Scott is a former member of our Client Advisory Board. In 2016, he became homeless and soon found himself sleeping rough. In this written piece, Scott discusses his situation back then and how St Mungo’s supported him to find full employment and a place to call home…
Hello, my name is Scott. I was a member of St Mungo’s Client Advisory Board (CAB).
The CAB is made up of current or former clients who regularly review papers that are going to St Mungo’s Board of Trustees and offer our views and recommendations on them.
We sit on the Client Advisory Board for two years and then others are nominated or selected from among St Mungo’s clients.
I have just completed my two year tenure as a CAB member and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I am now becoming involved with specific projects, for example, a working group focused on promoting clients’ recovery, which is very exciting.
I was born British but grew up in Australia. As a teenager, one of my step father’s favourite taunts was to not-so-politely suggest my Dad and I go back to the UK “where we belonged”.
Well, years later, here I am!
In Australia I had a home that I bought with my partner, and a career in the Wealth Management / Financial services and IT sectors. My last job there was with one of the Big Four banks, helping them demonstrate to the Prudential Regulator how they complied with new Responsible Lending legislation. They were paying me $850 per day.
Please believe me when I say I did not come back to the UK to live on £73 per week and eventually become homeless.
When I did return, I was unable to quickly find my usual work, so I worked for a company who run tourist hostels in the UK. Two years and £5,000 poorer I decided to try my hand at getting back to my usual work. This was not very successful.
Once my savings were spent, I applied for benefits. My budget had to be pruned further so things like meals and my weekend social drink went.
I was now living in a long term “student style” hostel, sharing a room with two other men who I did not know. One of them assaulted me while I was sleeping in my bed.
Things continued to go downhill. Despite being moved for my safety, it took my local council six weeks to approve my new rent assistance. No one’s fault but each move is considered by the council as a fresh benefit application. The council will tell you that they must make a decision within 10 days. But those 10 days reset with every interaction with them.
In this second hostel I began being harassed by a couple of long-term residents. I tried to ignore this for as long as I could. I no longer had enough money in the bank to last without Council assistance.
So after eight months I just moved out. I went to the cheapest tourist hostels I could find and sought help from the council. That was in June 2016. Obviously, I ran out of money.
It’s amazing how “practical” you become once life is reduced to you and a bag or two. You gotta do what you gotta do!
It was sleeping on the steps of an old church that I met two guys who described themselves as “Professional Rough Sleepers”. They got up each morning and went to work. Thankfully, they took me under their wing.
These two gents introduced me to the West London Day Centre where I was registered on “CHAIN“, the Combined Homelessness and Information Network, and given a letter to take to the council to ask for help again.
The council said that I still didn’t make it as a ‘priority customer’. They arranged for an outreach worker to see me but said that it would take eight weeks for that to happen.
The night I became verified on CHAIN, an outreach team contacted through the West London Day Centre, woke me at 2am and took me to the No Second Night Out Hub in North London. I spent a week there before the awesome guys and girls from St Mungo’s took me in.
You do not have to have alcohol or substance abuse issues to become homeless.
With my business analyst hat on, and with the benefit of hindsight, had the council simply paid the £129 to cover my rent for the week, the cost to the council would have been significantly lower than the cost of me staying at the St Mungo’s hostel which is staffed 24 hours each day.
Through St Mungo’s I had a safe place to sleep, great food in my belly and felt like part of the community again. Kind donations to Mungo’s clothed me. I was given the time, space and support to recover.
All the team at Mungo’s are fantastic, but a special thanks had to be given to my key worker Shawn, who worked tirelessly on my behalf as we navigated through the system to find me a longer-term place to live.
Through Mungo’s I was able to begin fulfilling my desire to contribute to our great community. The Outside In programme helps us get involved from a clients’ perspective.
Also, through Mungo’s I was given the support to start looking for work again.
Indeed, it was through the Employment Team and one of the very special employers who have been participating in the “Roll-On-Monday” programme, where I enjoyed a three-month work placement. This evolved in to a 12 month fixed term contract. I was the fifth person through the programme to be working with one of the top firms of solicitors in London.
My manager John together with Laura from HR had been working alongside St Mungo’s for a few years. They certainly helped restore some dignity for me.
When I told the Jobcentre’s work placement company that I was starting a three-month work placement, I was incorrectly told to close my claim, which I did. I then spent the first three days of my work trial trying to rapid reclaim so that I didn’t become homeless again. Thank goodness the firm was so patient. Not a good look, taking time off when you are on a work trial.
Now I’m a fairly tough old buzzard, but based on my personal experience, I would hope that the following can be addressed for others who find themselves in similar situations:
- Councils need to be able to actually help prevent people sleeping rough, even if they are not considered a priority for housing. It’s better and probably a lot cheaper to spend money on prevention than on the cure. It’s simply not good enough to allow people to fall over, only to then pick them back up.
- The benefit system needs to respond faster when someone is in a crisis and needs to be flexible when people’s lives change.
- The Jobcentre is too blunt an instrument. My job coach’s dismay that I didn’t have interview clothes with me while on the street is testament enough.
Regardless of all the challenges life has thrown my way in the past few years, I am still very passionate about this amazing country.
Now, I have my own flat which I was able to furnish – a place to call home – and I have recently started a new job as a data analyst at an engineering company.
Of course, I’ll never forget the many wonderful selfless people who have helped me.
I look forward to our future.
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.