My experience as an Outreach Volunteer

    We first met Chris when he was sleeping rough and needed help from us. After volunteering with us as an Outreach Volunteer in our Bournemouth & Poole Service, he now works full time for St Mungo’s.

    Chris has gone from strength to strength, and we wanted to share his story below.

    “As I was a client of St. Mungo’s, I used the pathways they provide to become a volunteer in the Outreach team in the Bournemouth & Poole branch. As soon as I got back on my feet, I wanted to give something back to St. Mungo’s as a thank you for all the support they have given me.

    As Outreach Volunteers, we start in the early mornings. Firstly, we will pick up and answer phone messages and any referrals from StreetLink, then we will hit the streets to search for people who are sleeping rough.

    Some days can be quiet and you won’t see any people, other days you might be in contact with 10 rough sleepers. No day is the same on the Outreach team. After we’ve been on the streets, we go back to the office and type up our notes from the shift onto our database system, Opal.

    I believe that as a volunteer with lived experience of rough sleeping, my experience has helped the Outreach team by giving them knowledge into how rough sleepers interact with the general public and authorities. I feel that my role also has a positive impact on the staff’s sense of self worth. It’s an intense and emotional job and it can feel like there are a lot of failures. However, there are also many successes and when that does happen, I try and shout about them, so that they know that they’re doing a stellar job.

    The initial challenge as an Outreach Volunteer is the engagement with the people we meet on the street because some of them might have trust issues with authorities. Another challenge is encouraging the clients into getting the help that they need. I empathise with this since I had my own trust issues when I was on the streets.

    One time I was on a winter shift with the Outreach team, it was freezing cold, and we were trying to contact a man who had buried himself deeply into a shelter he had built himself. He wasn’t engaging with us. We carried on for a while, buying him coffees and trying to chat to him, but to no avail. He had said to us ‘go away, nobody cares.’ This is when I stepped in and told him that I understood his feelings and I then said ‘…but it’s 4 o’clock in the morning, it’s freezing cold and I’m a volunteer, of course I care otherwise I wouldn’t be here! All we want is to just do a welfare check. So, please just show us your face, tell us who you are, and tell us that you’re ok.’ After I said this, he finally trusted us and allowed us to do a welfare check which almost brought a tear to my eye! This experience will stick with me forever.

    The rewards of the Outreach Volunteer role are seeing that I have helped someone in some way take their first steps out of homelessness. When I first find somebody, they think there’s no hope, but we take them on to other St. Mungo’s services and we give them that little bit of hope to start rebuilding their lives. That’s the only reward I need.

    This volunteer role has massively improved my sense of self-worth and has given me purpose…so much so that I applied for a full time Outreach role, and I got it!

    I have felt supported by the whole of St Mungo’s 100%. I can be shy in some ways, but they have made me feel so welcomed and comfortable in the office.

    The volunteer services team have supported me through everything and have always been there to answer any questions, even if it’s as simple as asking which button I press! I’m also impressed by all of the courses and training that St. Mungo’s provide for their volunteers.

    If you want to volunteer you need to be open minded, and be prepared for failure (you can’t help the world!). Don’t beat yourself up about it and don’t take things personally – a lot of people sleeping rough have a bad history with authorities and may have trust issues.

    My advice for those currently supported by St Mungo’s looking to volunteer is firstly, make sure you can take on this responsibility and make sure you’re putting yourself first. If you’re only just at the beginning of your pathway, I don’t think volunteering is for you…yet! Keep working on yourself and your surroundings first and when you’re firmly on your feet, sign up to volunteer.

    My dream was to become a full-time Outreach Worker for St. Mungo’s…and I got it! So, my hopes for the future, is to be the best ground level outreach worker I can be. If there are 10 levels of being an Outreach Worker, I want to be 11.”

    National Coming Out Day

    Chris, St Mungo’s LGBTQIA+ Diversity Network Co-ordinator shares his thoughts on why National Coming Out Day still matters in 2022.

