Elvis the elephant: a heart-warming story raising awareness of homelessness

    Our specialist move-on worker Helen Brian has written a children’s book about homelessness called Elvis. Here she shares her creative journey of writing Elvis the elephant’s story.

    I have worked in the homeless sector for years now and I love what I do. I spent a lot of time feeling very lost in my early 20s after a period of severe anxiety caused me to leave my creative writing course at university. When I was better, I fell into my first job as a support worker by accident and I have never looked back. I have worked as a rough sleeper outreach worker, a prison resettlement worker and I now work on a hospital ward supporting people who face homelessness on discharge.

    I am lucky enough to have a job that I enjoy and, although I still suffer with anxiety, I’ve learned to manage it better. There was one thing that I had never been able to bring myself to do since leaving my course and that was writing again. I just couldn’t face it, until…

    The inspiration behind Elvis

    As my son has gotten older, he’s been asking me to tell him stories. Although I began to do it very reluctantly, I will always believe that it was his little imagination that restarted mine. When I was at university, I remember one of my lecturers saying that when you have character ideas for a book that you should write about, you will just know –  I had always wondered what he meant.

    I was at home watching something trashy on television with my husband and my son and suddenly, from nowhere, this elephant popped into my head. I could see Elvis, what he was wearing, how he spoke, exactly what he looked like and I knew his story. Without telling my family what I was doing and for the first time in eighteen years I went upstairs and wrote a book draft.

    The only person who knew about that book for the next six weeks was me. I was too nervous to show anyone else until one evening when I read it to my four year old son. About an hour afterwards he started to ask me questions about why Elvis was homeless. The following week in Bath, he asked if we could buy a drink for somebody who was sleeping by the Abbey. I knew then that I might have something worth pursuing and  that Elvis’ story had a purpose.

    After a fundraising campaign to turn the book idea into a reality, I contacted Steven Kynman to tell him about what I had written and he asked me to send the story to him. To my amazement, he sent me a message suggesting we have a chat and two days later we were on Facetime planning an audio book.

    I was lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing people through the book development and I have never learned so much. Carly at Peahen Publishing taught me endlessly about editing and the publishing process and she is always around when I need her, even if it’s just for me to talk about how nervous I am.

    I absolutely loved working with Chantal, the illustrator for Elvis and, developing the characters in my head on to paper. I will never forget the moment that I first saw a sketch of Elvis, I am not ashamed to say that I dissolved into tears (of happiness)!

    When Steven talked about the fact that we needed some music for the audio book there was only one person that I wanted to work with. Sam Eason is a brilliantly talented singer songwriter and I knew that he would understand Elvis’ journey and do something magical with it and I was so right.

    Elvis is in the building

    I wanted to raise as much awareness as possible about the book and needed to be brave and pitch my book with confidence but this isn’t easy when it’s your own work! d I would be lying if I didn’t experience several of those 3am moments when I was awake asking myself what on earth I was doing!

    I sent the book draft to Kerry Howard, a British TV actress local to Bath and asked if she would be interested in supporting it, she was very kind about my writing and even agreed to be interviewed for the promotional launch film, she gave me a massive confidence boost.

    When Elvis arrived, I was so thrilled to see it in print (I cried again)!, The book isn’t about me, it’s about all the incredible and brave people facing homelessness that the charities and I have supported and I could only do them all justice if I absolutely went for it and did as much promotion as I could.

    I will never stop being grateful for everyone’s support, the reception of Elvis has blown me away, I ordered 325 copies worrying that I would have boxes of books gathering dust in my house, within three days of going live on pre orders we had to request a reprint.

    Seeing Elvis in bookshop windows is amazing but what gives me the biggest buzz is the messages that I have had from parents telling me that my story has started an important conversation about homelessness and that their children are now acknowledging the issue in a different way, that’s why I wrote it and if that’s what Elvis and Cilla do, then they’ve done their job.

    Elvis is available to buy online here. Profits are going to Julian House and towards our work to end homelessness and rebuild lives.

