LGBTQIA+ Network: Emma’s experience

    Emma joined St Mungo’s in the Strategic Asset Team and has also been an active member of our LGBTQIA+ Network ever since. In this blog, she tells us what the network means to her, reflects on the importance of, and shares a powerful poem on, LGBT History Month.

    When I came to work for St Mungo’s, I was astounded on my first day at the obvious dedication to diversity and inclusion. I have never worked anywhere before where they were so inclusive, and it blew me away.

    I felt like a weight had been lifted off me; here, finally, was a place where I didn’t need to hide parts of myself to fit in, somewhere I wouldn’t be asked stupid and intrusive questions, and I wouldn’t face judgement. I was so excited, I even took a picture of the notice up on the toilets about using whichever bathroom made you more comfortable and text it to a loads of friends, gushing over it (I’ll be honest, they didn’t quite understand my excitement).

    I was excited to work for a company that had been consistently recognised by Stonewall, and that showed such acceptance of all different types of people, and celebrated these differences. I wanted to be a part of this, which is why I volunteer to help for as many events as I can, even if my contribution is just a poem.

    When I then learned about how many different diversity networks there were, I immediately contacted the ones that fit me, that meant the most, and one of these was the LGBT+ Network.

    I can’t put into words how it feels to know there are other people in the office that, like me, are proud of their sexuality and want to encourage others to be the same. It’s an amazing feeling to not feel so alone.

    Despite growing up in Greater London, I didn’t know that many openly LGBT+ people in my area in my younger, formative years. I knew experimenters, a few gay guys (from whom I have experienced some of the worst bi-erasure in my life), and I was bullied for being unapologetically bi in an all girls’ school.

    To get into my early adult years and be able to work somewhere so accepting, with a network of people like me – words don’t do the feelings justice.

    So when it comes to LGBT+ History Month… The reason it’s so important to me, like everything else meaningful in life, is multi-layered. For a start, I have a degree in history, have always loved it, and always believed that we have to know the past in order to be best prepared for the future. We do, as a species, tend to repeat patterns of behaviour, and being able to recognise these patterns can stop us from repeatedly making the same mistakes. There’s the corny reason out of the way.

    Another reason – probably the most significant – it’s so important to me is because it is humbling and uniting to look back at who fought and sacrificed so that I could enjoy the freedoms I have. And yes, the fight is not over, we still haven’t achieved the aim of complete acceptance, but we are in a much better position than we were even five years ago.

    I look back at what others achieved, despite the mountainous obstacles they had to overcome, and it makes me feel better about the biphobia and bigotry I have to face, and I know that things will get better. Knowing what all these amazing people did for us inspires me to be better, do better, do more for my community. It makes me want to fight, raise awareness, be a safe space, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

    LGBT History Month gives us the opportunity to highlight these people, what they gave in our past for a future they didn’t know of, and I hope they inspire others like they inspired me; to be unapologetically yourself.


    You marvel at the beauty
    Of a rainbow that paints the sky
    Wondering how such brightness
    Can be birthed from a storm
    And yet question our colours
    And our tempestuous struggles
    When you, ancient perpetrator
    Are the rains and winds
    The lightning and the thunder
    Trying in vain to dim us
    And then claim it does not exist

    But we weep not for we are protected
    By each other under the umbrella
    A shelter which has expanded over years
    Shielding many from the hail storm
    Of insults and phobia, words and actions
    Seeking to break our blossoming community
    But we are family, connected by shared experience
    Ready to fight and defend all
    Who don’t stick to monochrome

    Across the fields of years gone by, I see
    An army of multi-coloured flags
    Sauntering forward with self-determined righteousness
    Hearts and souls covered in blood and tears
    But hands free from the stain
    Never looking back, but never forsaking the rear view
    And I march with them

    We remember and honour all
    Who could not be here today
    But whose courageous actions
    Paved the path we have walked thus far
    And now we, blessed by their inception
    Must continue through the dense jungle
    Until all the world is painted
    In the brightest colours of joy

    And the Old World
    Bigoted, prejudiced and cruel
    Is trampled underfoot
    A festival or light and colour
    Acceptance of every shade
    Waiting to greet us
    In the dawning of the New Age

    Find out more about Diversity and Inclusion at St Mungo’s.

