Jim started working for St Mungo’s in 1982. He now works part time at The Lodge, a service in central London that offers accommodation to older people who have a long history of rough sleeping.
On 5 July 1982 I started working at the St Mungo’s hostel in Charing Cross. I was unemployed and needed a job. A friend of mine was working there and he thought I might be suited to this kind of work.
At that time there were maybe 300 people living there in dormitories, although there were some individual, double and triple rooms. It was all men living there: Irish, Scots, a lot of British ex-servicemen.
It was a huge building; it was used during the war for wounded soldiers. After it closed down we did a tour of the whole building and there were parts of it I never knew existed!
I then became deputy manager of a hostel in Cromwell Road, west London. It was opened as a working men’s hostel. In those days people worked quite a bit for cash in hand. All the hotels and restaurants in the West End would phone up for kitchen porters. It was part of your job to go around asking if anyone wanted a kitchen porter job for the afternoon. So quite a lot of the lads went there and got cash in hand for that.
After that I moved to north London – Tufnell Park – as the manager of St Mungo’s first care home, looking after older men aged over 55. The service opened in 1984 and is still managed by St Mungo’s today.
One of the big differences back then, compared to now, was that there were fewer borough boundaries so you could support clients from other areas to come in to get help. Now movement is generally restricted to within boroughs.
“He lost everything”
I remember so many people over the years but some do stand out.
People may remember Spot the Ball in the newspaper. You had a picture of a football match and you had to put a cross where you thought the ball was. There was one man at Charing Cross who won a Spot the Ball competition – £82,000 and a new car. I remember it clearly; there was a photo of him in the newspaper in a hotel. Big smile.
Sadly, three years later one very wet November evening, the doorbell rang at Tufnell Park and there he was. He lost everything. He never smoked or drank. He said he had gone back to the north of England, opened a little café and got involved with two crooked accountants who took everything. Very, very sad; he had no place to live. We managed to find him a place to stay.
“Camaraderie was something special”
It wasn’t until the 1990s that we had specific projects for women. Later in the 2000s we started to have mixed projects. At that early time rough sleeping seemed to be almost exclusively male. In places like Lincoln’s Inn Fields and the Bullring there were hundreds of men.
While I was at Tufnell Park we opened another project which offered temporary shelter in six portacabins, and one of them was for women.
That was an amazing project. It was kind of like a little community on its own; five rooms in each with a shared kitchen and common room. The camaraderie was something special. I remember people missed it when they moved out. They would come back saying how isolated they were.
Accommodation is better now. There are no shared rooms unless people want to share. Certainly no dormitories and the projects are smaller. In terms of personal security I think there’s a lot more awareness and a lot more protection for people now.
I retired as an area manager but decided to come back part time to The Lodge as I still enjoy working with people. The people here have been through so much in their lives and have such talents. We do crosswords, have a cup of tea, chat about the news, what’s on TV, go on the computer with them, whatever people need.
We work at building trust and helping clients feel safe and at home. We also support people with benefits, attending appointments, and helping them find work and move into their own accommodation.
St Mungo’s has changed a lot since I first started but what’s still important is the connection, being able to talk to people.
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.