    “Happily bouncing on a trampoline with my best friend, 10 year old me decided to share something which had been playing through my mind for a while. A scary and confusing puzzle which I needed help figuring out. I knew I was stepping into dark and taboo waters by discussing it, but I trusted my friend to help me with this perplexing puzzle. “Elli, I like looking at men and I don’t know what that means” I mutter, immediately regretting revealing the puzzle to her. She asked what I meant but I quickly dismissed it, saying I was only joking and to forget about it. 10 year old me was not ready yet, so I shelved the puzzle and locked it away.

    Fast forward four years, after much time surfing the internet, which gave me loads of supportive material and the opportunity to meet people who also had the same puzzle, I finally decided to solve it. I stormed into school, approached my friend shaking and excited blurting out: “I’m pretty sure I’m gay.” I was smiling, I felt relief, and I felt nervous. They immediately screamed and hugged me, also sharing they were bi and welcoming me to the club. “This is fantastic,” I thought. “I feel amazing! I want to tell someone else”. By the end of the day I had told nearly everyone I was close to, and the puzzle had finally been solved. It’s been over a decade now where I’ve lived my truest self.

    I came out early in my teen years, and at the time it was quite rare for someone to come out so young (I was ironically coined the “Gay Lord” by other closeted gays in my school year because of it). Thanks to the support I found online, it allowed me to find the courage to reveal my sexuality in a heteronormative society. That’s why National Coming Out Day is so important: Support.

    National Coming Out Day was established in 1988 by American activists Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary. They didn’t want to respond to anti-LGBTQIA+ opinions and views with defensiveness and negativity, so instead they chose to promote positivity and support by creating the day which helped thousands be their authentic selves. The purpose of the day is not to pressure people into coming out, or to shame those who haven’t. The day is there to promote support, awareness, celebrations and the beauty of being your true self.

    Being in the closet is a scary and lonely experience, where the thought of coming out brings anxiety that you’ll be rejected by everyone. The day is important for allowing those individuals who feel locked away to access support and find the courage to be their true self. While coming out can be daunting and scary, it can also be the first time that LGBTQ+ individuals are able to be truly open with the people closest to them.

    National Coming Out Day is also important not just for those in the LGBTQIA+ community, but also for those who are cisgender and/or heterosexual. It promotes and raises awareness to those not in the community and gives them the opportunity to support those who are coming out.

    Is coming out still necessary? Some might say the world is a much more accepting place nowadays. Although it’s somewhat true that society is becoming more accepting, it is far from perfect. ‘Coming Out’ also isn’t just for homosexual cis men like me who have fortunately had a somewhat easy experience. It includes everyone else under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella, large sections of which are still not as widely accepted. Each experience is unique and subjective and all are celebrated under National Coming Out Day.

    At St Mungo’s we are fortunate to have the LGBTQIA+ Diversity Network and many other services to offer support for those who need it. It allows us to create a community of acceptance and belonging within the workplace, which is exactly what National Coming Out Day encourages and promotes. This is why the LGBTQIA+ Diversity Network are hosting a “Human Library” of coming out stories on 11 October 2022, to mark and celebrate the day. By sharing our stories it can help strengthen our belonging in the workplace whilst also giving the opportunity to inspire those who potentially need it.”

    World Homeless Day – Making it someone’s last night on the streets

    Monday 10 October is World Homeless Day – a day which highlights the issue of homelessness and rough sleeping, and to encourage governments and organisations worldwide to take action. At St Mungo’s, our ambition is to make it the last night on the streets for as many people experiencing homelessness as we can.

    Our Last Night on the Streets winter campaign shows the realities and dangers of sleeping rough during the winter months. At St Mungo’s, we work every day and every night, to help people away from the streets and into a safe and warm place they can call home. We’ve used actors in our public campaign but the stories it’s telling are very much real. We hear first-hand how the people we support experience violence and fear when sleeping rough.

