Phil has been volunteering with St Mungo’s for ten years. He has drawn from his own experience of homelessness to help mentor and support clients at St Mungo’s hostels in London that offer housing and mental health support. This is his story.
I first became aware of homelessness as an issue, when I became homeless myself.
Before, I was a market trader. I had a coffee shop in Greenwich, three market stalls in Deptford and one market stall in Woolwich. I had a lovely house and I had my family.
But I had some of the issues that some of our residents have here – drug and alcohol use, and mental health.
Eventually I lost my kids, I lost my wife, I lost my house – I lost everything. My family and all my materials things. I ended up on people’s sofas with a sleeping bag.
I needed to change my behaviour. I needed to change the way that I was. I started going to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous and pulled myself together. I haven’t used drugs for 20 years now.
I first heard about St Mungo’s when I was working for a small charity in Wimbledon called Faith in Action. The manager’s husband worked for St Mungo’s and gave me some information about volunteering.
I helped to run a lunch club at one of the hostels. We’d take clients out to buy ingredients, then we’d come back and they would help prepare and cook the meal. We’d all sit down together and talk about the food, talk about the weekend, talk about sport – chew the fat.
Over the years, I’ve changed my role two or three times. I’ve worked one to one with people, spending a lot of time with them.
I remember working with a client who was reluctant to engage with support. He was a nice guy, but he had lots of problems with his mental health and other issues too. He wouldn’t go out, he wouldn’t cook, he wouldn’t shop, he wouldn’t clean himself – he wouldn’t do anything.
I worked with him for two years, mentoring him, going out to events and appointments with him. Now he’s found a flat of his own to live in and his mental health is better. He’s doing his own shopping and his own cooking. As I think about that -a shiver comes over me, because he’s done so well.
There was another guy, who came to the country and didn’t have a passport. He was homeless and was having issues with his mental health. It was a battle but he stayed at a St Mungo’s hostel, and they helped him get a passport and his citizenship.
He’s now a lecturer in a college – I saw him recently and couldn’t believe it.
By volunteering, I am giving back what was freely given to me, especially to St Mungo’s and the residents here.
The last three years have been tough for me. After my daughter passed away, I nearly went the other way.
But, I have lovely grandkids and they’re my life now. I have a home. I have a lovely rescue dog, TJ, who helps keep me safe and sane.
I took some time off after I lost my daughter, and my managers and colleagues at St Mungo’s all phoned me and sometimes visited. With the support of my family and all of the members of staff at St Mungo’s, I’m getting through it and have stayed strong. I’m still here to tell my tale.
I love volunteering and really enjoy the trips we go on. We get to learn about different places and how different people live. But the beautiful thing about it for me is that the residents get to be themselves. Nobody knows us and nobody knows where we come from. When people see us, we are just people – it’s fantastic.
I try to talk to people I see sleeping rough, and I always have information for people in my bag too.
Homelessness seems to be at its worse. When I leave my house and walk up the main road, all you see is people in doorways. We shouldn’t have this problem in one of the richest countries in the world.
But as long as I can do my bit, reaching people and helping them, then that’s good enough for me.
When I finish a shift, I go home, sit on my sofa and stroke my dog. I think about the conversations I’ve had with clients that morning and it makes my day. I can sit there, not restless, and put my feet up in my lovely home. I am so grateful for what I’ve got.
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.