How St Mungo’s Supports Women

    16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual United Nations campaign that runs from 25 November to 10 December, and this year’s theme is UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls.

    In this blog, we look at the services provided by St Mungo’s to support women experiencing homelessness and hear from Michelle Chapman, one of our Domestic Abuse Navigators, about her work.

    The experience of homelessness can vary greatly between men and women. The heightened risk of domestic abuse and sexual violence against women can act as both a potential cause and effect of homelessness, and from the women we support at St Mungo’s, we know that safety is often their most crucial concern.

    As a survivor of abuse herself, Michelle understands the impact that this can have:

    “Being a survivor and working with survivors to me is the ultimate privilege. I see the strength that they have to survive on the streets. They have survived before I knew them and always managed, no matter how hard it is.

    But I also see a fragility in them that’s hidden behind those harsh exteriors and the ravages of a life that some of us can only imagine. The fragility extends to everyone who is in a situation that is beyond their control, whether it is because of their mental health or just the trials of life.”

    At St Mungo’s we provide women-only services and spaces to prevent women being re-traumatised by accessing support with male clients, particularly if they have experienced violence or abuse from a male perpetrator. We believe that women in all areas should have the choice to access mixed or women-only services and spaces based on their safety and preference.

    Health problems are also a major issue, and the average age of death for a woman sleeping rough is just 43. Both women and men alike who are experiencing homelessness are at high risk of physical health problems and are often exposed to further harm from smoking, substance use, poor diet and dangerous living conditions.

    “Some of the girls I support may have addictions and seek to get ‘their fix’ early in the day. Drugs briefly remove them from the harsh realities of life to that comfortable place they call normality.”

    Women who experiencing homelessness also have the same physical health concerns as women in the general population, but these are less commonly considered within homelessness services. For example, it is essential that women experiencing homelessness still have access to early detection and screening services, including cervical smear testing and breast cancer screening, as well as age-related health checks.

    At St Mungo’s, our colleagues never give up on the people we support. Frontline workers like Michelle spend a great deal of time building trust and working with women to create practical and personal strategies, helping them to move away from the streets safely, and working with them alongside service-based staff throughout the process to ensure a real recovery from homelessness.

    “Today’s a good day and one of the women who doesn’t normally engage with me is eager to talk. Normally I am chasing for this but I have found that leaving a message on a note card is the magic key to start a conversation. It’s brief, but nonetheless we chatted. The foundations for future meetings are there and this makes me smile.

    I wonder how the world sees these girls. The judgements are always hiding under the surface and I wonder if they knew their stories if they would they feel any different. The nature of the job means that frustrations constantly play with my emotions, as no matter what we do it never feels like it is enough. But the reality is that we are all doing something and we will continue to support these women, no matter what.”

    If you’re concerned about someone you’ve seen sleeping rough, please contact StreetLink to refer an individual to local homelessness support services.

     

    What UK Disability History Month means to me.

    Anna, our Locality and Community Engagement Coordinator shares what UK Disability History Month means to her.

    To me, UK Disability History Month is special, because it places a spotlight on disabled people that live and thrive in both their professional and personal lives despite how their disability might affect them. It’s a month where the creativity and achievements of people with disabilities are celebrated. It is also a unique time where we can challenge ableism and help achieve even greater equality.

    I have Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is a complex type of disability. The reason why I have it is because my immune system is not working properly. It’s a condition that affects my spine and brain. With MS, your immune system, which would normally help to fight off infections, mistakes myelin for a foreign body and attacks it. This damages the myelin and strips it from the nerve fibres, either slightly or completely, leaving scars known as lesions. This type of damage disrupts the messages that travel along nerve fibres.
    The specific symptoms that appear depend on which part of your central nervous system has been affected, and the job of the damaged nerve.

    Symptoms could vary and they are different for everyone. They could be issues related to your vision, balance, emotions, memory or thinking.

    When I joined St Mungo’s I also joined their Disability Action Network. I am keen to raise awareness on non-visible disabilities. Visibly, if you bump into me at our service or on the street, you will not realize that I am disabled. People associate disability with visible elements, such as a wheelchair, a missing limb, a walking stick, or a white cane, but not only people with visible disabilities are disabled. There is so much more than that to being disabled.

    St Mungo’s has been great in supporting me with my disability. I have felt empowered and included during my time with the organisation. I think in order to support diversity and inclusion at work, we must always look out for our unconscious biases and make sure that the organisation and its staff make it easy for all employees to participate in all activities. We need to always make sure that policies are frequently revised and improved to make sure that every employee and client is appreciated and represented in all of them.

    This might sound a cliché but I love everything about my job. I live close to where I work so I enjoy combining my love for the local community with my dedication to St Mungo’s values and ethos.