     

    It was very important to us that the experiences of the people we support were reflected in our campaign. We spoke to people we have supported into accommodation and recovery to talk about how it felt to know that it was their own last night on the streets.

    Sam’s story:

    Sam, who moved from Manchester to London in 2007 after being kicked out of his home, found himself sleeping rough. Since working with St Mungo’s, he now lives in his own flat and works as an apprentice:

    “That first night on the streets was awful, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. All I had was a blanket and it was really cold. I was awake most of the night – afraid of being stabbed or something.

    After eight months of sleeping rough, an outreach worker told me she’d got me a bed in a hostel and a grant for some new clothes. That first night inside was the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had – going from concrete to a mattress, I slept like a baby.

    From there I moved into a flat where I was supported by St Mungo’s. They treated me as a human. They’d encourage me to come out of my flat to go to events. I could talk to them about anything, and have a laugh and a joke. They helped me get my spark back.

    In May I started my new job. I’m an apprentice at the Department for Work and Pensions, assisting a senior member of staff. The Job Centre put me forward for it but I never thought I would get it. I beat 192 people to the job – I couldn’t believe it when they told me. Now that I have a proper salary I might get a new car, and move into a bigger flat in a few months too. It all feels a bit surreal.”

    At St Mungo’s, we work hard at every stage of the journey to support people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. And while our public campaign focuses mainly on our frontline rough sleeping services, everyone at St Mungo’s – whatever their job – are dedicated to ending homelessness, for good.

    So, over the coming months, we’ll be sharing stories from across St Mungo’s and how we all work to make it someone’s last night on the streets.

    Help make tonight someone’s last night on streets, donate today.

    Celebrating Black History Month

    Anita, an Assessment and Reconnection Worker for St Mungo’s, explains the importance of Black History Month and how St Mungo’s is marking this for it’s employees and volunteers. Anita is part of our BAME Diversity Network, which champions diversity in all of our services and offices and seeks to make sure St Mungo’s is an inclusive environment for everyone.

    October is Black History Month (BHM), an opportunity for everyone to learn about Black history and to celebrate the contributions that Black people have made to society. It was founded in America in 1976, but it was not until 1897 that BHM was first celebrated in the UK.

    Black history was not taught in schools or promoted in the media when I was growing up; and the perception of self and my race was overshadowed by the negative media stereotype of the Black community such as poverty, substance us and lack of education. As Black History Month slowly grew in popularity so too has my understanding and my appreciation of Black history and the accomplishments of my people.

    I wish I knew then what I know now because it would have made such a difference to how I viewed myself and the struggles I faced. To be Black and proud, to walk tall and believe I could accomplish anything in life. I didn’t believe that then but I do now.

    Today I have seen the difference that celebrating Black History Month has made to Black people. My younger children know more about the late and greats of Black history than their older siblings who were born in the 80’s. My children will say “Mum did you know that the first open heart surgery was performed by a Black man?”. I did not know this at that time, but knowing this now makes me proud of who I am and hopeful for the future. My children believe they can be great because they see themselves represented in all walks of life.

    The themes of this year’s Black History Month are “Black Health and Wellness” and “Time for Change – Action Not Words”. It is a call for long term action not short term gestures. What can we do as a community to make real change?

    Black History Month is an opportunity for us all to step up and get involved, educate ourselves and educate others. A time to change the stereotypes and negative media narrative and honour our Black leaders and the positive contributions of Black culture to society. Let’s go one step further and break down the barriers of injustice, and inequalities that still exist in society today.

    For me everyday is an opportunity to change the narrative, but Black History Month is a special time of year where we can go all out to remember the late and great people of Black history, but more importantly to keep fighting for change so our children have a better tomorrow.

    In honour of Black History Month, St Mungo’s BAME Network is holding multiple events including Black Health and Wellness event, a Q&A with the BAME Network Executive, a Q&A session with activist Jason Jones, an discussion of authors with Shanice McBean and a Black Leaders Inspire Event with our Executive Director of Housing.

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