    Housing First can be an integral part of ending homelessness

    As new research is published about Housing First in England, St Mungo’s Chief Executive Steve Douglas CBE explains why its client-centred focus means it can be an ideal fit for us and our clients and echoes our recovery approach. A version of this blog has been published in Inside Housing magazine.

    I read a great piece this week about Housing First by the chair of the All Party Parliamentary group for Ending Homelessness Bob Blackman MP.

    He recognised the diversity and range of needs our clients have and that “homelessness is complex and every case is unique”, before calling for a much wider roll out of Housing First.

    We agree. Housing First may not be the right option for every person but it is an important contribution to accommodation and support solutions to end homelessness and rough sleeping.

    This is evidenced in the research published today by Housing First England and Homeless Link.

    This detailed and comprehensive research estimates an almost six-fold increase in the capacity of Housing First services across England since 2017.

    I am pleased that, working with our local authority partners and housing associations, St Mungo’s has been part of that expansion. We now run 11 Housing First schemes in London, Brighton, Bournemouth and Reading.

    And in the last few weeks we have been given approval to expand our existing service in the London Borough of Camden, meaning we will soon be able to support more than 70 clients there.

    We also have a new expanded contract for our Brighton Housing First service to support up to 40 clients.

    These service expansions give us confidence that our Housing First models work for our clients and for our local authority commissioners. We’ve seen the results.

    Importantly, though, we think that this is linked to following certain principles carefully. It’s not a ‘quick fix’.

    As many readers will know, Housing First is an internationally recognised approach to tackling homelessness for people with high and complex needs who have been unable to sustain a long term home.

    In the model there are no conditions attached to being ‘housing ready’. Instead people are provided with accommodation first and then given access to intensive, multi-faceted ‘wrap around’ long term support with case workers who are able to work intensively with just a small number of clients. 

    It is based on people having control of the services they receive. That client centred recovery approach is very much our ethos overall at St Mungo’s.

    Housing First projects, by their very nature, are time and resource intensive. They don’t work for every person experiencing homelessness, but for a specific cohort of clients they are extremely effective.

    It naturally follows that people with the most complex needs often need the greatest support.

    However, long term help, requires long term funding.

    That is why the Government’s recent commitment to provide multi-year support via the Next Steps and Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programmes is so important, with several Housing First projects already in line for this funding.

    But, as highlighted in today’s research, the lack of more secure long term revenue streams is often a factor in why local authorities don’t commission more Housing First services.

    If these projects are to have the longevity they need, dedicated mutli-year Government spending commitments are vital. 

    There is the determination and increasing momentum to end rough sleeping and homelessness, and our experience and this research shows that Housing First can be an integral part of achieving that.

    Read more about St Mungo’s Housing First services here.

    St Mungo’s Recovery College – online for our clients

    By Holly Smith, Strategic Marketing Officer

    St Mungo’s Recovery College offers our clients the opportunity to engage with learning, training and employment, and to rebuild their lives.

    When the pandemic began, we were in the middle of making a film about a proposed move to a new Recovery College base in London.

    But if there’s anything that I’m sure we’ve all learned in 2020, it’s that every tale can take you somewhere you didn’t expect.

    So we used the opportunity for clients to talk about how the Recovery College responded to the pandemic by moving its classes online.

    The four people involved, Adrian, AJay, Charles, Mincer, plus our Digital Inclusion Coordinator James, have shared their creativity and resilience every step of the way during this strange time.

    They adapted to new technology, learning to work differently and navigated connections – both badly behaved internet ones, and the welcome surprises of those connections forged with others as a result of the pandemic. 

    AJay said: “I am glad to be part of [the film] as I really valued what St Mungo’s is doing for our community. I hope that the organisers of the digital courses continue to thrive in making sure that everyone feels valued in the community so both old and new students enjoy the experience of taking part in more classes as they get to meet more students and tutors.” 

