Esther works in St Mungo’s Learning and Development team alongside studying several languages and working towards a Masters. But ten years ago, everything came at once when Esther found herself struggling with her immigration status, bereavement and homelessness. This is her story.
I first walked into a St Mungo’s hostel in 2010 towards the end of a three year immigration case.
I’d lived in London hopefully for many years, but in 2008 my application to renew my visa was rejected, dashing the hope of reuniting with my family.
I was told I was no longer eligible to work here and I lost my flat.
I had to rent cheap rooms and move from friend to friend for the next two years until I received permission to work again. But these experiences had taken a toll.
Getting involved helped me cope with despondency
In 2008, there were post-election tribal clashes in my home town in Kenya. I was also dealing with grief following the death of my two siblings, who passed away only four weeks apart. I then lost my dad and husband within months of each other.
Since I came to the UK I struggled because the Home Office was not willing to let my four children join me. This is still my primary and ongoing issue.
All this has led to seasonal struggles with despondency, which still affects me. Back in 2010 I felt like giving up hope. I felt so low for not having a job.
But the hostel staff knew that I was passionate about poetry and music, so while I was signing up for JobSeekers Allowance they encouraged me to record my songs at St Mungo’s Endell Street music studio in Camden and use the Homeless Diamonds magazine to share my poetry and painting.
Then I started doing more volunteering
My first keyworker was an apprentice and they inspired me to start volunteering with the Client Involvement group, Outside In. This impacted me greatly.
We met with St Mungo’s leadership team and were involved in mapping the direction of the organisation. Every person who’s been homeless will tell you how crucial inclusion is – as it is the shunning by society that deepens the rift created when you are already isolated, consequently destroying people’s potential.
My volunteering also saw me abseiling, performing my homeless themed songs at Carol Concerts, Client Festivals and even at the Royal Opera House!
I became the first employee of St Mungo’s Recovery College
St Mungo’s continued to empower me, and I completed a successful apprenticeship through St Mungo’s Apprenticeship Scheme. I became an interim activities coordinator and revived one of St Mungo’s art groups. I organised an exhibition which HRH The Duke of Kent attended.
Soon after my apprenticeship, I became the first employee of St Mungo’s Recovery College in London and,after three terms of steady growth, I joined the Learning and Development team, where I’ve worked for six years. I am St Mungo’s Learning and Development Administrator.
Having a job means I can visit my children and family in Kenya.
But I am still concerned about homelessness
In light of the December election, I recently emailed my MP about his position on homelessness, as I had done in 2017. I wanted him to know that, the more people continue to fall through the gaps in provision, homelessness continues to affect people’s mental and physical health, sometimes irreparably. Every day, people without a place to call home, doubly for immigrants, deal with feelings of being despised.
The vulnerability, the lack of confidence, and feelings of being undermined and that distrust from the public – it disables people’s self-worth and, at times, the desire to live.
People who’ve been homeless can achieve so much
What is my situation now?
Well, I’ve maximised the organisation’s flexible working to fulfil my lifelong dream – going to university.
Thanks to support from my team, I successfully completed my degree in Creative Writing & English in the summer. In October, I started a Masters in Near & Middle Eastern Studies with Hebrew. Once I have conquered Arabic, Farsi and Turkish too, I’d like to volunteer in the Middle East.
I would like people to know that St Mungo’s encourages staff including those with lived experience, to identify and to pursue their personal development, and to fulfil their individual and diverse wishes.
But, more importantly, the organisation offers our clients “a room of one’s own.” Here they can re-write their past and sketch their future because, in my book, it helps to have space to cry from.
We put our clients first, I know from experience.
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.