motivator to focus on making improvements. In the case of our two clients it’s an opportunity to reduce something that is having a detrimental effect on their life.

    Did either of you climb Scafell Pike last year?  How was it?

    Leo: I did. It was an amazing experience seeing so many people get uplifted. I love hiking so to get to do that as part of a wider vision is a really special opportunity.

    After Scafell Pike, a few clients got onto training courses and some have moved on from St Mungo’s accommodation and got their own places. I know at least two clients who did it last year and are going to climb Ben Nevis this year because they got so much out of the trip last time.

    Why are you personally looking forward to Ben Nevis?

    Leo: From a selfish point of view I really love hiking and I know how good it is and how satisfying it is to get to the top of something.

    To be part of St Mungo’s doing it in their 50th year is special. I am looking forward to the reactions of my colleagues and clients from my service. I am optimistic that it will be pretty amazing and mind blowing, because it always is.

    Geran: I come from the countryside, I love walking and being out in nature. I want to inspire that passion in other people.

    In September to mark our 50th year 50 clients, staff members and volunteers join staff from our sponsor Tokio Marine to take on the highest peak in Britain. Find out more about our Ben Nevis hiking challenge. 

    The new NHS plan for mental health services has a clear offer for people sleeping rough

    For organisations who have campaigned for many years on homeless health, the NHS Mental Health Implementation Plan is a cause for celebration. Beatrice Orchard, St Mungo’s Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research, explains why the plan must deliver on its ambition to make sure everyone sleeping rough can access the mental health support they need.

    When the Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy was published exactly one year ago by MHCLG, there were some positive signs that other government departments would also be doing their bit to reverse the dramatic rise in the number of people sleeping rough in England.

    One of the most solid commitments was in relation to improving mental health support for people who are sleeping on the streets. Last month, the details of this commitment became clearer when the NHS Mental Health Implementation Plan was published.

    The plan is clear that by 2023-24, 20 areas with high levels of rough sleeping will have established new specialist mental health provision for people sleeping rough, which will be made possible with £30m of central NHS funding invested for this specific purpose.

    This is a fantastic result for St Mungo’s Stop the Scandal campaign and our continued efforts to press the Government for investment in specialist mental health services to ensure people sleeping rough can access the support they need.

    Sleeping rough and mental health – the links

    It is fairly easy to understand that sleeping rough has a negative impact on a person’s mental health and wellbeing, as well as their physical health.

    Evidence shows people sleeping rough are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence compared to the general population. News reports describe horrifying attacks and abuse on people sleeping rough and our clients tell us about their experiences of feeling lonely, frightened and even suicidal.

    Furthermore, we mustn’t overlook the fact that some people sleeping rough have already been through many traumatic experiences in their lives, including violence and abuse from a young age.

    All of these experiences can cause mental health problems to develop or worsen, but also impact on the type of mental health support people need and how easy they find services to access.

    New avenues into support

    The new, NHS-funded, specialist services will make sure that people sleeping rough can access to clinical mental health support by integrating with existing homeless outreach, accommodation and physical healthcare services.

    They will be required to adopt a trauma-informed approach, known to help improve the psychological and emotional wellbeing of people with complex needs. We also expect the new services to help people who have drug and alcohol problems and are currently excluded from some mainstream mental health services as a result.

    This specialist support breaks down all of the barriers people sleeping rough often face when trying to get help to improve their mental health. Really effective specialist teams can also influence mainstream health services in their local area, encouraging them to become more knowledgeable and understanding of the needs of people who are sleeping rough.

    So far, so good. But what about people sleeping rough in other areas not in receipt of this new funding?

    A welcome step forward

    Research shows 4 in 10 people sleeping rough in England have an identified mental health problem. The latest data from the CHAIN reports on rough sleeping in London shows 50% of people sleeping rough in the capital in 2018-19 had a mental health support need.

    It is welcome, therefore, that the new plan for mental health requires all areas of the country to complete a mental health needs assessment for people sleeping rough and take action to increase access to mental health services for this group.

    This new approach to mental health for people sleeping rough is a real step forward.

    Specialist mental health services have been tried in the past. We know they can make a dramatic difference to individuals’ lives, and help to reduce rough sleeping by supporting people to move on from homelessness for good.

    Better still, it doesn’t stop with specialist services this time. Instead all NHS services will need to think about how people sleeping rough can access the healthcare they need in order to rebuild their lives.

    St Mungo’s will be watching closely and encouraging all areas to ensure the plan delivers.

    Ending homelessness? Fund domestic abuse services

    In May, the Government announced proposals for a new legal duty to help secure the future of domestic abuse refuges. With partners from across the housing, homelessness and women’s sectors, St Mungo’s is calling for support for survivors facing homelessness.

    Photo fo Cat Glew, Women's Strategy Manager for St Mungo'sSt Mungo’s helps thousands of women and men find a home away from the dangers of the street. But home isn’t always a safe place.

    Many St Mungo’s clients are survivors of domestic abuse. St Mungo’s data from 2016 shows that at least 54% of our female residents with a history of rough sleeping had experienced violence or abuse from a partner or family member. A 2015 study found that as many as 92% of homeless women had experienced violence or abuse during their lifetime.

    Creating safety for people facing harm from those they love and trust is a serious challenge. St Mungo’s works with specialist domestic abuse organisations who support our clients, so we welcome proposals to try to provide a more certain future for domestic abuse services.

    Working with housing, domestic abuse and homelessness partners, we have responded to the Government’s consultation on future support for survivors of domestic abuse.

    We need a strong, specialist domestic abuse sector who can work with survivors facing homelessness. Only then can Government hope to achieve its aims to end rough sleeping and support all survivors of domestic abuse.

    But why would improving domestic abuse support help end homelessness?