    St Mungo’s Recovery College is a completely fundraised service, made possible by the generosity of our partners and donors. Pre pandemic, there were a number of College bases in London and Bristol with another set to open in Leicester.

    By early June there were 24 Remote Recovery College activities for our clients to choose from, with 15 regular weekly group sessions, in addition to personalised progression coaching and employment support.

    The most popular individual sessions have been the happiness and wellbeing project and creative writing, delivered through Google Hangouts and over the phone. ‘Music, arts and culture’, ‘health, wellbeing and personal development’ and Maths and English have all been popular classes. By June we had delivered 60 one to one digital support sessions to enable people to engage with the College and use their digital devices to stay connected.

    One Recovery College client was supported by a progression coach to sign up to an online Level 2 diploma in counselling. This was something he had wanted to do for a number of months, to work towards his long-term ambition to work in mental health.

    Reta Robinson, St Mungo’s Director of Fundraising, said: “The way the Recovery College adapted so nimbly to the challenges of the pandemic has been a real reflection of the innovation and resourcefulness of our staff, clients and volunteers.”

    Gavin Benn, Head of St Mungo’s Recovery College, said: “It’s great to see more and more clients joining our remote Recovery College programme and to hear how it has supported their journey to learn, grow and be inspired, despite often challenging personal circumstances. My thanks to all those involved in making this fantastic film.”

    The Recovery College is running a summer programme until 28 August and then starts its autumn term on 5 October, until 27 November.

    Find out more about our Recovery College here, and watch more on YouTube. Thanks also to film makers Chocolate Films.

    The Independent Review on Drugs is an opportunity for bold change

    Today, St Mungo’s put forward a written submission to the Independent Review on Drugs by Dame Carol Black. Here Emma Cookson, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer at St Mungo’s explains what this review means and the primary calls St Mungo’s is making towards it.

    This is the second part of the review which is examining drug prevention, treatment and recovery (the findings of the first part were published in February this year).This is a huge opportunity to reflect the needs of St Mungo’s clients, and the many other hundreds of thousands who are homeless and face multiple layers of disadvantage.

    Sadly, as we are all too aware, there is a significant relationship between homelessness and drug and alcohol problems, which becomes even more pronounced amongst people sleeping rough. Data from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN), a multi-agency database recording information about people sleeping rough in London, shows that 62% of people sleeping rough had a recorded drug or alcohol need in 2018-19.

    And it’s not just that people who are sleeping rough have a higher likelihood of drug use – they are also more likely to die from it. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows that in 2018, 726 people died while rough sleeping, with a staggering 40% of all those deaths related to drug poisoning. And it’s getting worse. The St Mungo’s Knocked Back report earlier this year showed that the number of deaths caused by drug poisoning increased by 135% between 2013 and 2018 and by 55% in just one year in 2018. This is an alarming increase.

    For many of our clients, drug use, alcohol use, poor mental health and homelessness are interlocking and mutually reinforcing problems. CHAIN data shows that over half of all people with a recorded drug and alcohol problem have a co-occurring mental health problem. These problems create a vicious cycle from which it is hard to escape. If you just address one of these without tackling the other, you are unlikely to be successful. But this is all too often what the current system does.

    A St Mungo’s Manager set out the disjoint between systems:

    Someone goes into prison and whilst they’re in prison they’re detoxed. But then they’re released and told to go to housing department who say they’re not priority need. They’re then picked up by an outreach team and the only place available is a hostel where there are lots of drug users. This isn’t going to help them in their recovery.

    The vicious circle continues. 

    Health, homelessness, and drugs and alcohol services are all designed and funded as if people fit into one box, rather than the reality that people’s problems are complex and interwoven. They cannot be addressed one-by-one but need to be approached holistically.

    This is why in our written submission to the Black Review we’re calling for the following:

    • Integrated, person centred and holistic services.

