Jill is the service manager for two St Mungo’s women-only hostels in south London. She previously worked in Canada in services providing supported housing for adults with complex needs.
I’ve always been drawn to working with women, and making sure that services are appropriate for them.
A lot of the women we work with do much better in a women-only service. Many have had negative experiences in the past of domestic violence so being around men really limits their ability to feel safe and work on the next steps of their lives.
I would say that working with women presents different challenges to working with men. Many of the women we work with have some kind of trauma in their past. It could be from their childhood, it could be domestic violence or family breakdown. There are things that have happened in the past that are still fresh in their mind and they struggle with that every single day.
A safe place, just for women
When I think about the work we do, what I always come back to is that we are able to provide women with a safe place to stay. We have a building where women have their own rooms, the doors have locks on them, there’s a gate out front for security and staff on site to support them.
Once we have that, we can do everything else. We can get people sorted with budgeting, with physical health, with mental health, with substance use concerns. We work with women to identify their goals and aspirations and we support them to achieve them.
The idea is to help our women residents feel really stable and then slowly remove ourselves and create that independence, so that when a woman is ready to move on, we’re not needed anymore.
Small things can make a big impact
I really like doing cards for clients to recognise success and say thank you if they have helped around the hostel. We have a bunch of cards – thank you cards, birthday cards, get well soon cards, “you did it!” cards.
It’s about helping people to feel included and part of a community. Many of the women put them up on the walls in their room, which I think shows that something so small can have a big impact. It’s always cool to see all the little cards up on someone’s wall.
Birthdays can be really hard if you’ve had bad experiences in the past or you’re not able to celebrate with family. For us to be able to say “it’s your birthday, you deserve a cake and a card and we are going to wish you a happy birthday” is so important. We do a lot of fun activities too – we’ve done flower arranging using flowers from the garden, and some of the women got together to visit the Natural History Museum. What really sticks in my mind are all those normal, everyday things – the little happy moments – that mean a lot to the women we work with, who have been in survival mode for so long.
Hope for the future
I found out about St Mungo’s when I started looking for jobs after I came to the UK. The charity does so much – there was so much breadth of opportunity. I’ve found that the client needs are very similar to what I saw working in housing in Canada: the struggles with substance use, with mental health, with budgeting and the lack of services.
I think there’s a lot of work to be done, but there are a lot of different approaches you can take and there are always new and exciting things to try out. Whenever I tell people what I do, they always say “oh, that must be difficult,” and it is challenging, but it’s very rewarding.
We hear some tough stories in our work, but I think the women here are so resilient. They’re here, they’re doing amazing things, they’ve got hopes and dreams for the future and they want things to improve. It’s really inspiring and I really like hearing about where the women want to go next and celebrating their successes.
When I go home at the end of the day and I think about the work that I do, I know there are 18 women in one hostel and eight in another who have a safe place to stay that night, and I’m happy – I’ve done my job.
Read our new Women’s Strategy, outlining our commitment to continue to improve our services for women and influence policy on women’s homelessness.
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.