    The purpose of my role is to enhance and develop the working practices and culture between all the services in the local area. I work closely with people who have experienced homelessness, our colleagues who work in services and the local community to improve engagement. At the same time, I aim to galvanize support for St Mungo’s goal that everyone should have a home and should be able to fulfil their hopes and ambitions.

    16 Days of Activism

    Each year, St Mungo’s marks the 16 Days of Activism on domestic abuse and gender based violence, starting on 25 November with the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ending on 10 December with Human Rights Day. Jill Thursby, Women and Domestic Abuse Matrix Lead, explains how homelessness and domestic abuse are linked and how St Mungo’s is taking action.

    As Women and Domestic Abuse Matrix lead, my role is to improve things for St Mungo’s women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

    We know from our work that the causes, experiences and solutions for homelessness are different for women. In particular, women carry the added burden of gender-based violence, which can be both a cause and a consequence of homelessness.

    A safe and secure home is the first step to recovery, so we must do all we can to keep women safe from abuse. That’s why we’ve recognised that our biggest challenge is creating an environment of physical and psychological safety for our female clients. Women face disproportionate risk of harm from people they love and trust as well as the dangers of homelessness. We know that expecting women to thrive in traditional, male-dominated homelessness services is not good enough.

    Hidden Homelessness

    Research commissioned from the University of York highlights the hidden harm of women sleeping rough. Women on the streets are exposed to frightening risks of sexual harassment, abuse and violence, but hiding from harm can also mean that women are hidden from help.

    The 16 Days give us the chance to us to bring the issue of women’s hidden homelessness to light. Across the organisation, we’ll be having honest conversations about abuse and, relationships and connecting people with specialist support.

    St Mungo’s was proud to be a part of the recent London Women’s Rough Sleeping Census, aiming to better capture data about the extent of women’s rough sleeping. Findings from the census will not only evidence need, but also inform future provision.

    The United Nations’ themes for this year’s campaign is UNiTE! Activism to end violence against women and girls. We must make sure that the global movement against harassment and abuse also reaches women who are homeless and hidden. We need action in government and in homelessness services to ensure that the needs of women experiencing homelessness are met.

    If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, you can contact a specialist organisation for support:
    National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247
    National LGBT+ Helpline: 0800 999 5428
    Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327

    Providing support to people experiencing homelessness in our rapid response service

    In this blog, Sophie, No Second Night Out (NSNO) Manager shares how our rapid response service, NSNO is helping people to have their last night on the streets.

    Our NSNO service has changed a lot in the last few years through the covid-19 pandemic. We moved from ‘shared space’ assessment hubs which allowed 25 people a safe place to sleep to a different model. Now, we operate with Assessment Hubs; three of these working with people from all over London who have been sleeping rough.

    People who have been sleeping rough are brought into one of the three hubs by outreach teams. There they are greeted by Assessment and Reconnection Workers who conduct a thorough assessment of their circumstances and what led to their rough sleeping. They then use this to formulate a plan to help them in their recovery from homelessness and move them into safe and secure appropriate accommodation.

    In addition to the hubs, we have four ‘Staging Posts’ and are still operating a large hotel in Waterloo. In total we have 233 beds; 25 of these are for people with complex immigration cases and who have no recourse to public funds.

    People are referred from the hubs into these ‘staging posts’ so that they can have a private room whilst we continue to support them in their recovery. We aim to move people in these hubs into accommodation within six weeks. As well as providing warmth, safety and respite from the dangers of rough sleeping, it allows us to work quickly to resolve their homelessness and to understand the support they need to feel empowered and involved in their established move on plans. It’s amazing to be able to work with people and see the difference having privacy and space after days, weeks, months or sometimes even years on the streets can have – to see them settle in and see the positive effects this has.

    From here, or directly from the hubs, we support people most often into:

    • Emergency accommodation via the Local Authority. This is for individuals who are particularly vulnerable and eligible for immediate support and assistance owing to their support needs
    • Supported accommodation and then longer term supported housing
    • Private Rented Sector accommodation
    • Clearing House properties

    As the people we’re supporting come to us from sleeping rough on the streets, it is crucial to build a relationship of trust. We work hard to ensure the balance of supporting them by providing a rapid service whilst ensuring that we get to know them as individuals. Often people who’ve experienced homelessness come in feeling distrustful, and understandably so when they may have felt rejected or unsupported by statutory services or friends and family. A huge part of our role is proactively signposting, advocating and connecting them to the support they need whether this be through their council, mental health services or social care.

