Karl has been volunteering with StreetLink, a service that helps connect people who are sleeping rough with local services available to them, since October 2021.
Here he shares his motivations to volunteer, his experience with StreetLink and the importance of this vital volunteer-led service.
Street homelessness is a very precarious situation and an increasingly pressing social justice issue. Unfortunately, it has become very common in the UK, to the point of being normalised in many parts of the country.
I decided to volunteer with StreetLink because I wanted to support people who are experiencing street homelessness and I liked that StreetLink had a wide reach, offering support to people across the country.
Every day StreetLink receives many calls and web alerts, and the team (made up of staff and volunteers) help to connect clients to support services so they can get further help to address their housing and welfare situation.
I volunteer once a week for 2 hours, from St Mungo’s head office near Tower Bridge. When I arrive, there is always a staff member there to welcome me and get me settled in – which really helps you to feel a part of the team.
“The most memorable call I have taken was a caller who told me that this was the first time they could remember being spoken to like a human being”
The calls I take can vary from shorter calls where a member of the public wants some information about local services to longer calls where someone is reporting a sleep site – in which case very specific details about the location and person’s appearance are taken to pass on to local outreach teams.
More challenging calls can sadly come from people who are distressed or experiencing a mental health crisis. Sometimes, a person will need a more urgent response than StreetLink can provide, so we would refer them to their local authority via what is known as a safeguarding concern. On other occasions we’ve had to call an ambulance to do a more urgent assessment. These calls are very difficult for the person calling in, so as a volunteer I make sure to stay calm and use the support of staff where needed.
Every call you take with StreetLink is memorable in its own way and every experience of homelessness is important.
“City life can be anonymous but these calls show that people still care about their fellow citizens who are struggling.”
In the middle of winter, and on particularly colder nights, it’s very touching to receive calls from members of the public who have spotted someone that appears at risk.Often people will stop to check the person is ok so we can speak to the person via their phone or passing the person’s number on to us. City life can be anonymous but these calls show that people still care about their fellow citizens who are struggling.
The most memorable call I have taken was a caller who told me that this was the first time they could remember being spoken to like a human being. This was incredibly moving and important – respect and kindness are so basic, but are often lacking. These moments of human connection – supporting people who are struggling and helping them to navigate the system – are so significant for each person who calls.
I would definitely encourage anyone who has the time and motivation to support people sleeping rough to volunteer with StreetLink. As an individual, St Mungo’s mission to end homelessness can feel difficult to achieve (especially when you look at the volume of calls StreetLink are receiving). However, from my experience, the impact of treating people with respect, helping them to navigate a complex system and access help quicker, will help you to feel like you are contributing towards those broader social justice aims and taking a step closer towards making them real.