    1. Domestic abuse puts survivors at risk of homelessness – and vice versa

    A third of female St Mungo’s clients say that domestic abuse contributed to their homelessness. Escaping domestic abuse can force survivors to make an impossible choice – live with abuse, or face homelessness.

    Trying to keep safe while homeless can also be risky. A study by the University of York for St Mungo’s found that women are often hidden homeless: staying with friends, family, or strangers who expect sex in return for shelter.

    Women who do sleep rough can form intimate relationships on the street in order to survive – but relying on a partner for protection can expose survivors to escalating abuse and control.

    2. Lack of funding and support is forcing survivors to sleep rough

    Funding for refuges and other life-saving domestic abuse services has suffered severe cuts. English local authorities cut spending on refuges by nearly a quarter between 2010 and 2017.

    In 2016-17, Women’s Aid found that 60% of referrals to refuges could not be accepted. One in 10 women supported by their No Woman Turned Away project were forced to sleep rough whilst waiting for a refuge space.

    3. Support for survivors facing multiple disadvantage is in short supply

    Survivors with mental health, drug or alcohol problems are less likely to be able to access specialist domestic abuse services, who are rarely resourced to support them safely.

    Women’s Aid research found that 31% of women with mental health problems and 65% of women with substance use problems were refused an available refuge space because of their needs.

    SafeLives found that survivors facing multiple disadvantage may be unable to work with local domestic abuse services if they do not have a phone or cannot attend regular appointments.

    Survivors with no access to public funds because of their immigration status are excluded from most domestic abuse accommodation because they are not eligible for housing benefit to cover the rent.

    4. Survivors without a safe home are left in danger

    Under the current legislation, survivors of domestic abuse approaching their local council for help are not automatically considered to be in priority need for housing. Instead, people are required to prove they are additionally vulnerable in order to be owed the ‘main homelessness duty’ – and access to settled accommodation.

    Evidence shows that survivors found not to be owed the duty are more likely to return to a dangerous situation. Some end up rough sleeping, sofa-surfing or living in unsuitable temporary accommodation where they are at further risk of abuse and are removed from services that could support them.

    Calling for change

    The Government has proposed a new duty on local authorities to assess local need and commission domestic abuse accommodation.

    It’s a good start, but Government must also confirm ring fenced funding to support those services. The proposed definition must be made clearer to make sure that specialist refuges are rebuilt and protected.

    Every survivor deserves support, and we think Government should also provide separate future funding for specialist domestic abuse outreach services to work with survivors facing homelessness.

    A new programme of investment in homelessness services is also badly needed. As part of this, we need women-only homelessness accommodation in every part of the country as a safe route away from the streets.

    And of course, automatic priority need should be extended to all survivors, so that anyone fleeing domestic abuse in England is guaranteed a safe home.

    St Mungo’s Annual Hiking Challenge

    Our Community and Events Manager, Beth, has helped organise our annual hiking challenge since its inception three years ago. She shares her experience from previous treks, what she’s expecting for this year’s Ben Nevis climb and why the challenge is such a collaborative effort.


    Listen to Beth’s full interview or read our Q&A below.

    Tell us a bit about yourself

    I work in our fundraising team and manage our community, events and regional fundraising teams. I have been involved with our client hiking challenge for the last three years. This year for our third challenge and also our 50th anniversary we are taking on Ben Nevis in Scotland.

    How did the challenge begin?

    Our clients were asked in a senior leadership meeting how they can help support fundraising and give back to St Mungo’s and challenge themselves in their road to recovery. Two of our fantastic clients Claire and Mandy came up with the idea of climbing up some mountains.

    They came up with the very first client-led trip up Mount Snowdon, supported Scafell Pike last year and are joining us for Ben Nevis this year. You can read about Mandy’s journey from homelessness to Mount Snowdon on our blog.

    Image: Mandy on St Mungo's Hiking Challenge

    What is your role?

    My role is to oversee the trip and make sure everything is in place and organised. Mandy and Claire sign off final details; they are very much my bosses not the other way round.

    This year there are 50 people climbing Ben Nevis, a mix of clients, volunteers, staff and supporters. Why do you think the hiking challenge has become so popular?

    We chose to include 50 people to mark our 50th anniversary.

    It is a chance to give our clients a reward for their recovery and an opportunity to explore a new area. Our team is very supportive and when we climb up a mountain our labels get left at the bottom. For clients, where you are in your recovery gets left at the bottom.

    It is just a wonderful thing to offer and that’s why it is so popular for everybody. I feel really privileged that we get to do it year on year.

    Why do you think it is so important to do as a group challenge?

    For some clients who went on Scafell Pike, we saw them really move forward after the trip. A few people have found their own accommodation, they have jobs and they are getting really involved in other St Mungo’s activities.

    It is my job to make sure the second we get down we are talking about the next steps for clients.

    What is your favourite memory from one of the hiking trips?

    One of our female clients really struggled last year. She had a knee operation a year before we went up Scafell Pike. She was struggling and lost her confidence. Another client on his own accord took her bag, held her hand and helped her up the mountain.

    It is that selflessness, empowerment and team spirit that for me is so memorable.

    What has the hiking trip taught you over the years?

    It has taught me a lot about our clients. It has taught me that recovery isn’t linear. You don’t get someone off the street, get someone into a house, get them a job and then it’s all okay. It just doesn’t always work like that.

    I have learnt that if I am consistent with clients and staff, touch base and check that they are okay then people will trust you and relax themselves.

    These hikes give you a chance to get to know people from all walks of life. We are really blessed at St Mungo’s that we are such a diverse group of people. People are always open to get to know each other. It is a good group this year, I am excited.

    Find out more about this year’s Ben Nevis trip.

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