    This winter, we are continuing this work and as always trying to support people into accommodation as quickly as we can. We are also preparing for Severe Weather Emergency Protocol in the coming months, an emergency response to prevent deaths of people sleeping rough during winter and in prolonged extreme cold. We are also preparing for more intermittent spells of cold weather due to the effects of climate change and are organising this crucial lifesaving provision in NSNO by providing a new building for this purpose.

    St Mungo’s frontline workers can help more people sleeping rough and find them safe beds in from the cold. Your help could make sure more people have their last night on the streets – and their first night of a new life. Find out more here.

    Sangita’s Volunteering Experience

    Sangita has been volunteering with StreetLink, a service that helps connect people who are sleeping rough with local services available to them.

    Here she shares why she recommends volunteering and what is needed to achieve our aim of ending homelessness.

    Why did you choose to volunteer with StreetLink?

    The last few years, including during lockdown, I’ve had the most amazing opportunities in my life which have made me feel so blessed about my situation. I wanted to share the love and help those who are not so fortunate.

    Can you describe what it’s like to volunteer at StreetLink?

    Every call is so different – it’s great to get calls from members of the public, to know there are people who are willing to help others.

    The phone calls can be really challenging – especially when the caller sounds scared or vulnerable but the gratitude and hope I hear in the callers voice makes me realise that just by being the one to have answered the call and listened, I may be making a difference to their life.

    Do you have any moments with StreetLink that stand out?

    One day I received a call from a delivery driver who helped someone who was sleeping rough in Luton to contact us. An hour later, the delivery driver called back to say they had brought the person back to London and would let them sleep in their van until the outreach team could get to them.

    What else do you think is needed to achieve our aim of ending homelessness?

    Ending homelessness starts with fixing what’s broken in society which leads to people sleeping rough; working with authorities and/or social services to make it easier for people to get the help and support they need, and having more temporary accommodation/shelters available in the meantime.

    What advice would you give to someone thinking about volunteering with StreetLink?

    Just do it! Compared to other volunteering helplines, the training & commitment is fairly straightforward and rewarding in a shorter space of time. And, of course, the staff are great, very helpful, supportive and fun!

    Do you have a few hours to spare? Find out more about our volunteering opportunities here.

    UK Disability History Month – Disability, Health and Wellbeing at St Mungo’s.

     

    What is Disability History Month?

    Disability History Month was first celebrated in 2010 and recognises the history of the struggle for equality and human rights for disabled people. Did you know that until 1995 it was completely legal to discriminate against disabled people? But even after the Disability Discriminatory Act (DDA) was passed in 1995, not much changed. The Act aimed to outlaw discrimination against disabled people but it was limited in scope, widely ignored and poorly enforced.

    It was only twelve years ago that the DDA was replaced with the Equality Act (2010), strengthening the protection of disabled people’s rights (in some situations). This underpinned the first official definition of disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities (Equality Act 2010).

    In 2010, multiple disabled led organisations understandably felt the need to have a specific time in the year when the history of their struggle for equality and human rights could be highlighted. As a result of campaigning, 79 Members of Parliament signed an ‘Early Day Motion’ encouraging people to campaign to improve the position of disabled people in society and work to reduce inequality, and urging the Government to ensure that its policies and latest spending cuts would be properly assessed in terms of their impact on people with disabilities so that they would not exacerbate existing inequalities. This saw the beginning of the official Disability History Month which now runs between November and December each year.

    Disability and Homelessness

    Many people who experience homelessness also have disabilities. According to Shelter, 54% of people with a significant disability (1.8m adults) do not have a safe or secure home, compared with 30% of people without a disability. This is not surprising when taking into account that people who live in households where there is one or more disabled people, are more likely to experience poverty. Discrimination in society, at work, and a lack of provision for disabled individuals likely contribute to these statistics.

    Sometimes, depending on their disability, people can also struggle to access homelessness services.

    Disability, Health and Wellbeing at St Mungo’s

    This year’s UK Disability History Month’s theme is Disability, Health and Wellbeing, following the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on those with disabilities.

    At St Mungo’s, just under a quarter of the people we support have a disability. We offer a range of support including specialist care, support with accessing mental and physical health care on the NHS, our own counselling service, and various support services for mental health and addiction needs. Earlier this year, we launched a review into care services for those who have experienced homelessness, highlighting the need for more provision. During the pandemic, we also spearheaded campaigns for free tests for those in homelessness accommodation to continue, and also to encourage those who can to get vaccinated.

    In terms of our staff, about 10% of our employees have disclosed to us that they have a disability. We have a Disability Action Network which advocates for our disabled colleagues, as well as various forms of mental health support, free access to online, out of hours GP and flexible and work from home arrangements. We are a Disability Confident employer.

    Find out more about working for St Mungo’s.

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