Julia Jarrett MBE, has been working at St Mungo’s for thirty years. She moved to the North London Women’s Hostel as Service Manager three years ago, working with vulnerable women who have experienced homelessness. This is her story.
I work with women who are extremely traumatised
Working with traumatised women can be heart-breaking and challenging. In my first year four residents told me they’d been raped but didn’t want to report it as they felt the police wouldn’t do anything. These bright, intelligent women were just completely battered by everything. That was harrowing to see. We got through it by talking about it and by doing a lot of reflective practice.
It was St Mungo’s first women-only hostel
As a women-only hostel we provide a safe place to stay, as well as help and support for females who are made homeless through sex work, substance abuse, mental and physical health issues or domestic violence. Some of the women may have endured the lot so they have to be assessed for 7-12 weeks to see how best we can help them.
There’s more women only facilities now so that’s great. When I started in 1989, it was very different. Women needed a place away from men where they felt safe, where they didn’t feel harassed. It’s safer for them and makes it easier for their recovery. We focus on building good relationships and trust. We try to move people to supported housing or rented homes but we do have some who stay here longer. We’ve had a woman who’s stayed here for seven years because she has so many complex needs.
I’ve seen a lot in 30 years
I left school at 16 and started working in residential care before moving to London at 22. I got a job at St Mungo’s in Harrow Road working with older men over 50 with mental health issues. In 30 years I’ve seen it all. There were no computers, phones or fancy gadgets, it was all handwritten on ledgers. In the early days, it was mattresses on floors and six or seven people to a room. Now we have 31 beds and a communal relaxation area where people can play games and watch television. We also have a lovely garden.
Years ago, I had to lock myself in the office at times when residents got out of hand. One time, my phone was grabbed off of me before I could lock the door. Another time, someone threw furniture at me. I’ve also seen a lot of tragedy, a lot of people who didn’t make it, which is sad.
Something just clicks in their heads
Some women will find it very challenging to overcome the issues they are facing, but sometimes something just clicks in their heads. I’m proud of all the women, they’re survivors. With our help they’ve turned it all around. It can take people decades but they can do it if they want to do it. Recovery takes time. There’s no quick fix.
Some of the women go on to do better things. For instance, we have two women who have started a six month bakery course which is great for their self-confidence. It’s great when people I’ve helped to recover go on to do well. One person I work with at a mixed hostel now works for St Mungo’s too. He’s come a long way since he was homeless in a hostel. I’m incredibly proud.
You could have knocked me down with a feather when I got an MBE
When I told my mum I was going to work at St Mungo’s she said: “What on earth are you doing” – as there’s a negative perception of homeless people. But here I am thirty years later with an MBE for services to the homeless! It was lovely and such a surprise.
I’ll be at St Mungo’s until I retire
I really enjoy the job, you have to. It’s not the type of work you can do just to get a Friday pay packet. You have to be committed. Nothing surprises me anymore. I switch off by running, walking and taking exercise classes. I’m definitely here until the day I retire.
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.