    To best support people we need integrated support and housing pathways, with a treatment package arranged for them in a way which works for them in that particular point in their recovery journey. One of the best ways to do this is through increasing joint commissioning and explore longer contracts. This would help health, homelessness and drug and alcohol services to work better together and encourage them to treat clients holistically rather than providing insular support related only to one need, whilst clients are caught in the gaps in between services. Longer contracts provide the time to build practice and culture change.

    • Access to affordable and appropriate housing.

    Access to affordable and appropriate housing can act as both prevention and cure for drug misuse. Therefore we want the Government to improve access to truly affordable housing by increasing investment to build 90,000 homes for social rent every year for 15 years, and improving security for tenants in the private rented sector by, for instance, re-aligning Local Housing Allowance Rates to cover the 50th percentile of local rents. There also needs to be an expansion in Housing First services (backed by sufficient funding) and an increase in supported housing provision. This would help prevent individuals from becoming homeless, and rapidly relieve their homelessness if they are forced to sleep rough.

    • Further funding for drug support services.

    There needs to be more funding for services which are interlinked with drug misuse, such as homelessness support services, to support an integrated approach which looks at the whole system and situations which both cause and exacerbate drug misuse. Previous research from St Mungo’s has shown that £1 billion less is being spent on housing related support services per year (which help many people with complex needs, such as drug misuse, gain and retain accommodation) than a decade ago. We are therefore recommending that the Government invest an extra £1 billion a year in services that prevent homelessness and end rough sleeping. This money should be ring-fenced so it can’t be spent on anything else. This echoes our calls in our Home for Good campaign. 

    This review is timely. In the midst of this global pandemic, the health inequalities suffered by those who are homeless have become even starker. This is a chance to put forward bold solutions, which recognise the need to see drug prevention and recovery as interwoven with other systems and services. People aren’t boxes — they have messy, complex lives. We need a whole systems approach which recognises this, so that we can effectively help people.

    St Mungo’s Remote Recovery College for summer 2020

    Following Government coronavirus guidance, the St Mungo’s Recovery College has reinvented itself to become a flourishing Remote Recovery College. Gavin Benn, Head of Recovery College, shares what’s now available to our clients online.

    Though we have had to suspend face to face activities, our Remote Recovery College is well and truly open and offering a range of classes and activities for our clients in any location to join, either online or over the phone.

    So whether clients are interested in music, art, digital skills, meditation, employment support or more, they can continue to Grow, Learn and Be Inspired through the Remote Recovery College. See how in this short video. 


    What are we doing and how

    We are currently providing a total of 24 activities for clients to choose from, with 15 regular weekly group sessions, in addition to personalised progression coaching and employment support. 

    Alongside staff, there are 16 volunteers providing sessions and we have three social work students supporting engagement in digital activities. Thank you so much to them for their generous support.

    Since we started the Remote Recovery College towards the end of April, the most popular individual sessions have been the happiness and wellbeing project and creative writing, delivered through Google Hangouts and over the phone, with 26 people attending the happiness sessions a total of 84 times, and 25 people attending the creative writing course 116 times. 

    Music, arts and culture has been the most popular curriculum area, followed by health, wellbeing and personal development. 

    We have delivered 60 one to one digital support sessions to clients to enable them to engage in the Remote Recovery College and use their digital devices to stay connected.

    One Recovery College client was supported by a progression coach to sign up to an online Level 2 diploma in counselling. This was something the client had wanted to do for a number of months, to work towards his long term ambition to work in mental health. 


    One of our main challenge remains how clients can access courses. We are using a mix of Google Hangouts, phone calls and uploading some YouTube tutorials and short videos via private links. 

    We are also working with Accumulate, a homelessness arts charity, to get arts resources and activities to clients. Over 400 art packs have already gone out to St Mungo’s clients. 

    Our Client Involvement team and our client representative group, Outside In, are also helping to deliver courses, uploading short wellbeing and peer support videos.  

    And in one of our London hotels, Cardboard Citizens and The Reader have undertaken pilots on art and reading activities as well as puzzles and crosswords.  

    What our clients think 

    We have had very positive feedback from our Remote Recovery College clients already. 