    Knocked Back: A tragic loss of human potential

    Our Knocked Back report revealed that at least 12,000 people who are homeless are missing out on potentially life-saving drug and alcohol treatment. Oliver Standing, Director of Collective Voice, reflects on the report’s findings.

    Collective Voice is the national alliance of drug and alcohol treatment charities, whose members collectively support 200,000 people every year. A substantial proportion of these people will not only be dealing with a substance misuse problem but with other areas of severe and multiple disadvantage, including homelessness.

    For this reason, we welcome the publication of St Mungo’s latest report, Knocked Back, highlighting the growing prevalence of drug and alcohol use by people sleeping rough, and its increasingly tragic consequences.

    It will be sadly unsurprising to many in our sector to read that drugs and alcohol caused the deaths of 380 people sleeping rough in 2018 (over half the total number of people who died). But we must remain shocked and appalled at this growing public health crisis, and stay resolute in our ambition to reach the huge numbers sleeping rough who desperately need treatment but at present are not getting it – 12,000 people according to the St Mungo’s report.

    Every year people in the substance misuse treatment sector anticipate with sickening dread the latest drug death statistics. And with every year in recent times bringing more bad news, the dread only increases. In 2018, we know that hundreds of people sleeping rough died as a result of drugs or alcohol. The total number of drug related deaths are even higher, at 4,359. That’s the largest amount since we started counting in 1993 and a 16% leap from 2017’s figures. Those statistics alone make for disturbing reading.

    But what’s really disturbing are the human stories behind the statistics. Our communities have lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, who will no longer fulfil the promise their parents saw in their bright eyes as children, will no longer laugh or love. These are not just numbers, but a tragic loss of human potential.

    It can sometimes seem hard to determine the real-world impact of public policy making. But surely the seemingly unstoppable increase of this particular type of death marks a clear and significant failure of the public policy and political leadership necessary to protect a very vulnerable group of people.

    When it comes to people who use drugs and sleep rough we can’t ignore stigma as a factor. When people are dying on our streets from conditions we know how to treat we must ask ourselves the question — what is different about this group of people that allows this to happen well into 21st century Britain?

    The most frustrating aspect of this? That the evidence on what works is so very clear. We have a world class compendium of evidence in our “Orange Book” and multiple NICE guidelines. We have a substance use workforce not short of ambition, compassion and expertise.

    It’s welcome to see St Mungo’s Knocked Back report make clear the link between homelessness and drug related deaths. It demonstrates how some substance use outreach services, so vital in reaching people sleeping rough, have been lost in the blizzard of local authority cuts.

    While in 2013, local government was handed the responsibility for commissioning life-saving substance misuse treatment services, but it was asked to do so with one hand tied behind its back. In the eight years to 2020 local government has lost 60 pence in every pound it received from national government.

    It’s welcome to see the report stress the importance of close partnership work across the domains of severe and multiple disadvantage. People’s challenges simply do not resolve into the neat concepts such as ‘substance use’ or ‘mental ill health’ we use to think about the delivery of public services.

    On the frontline, practitioners have of course always known that partnership working across those boundaries is essential. The same can be said for service-managers, commissioners and Chief Executives. National programmes such as Fulfilling Lives and MEAM are making robust coordinated attempts to bring together these services at the local level. These are all to be welcomed.

    In the sector, we have the compassion, ambition and expertise to meet the needs of a great proportion of the people we support — we just lack the resource.

    The government’s new addictions strategy and monitoring unit should both be unveiled this year and will provide important opportunities to drive much needed change.

    I implore the government to set out an ambitious plan for preventing further deaths through the delivery of adequately funded evidence-based services — and I know that effective partnership between the substance use and homeless sectors will be essential in supporting the delivery of such a plan.

    Read our Knocked Back research.

    Find out more about Collective Voice.

    Jo and Rai take on our Make a Splash challenge

    In this blog we hear from Jo and Rachel who took part in our Make a Splash challenge on the morning of #GivingTuesday. Our swimming fundraiser is a fun way to make a splash and raise some cash to help us reach more people sleeping rough and bring them into the warmth. 

