Jenny grew up living with her grandparents. After caring for her grandma from a young age, she found a passion for helping people. She is now studying to become a social worker at Anglia Ruskin University and recently completed a placement with one of our Outreach teams in South London. This is her story.
When I was growing up, I lived with my grandparents. My grandad passed away when I was 13 years old and my grandma’s mobility gradually reduced as she got older. Eventually, she was unable to do simple day to day activities and when I was 15 years old I started caring for her.
It was difficult because I was unable to socialise with my friends like a normal 15 year old would, but when I did go out the guilt of leaving my grandma on her own would affect me. I think caring for my grandma made me grow up quicker and made me more mature. Looking back now, I don’t regret it at all – I preferred spending my time with her. I cared for her until she died and then started working as a health care assistant at a hospital.
While working on the hospital wards, I offered patients moral support, especially those who didn’t have family or whose family lived far away. Once, I was caring for an elderly lady who was blind. I realised other staff members didn’t have enough time to spend just with her, so I would often try to sit with her and have a chat. I learnt what she enjoyed and what her life was like before she became blind. She was the person who suggested that I should become a social worker. I did some research and found that it would be a perfect role for me; it was as if I was reading about myself. So I decided to pursue the career and started a university course.
During my second year of study, my university connected me with St Mungo’s for a work placement. I didn’t know anything about St Mungo’s until I was allocated the placement. However, I was always curious about why so many people, especially men, are affected by homelessness. My placement was with an Outreach team in South London. It was perfect for me.
My time with the Outreach team was wonderful. I had the opportunity to help people and did some awesome work. We’d go out to people who were sleeping on the street and explain who we were and what type of service we could offer them. If they wanted to take the offer, people could come back to our office for an assessment.
In an Outreach team it’s important to treat people’s situations sensitively, as often they are in stressful circumstances. You encounter people experiencing mental health issues, people who have been let down in the past and people who may have drug or alcohol dependency. Sometimes people prefer not to engage with us at first, but while on shift, I always made sure I showed them compassion, listened to their views, gave them space and encouraged them to engage with the services we could offer them.
People who are homeless are often stereotyped, but when you listen to their story and how they ended up being homeless, you realise that homelessness can happen to anyone. The people I met who were on the streets, they once had careers. I met one person who was a social worker, another who was a probation officer – it can happen to anyone.
One time I was asked to go to the housing office with a couple who were looking to access temporary housing. For the first time it was just me and another student, so it was a big challenge. The outcome was good. The couple were going to be rehoused, but they were also going to be split up. They disagreed with the decision and I had to advocate on their behalf. I felt they would be set up to fail because they depended on each other so much. Eventually, it was agreed that they would be housed together. It was brilliant and such a big confidence boost for me. I was so happy and everyone was so over the moon.
I was with the St Mungo’s Outreach team for almost six months. Now, I have one year left of my course and I am about to go on another placement. This time I will be working with children, which I’m looking forward to as I have never worked with children before. I am keeping my options open at the moment before I decide on my speciality, but I’ve still got St Mungo’s and their clients in mind.
I learnt a lot from the Outreach team that will really help me to progress forward. I learnt about time management and being resilient – we never gave up on people – as well as how to work under pressure and manage stress on a personal and professional level. My journey as a whole was brilliant.
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.