    Attendees of the book group said that it made them feel safe and comfortable”. It was also described as uplifting’ and a “welcome distraction from the boredom of isolation”. Many attendees said that they found the book group so supportive that they were “confident enough to read out loud.”

    Clients said of our happiness and wellbeing course, that it was an “opportunity to express themselves and share their experiences.” They also said that it has helped them to feel less alone. 

    This has been great to hear. We want to continue to help people Grow, Learn and Be Inspired this summer – and keep clients thinking positively about their recovery.

    More information and the full prospectus for the Remote Recovery College is up online. The Remote Recovery College is accessible to all current and previous St Mungo’s clients. 

    If you would like to talk to the Recovery College team, please get in touch on 0203 239 5918 (Mon-Fri, 10am to 5pm) or at recoverycollege@mungos.org

    Responding to women’s homelessness during COVID-19

    Our Women’s Strategy Manager, Cat Glew shares how St Mungo’s has responded to women’s homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    When the COVID-19 crisis struck, St Mungo’s reacted quickly to support thousands of vulnerable women and men off the streets and into hotel and emergency accommodation where they could safely self-isolate.

    But as domestic abuse charities warned at the beginning of lockdown, women and survivors in our services have been living with two pandemics during this time – the new threat of coronavirus, and the old and endemic risk of violence against women.

    The link between homelessness, domestic abuse and other violence against women is well documented. New evidence published by Women’s Aid last week found that 70% of respondents to their Survivor Voice survey who were still living with their perpetrator said that fears around housing and homelessness were preventing them from leaving. 

    Unfortunately, these fears are well-founded – for many survivors, homelessness is the price they pay for leaving their abuser. Data from the No Women Turned Away programme – which supports women facing additional barriers to accessing refuges spaces – shows that of the 243 women supported, 17 slept rough and 93 sofa-surfed while waiting for refuge.

    As we have seen over the past months, the impact of any pandemic tends to be felt most strongly among the most marginalised groups. Agencies running services by and for Black and minoritised women have spoken out about disproportionate risks and danger of abuse and homelessness during COVID-19, calling for urgent action from government. 

    Domestic abuse is a driver of homelessness and the risk to survivors continues on the streets and in homelessness services. We also know that the risk of serious harm from domestic abuse has risen during COVID-19. With staff and clients in our services facing more challenges than ever, we needed to respond quickly.

    St Mungo’s has worked with our partners Standing Together and Single Homeless Project to produce quick guidance on domestic abuse and sexual violence in homelessness settings during COVID-19, supported by Homeless Link who also hosted our webinar on women’s safety. These resources are designed to help workers in homelessness services ask the right questions to help women and survivors keep safe. 

    As people self-isolating in emergency hotels face an uncertain future. We are also calling on government to secure safe accommodation and support for women and survivors with our No Going Back campaign. Our letter to Dame Louise Casey sets out how the government Rough Sleeping Taskforce can work with local authorities to provide homeless women and survivors with a safe home free from abuse.

    We watch with interest as the Domestic Abuse Bill progresses through parliament. We are working with partners to make the case that domestic abuse accommodation and community services should receive sustainable funding and that all survivors of domestic abuse should receive automatic priority for housing from local authorities. We support calls to lift ‘no recourse to public funds’ restrictions for survivors of violence against women to give survivors access to safe accommodation and support.

    Looking forward to the second year of our Women’s Strategy, our plans will shift as we continue to respond to the pandemic, but our focus on women’s safety is needed now more than ever. We commit to understand and address the additional barriers to safety and recovery faced by homeless Black and minoritised women. 

    As we celebrate our female clients and volunteers with lived experience, we will also continue to listen and be held accountable by them as we improve our response to violence and abuse.

    Support our No Going Back campaign – write to your MP.

    “Everybody In” – working with vulnerable people sleeping rough during COVID-19

    Ed Addison, Manager of St Mungo’s City of London Outreach Team, shares his first-hand experience of supporting people sleeping rough during the outbreak of COVID-19. 

