Alex first volunteered with St Mungo’s in 2012, advising on delivering social enterprises to help clients in hostels find pathways into work. Since November 2018, he has been volunteering with StreetLink, the service which St Mungo’s manages in partnership with Homeless Link that helps connect people who are sleeping rough with local services available to them. This is his story.
It’s very difficult not to be aware of homelessness. I’ve lived in London all my life and it’s been clear that homelessness and a lack of accommodation and appropriate services has been an issue all along. But, it’s a problem that’s been getting worse and worse in recent years, and one that unfortunately doesn’t go away.
I can remember, as quite a young child, being in Paris with my parents and walking to a restaurant one evening, and being shocked to see an old man lying across the pavement. Everyone walked over him as though he was just an obstruction. That was in the mid-50s, but you see the same sights in London now, so unfortunately it’s still a problem.
I first heard about St Mungo’s a number of years ago and, at the time, I was well aware of St Mungo’s as an entity that ran hostels. Back in 2012, I did a few months’ work advising on ways to increase external revenue/investment into training activities that assisted St Mungo’s clients in hostels to find pathways into work (e.g. furniture manufacture, a digital music studio, and training in building various trade skills).
More recently, I went to a volunteering fair at the Victoria & Albert Museum and met a St Mungo’s colleague who told me about StreetLink, and that’s how I began working at StreetLink last November.
Volunteering with Streetlink
I’d been looking to try and find something to engage with – my wife and I were already working with a local food bank where we live – and I thought that StreetLink sounded like a very interesting service. The StreetLink team are very dedicated people, very efficient, and very friendly. They should be congratulated for running a service that has about 100 volunteers involved and only seven members of staff, who keep those 100 volunteers motivated and active.
Having volunteered for several months at StreetLink, coming in for a couple of days a week and doing around 10 to 12 hours during that time, you tend to come across a number of situations time and time again. Inevitably some people who call us are in tears or sometimes shouting. It’s important to be calm, to listen, to absorb what they’ve got to say, and to try and be helpful and reassuring, whether it is a self-referral or a member of the public referring someone sleeping rough.
There isn’t always a need to send an alert out for local outreach teams because people can often get help during the day time from an appropriate centre or service. I’ve also found in many cases, especially out of London where services are much thinner on the ground, that there may not be much we at StreetLink can do. Sometimes people just want to talk, and just giving people the ability to talk and have someone listen to them is very helpful in its own right.
We don’t know what happens to people after StreetLink as we’re a signposting portal through which people go into services. However, I volunteered with an outreach team one night and we found someone, an ex-military policeman, at the bottom of a building staircase. He had been homeless for the best part of two years, travelling through Derby, York, Colchester and London. Because he was new to homeless services in London we managed to get him into No Second Night Out – another St Mungo’s run service. A week later when I was at my desk at StreetLink, I was very pleased to hear that he was in accommodation and had been connected with a doctor too as he had a serious untreated condition.
In terms of the clients of StreetLink, I wish them well and I always hope that something positive will happen.
In terms of StreetLink itself, I hope the excellent team that runs the service can work with its external sponsors to enhance and develop much needed services for rough sleepers.
For myself, I’ve always been interested in innovation having spent thirty plus years taking innovative scientific idea into practical business implementation, and since 2000 I’ve also been working with a variety of not-for-profits and charities in the developing world and in the UK. I’m very interested in using old skills to explore new ways to bring innovation to the delivery of much needed services for the homelessness sector, and other social sectors needing better resourced and efficient service delivery.
Our 50 year history is filled with some extraordinary people. To mark our anniversary, we will be profiling 50 Lives throughout 2019 – a snapshot of those who have played their part in our story. You can read the stories on our website at www.mungos.org/50-lives.