Sonia is the manager of our Lambeth Vulnerable Adults service, which supports 106 people living in 17 properties in the borough. She has been helping people who are homeless for 32 years. This is her story.
I was on the way into work this morning, and someone called to me on the street “Hey, Sonia, how are you? Thank you so much”. I smiled back and then they were gone, but I recognised them as someone who had been in our service a few years ago. That really made my day.
I’m originally from Oxford, my family are still there, but I’ve lived in London a long time. As my children got older, I started to job share in the Eddie Brindley Collective, a housing collective in Camberwell South London.
I really liked working face to face with people and that led me to study to be a social worker. That was a good time, a different time, also a time of personal and professional development.
I worked in a couple of small voluntary sector organisations before joining Broadway in 2011, and then Broadway merged with St Mungo’s in 2014. I worked in various roles before becoming manager of the Lambeth Vulnerable Adults service.
We’re a team of 11 who support people in shared supported housing, help people pay their bills, look after themselves, engage with services, live well independently and be ready to move into their own places, usually in private rented flats. When I started working in homelessness everyone was offered social housing – this is no longer the case – one of the many changes I have seen over the years.
I was asked the question if I had the opportunity to sit with the new prime minister, what three things would I ask to see change in the future? I would ask for:
- Health and social care budgets to be increased
- More social housing to be built
- A review of the welfare benefit system
Some people move in to our service with nothing. We offer a starter pack as people arrive. Someone may not have cups or plates so the pack includes crockery, bedding, and the basics. The rooms come fully furnished.
Some of our clients may have used alcohol or drugs in their lives. When they’re in their own place, it’s about connecting them with places they can go in the area, checking, for example, if they know what to do in a crisis – who to call, where to go. We also help people if they have any problems with their benefits, helping with maximising the benefits they are entitled to.
When I was younger, I was homeless for a while, with a young child. That was challenging. I went to the council and they put us in B&B’s but that was no good at all so I went back and we were put in temporary accommodation. I know what it’s like and how hard it can be.
I love people. I love seeing positive outcomes, sometimes it’s the small things that matter. Some things have changed for the better and others are now not so good. Throughout the years I’ve worked with and met some nice people along the way. Brilliant managers as well, so encouraging and supportive.
For me it’s all about the small steps. You show people that you care about them and the small steps can lead to bigger changes. For example, you can be talking to someone for a long time about going to visit the doctor’s or going to try something new, and one day they do it. They have pre-contemplated, contemplated and taken action. When you see someone take that next step it’s wonderful.
Don’t get me wrong it’s been a journey and there have been many challenges, which you have to learn to overcome.
A good day is when there are no emergencies, when you sit down with your team for a cup of tea and realise there’s been no incidents and you can meet those targets! The hardest days are when you lose a client. It’s terrible when someone dies. All you can hope is that you’ve showed them you care and helped them along their journey.
One person said to me recently that over the years of using substances and being homeless, they just didn’t think about paying bills or doing shopping for food.
Since living at the Lambeth Vulnerable Adults service they have found the staff supportive and said that having quiet space has made a difference. They have a routine, ensuring they shop once a fortnight, pay their rent and engage with services. This person just kept saying thank you.
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.