    1. Can you introduce yourself and tell us why you decided to take part in St Mungo’s Make A Splash challenge?

    Jo: Rai and I are part of a swimming group who try to get into the water all year round. We quite often do 10-15 minutes in the winter (as the water gets cold), and so when we saw the St Mungo’s Make a Splash appeal we decided that we would challenge ourselves to do the full 50 minutes in the sea!!

    Rai: During December we’re all rushing around buying for our loved ones, it felt right to do something for those that don’t have as much as myself. I also wanted to do something that would test my own limits; the sunrise splash hit both these targets.

    Image: Make A Splash swimmers
    Jo and Rai after the swimming challenge

    2. Do you think homelessness is a big problem in the area that you live?

    Jo: Yes, and it’s getting bigger. There have been huge changes and more people sleeping rough throughout the year. In Cornwall there used to be a seasonal influx, but that season doesn’t seem to be there any more. There are people sleeping rough here all year round.

    Rai: Cornwall is one of Europe’s poorest locations so we have a high population of people who are homeless. Additionally, when we have cold snaps – which are rarer this end of the country – people sleeping rough really suffer as they aren’t prepared for it as it’s not something that they would usually have to deal with.

    3. How did you find the Make A Splash challenge?

    Jo: We did 50 minutes in the sea in Cornwall where we live. The sea was about 11°C, so we got pretty cold; my fingers and toes completely stopped working until they thawed about an hour or so later.

    Whilst we were in the water we had a good chance to chat about why we were doing this. We were both looking forward to some hot chocolate and a bath when we finished. When you’re homeless you just don’t have that luxury – that really struck a chord with both of us.

    Rai: As well as the usual refreshing and exhilarating experience, it was also marked by a sense of purpose. In the last 10-15 minutes it was especially difficult to remain in the water as the coldness was beginning to creep into my arms and legs, and I had no control over my fingers and hands (a first for me during a sea swim).

    4. Do you regularly swim in the sea? Tell us what it’s like taking on an open water challenge during the winter months.

    Rai: I have been regularly swimming in the sea since November 2018 – I try to go at least once a week. I always swim without a wetsuit. The best part was completing the challenge – not because of the fact it was over but because I was so proud to have pushed my cold water acclimatisation ability.

    Jo: The weather can be unpredictable and we won’t swim when it is dangerous to do so. We have looked out at the sea and thought, hmmm, maybe not today! The morning on #GivingTuesday was absolutely gorgeous and there is something peaceful and beautiful about seeing the sun rise over a wintry flat calm sea on a cold crisp morning. It was definitely inspiring.

    5. What do you hope St Mungo’s will be able to do with the money you raise?

    Jo: I hope that it will help St Mungo’s to make sure that homeless and vulnerable people will be able to sleep safely. I really love that they are accepting of homeless people with dogs. I own two and they are such a comfort when things get too much – I can’t ever imagine having to choose between them and being safe in a bed at night with food. I hope that in supporting St Mungo’s, fewer people have to make this choice.

    Image: Dogs-make-a-splash
    Jo’s dogs came out to support the challenge

    6. Have you got a message to any supporters thinking about taking on our Make A Splash challenge this winter?

    Jo: Do it! It’s brilliant and really gives you time to contemplate and appreciate the important things in life.

    Rai: My message for those thinking of doing the Make A Splash Challenge would take the form of some advice for those who want to do more than run in and out of the water.

    • Cold water swimming is all about mental fortitude!
    • Take your time getting in and breathe through your cold water shock response. It’s perfectly natural to gasp and shiver but it will pass once you’re fully in.
    • Once you’re in, stay close to the shore and get out before you start shivering again – even if it’s only for 5 minutes.
    • If you can, swim with someone else who’s into it.
    • Wrap up warm when you get out and appreciate the lovely sensations!

    7. Would you take on the challenge again yourself?

    Jo: Yes! 51 minutes, bring it on!

    Rai: I plan on doing the Polar Bear Challenge in 2020, which I hope to include St Mungo’s Make A Splash challenge.

    Fancy taking the icy plunge? You can still take part in our Make a Splash challenge.

    Cold Water swimming can be dangerous. We advise that those wanting to take on a long distance swimming challenge do so in a swimming pool or seek professional training before doing so. If you have any under lying health conditions please consult a doctor before taking on Make a Splash.

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