    It was 19 March when the gravity of the situation with COVID-19 hit home for me. I was out on an early shift at around 7am with a colleague and we went to meet George*, a well-informed, articulate man in his 50s who’s been sleeping rough for a couple of years but who is reluctant to accept offers of support for a number of reasons. The City of London had requested that we get everybody indoors due to the potential health risk of COVID-19, which meant us offering to support to anyone, plus we had a duty of care to welfare check and ensure George was safe and well.

    We find different ways to use our knowledge to encourage people to accept support – such as presenting facts around the dangers of rough sleeping. On this occasion I found myself turning the concern around the virus as a tool to encourage George to take up an offer of accommodation. He countered our initial offer of support stating that it was a choice he was making to live his life on the streets, and that he was prepared to die on the streets.

    George and I sat and talked, and he revealed his main concern was where he can access food. I told him that we were hearing about the possibility of a lockdown, that the City was likely to become emptier, shops were going to close, food and vital resources would become scarce, with commuter numbers vastly reduced. I listened to his concerns, and felt he was listening to me. I gave George my number and urged him again to consider coming indoors.

    Working for a homelessness charity it is impossible to distance yourself from the wider housing system. People who end up on the streets can be some of the most disconnected from the system, people who have fallen through a safety net that has become increasingly unsafe. Years of austerity has impacted on the shrinking of local authority budgets and reduced the number of services available to people in need.

    In a broken system is it any wonder that people are reluctant to trust us? One bad experience of being let down can set the tone for all future relationships. This is exacerbated among those who are sleeping rough who may have, throughout their lives, been let down by people in positions of trust. As outreach workers we are often the first point of contact for people such as George and often met with distrust.

    As the severity of the coronavirus public health emergency developed, it quickly became apparent that it was now essential to get everybody off the streets and into an environment where they could self-isolate to protect themselves and others. The UK government had written to every local authority outlining a plan to move all homeless people off the streets within a week. Open access day centres and night shelters were closed due to concerns over lack of ability for people to safely isolate. The situation was changing rapidly, and we knew many of our vulnerable clients would struggle to cope.

    Yet what we and others have achieved has been remarkable in a short space of time. Since the lockdown measures were announced, the St Mungo’s City outreach team has accommodated more than 100 people in hotel rooms, many of whom were people seen sleeping out for the first time. We have been able to support people to take up offers of accommodation where previously they have been sleeping outside for sometimes as much as 10, 15 or even 20 years. In the first week of the lockdown we were able to accommodate and support 12 people into drug treatment who, between them, have a cumulative rough sleeping history of 70 years.

    This shows what an unprecedented opportunity this has been to not only reduce the numbers of people who are living on the streets, but crucially to get to know these people, understand their situation and to put in place effective solutions to ideally prevent them from never going back on the streets again – as our No Going Back campaign calls for.

    This emergency response reinforces the need for a permanent accommodation pathway which is accessible, supportive and helps individuals progress with their lives.

    Street-based outreach workers continue to work tirelessly to find and support people who are living on the streets to find accommodation. All those who have accepted accommodation in the past few weeks should never have to return to these streets, and in the future our system must improve in its attitude towards the vulnerable. George has remained out as far as we’re aware. We continue to go out to find him to offer our help.

    People like George and others who remain on the streets of the City, despite the lockdown, remain the most resistant to support and the most traumatised. These are the individuals that need the most focus of our interest, our time and our care.

    *George’s name has been anonymised for his privacy.

    This blog was first commissioned by World Habitat, an international charity, which holds Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, reflecting its work in support of the goals of UN-HABITAT.

    The power of peer mentoring

    In this challenging time, it is more important than ever to look after your own mental health, as well as look out for the people around you. Here, we are highlighting the incredible work of our volunteers. During lockdown they have adapted how they work to carry on supporting our vulnerable clients with their mental health.

    Physical or mental health problems can be both a cause and consequence of homelessness. At St Mungo’s we take a holistic approach to mental and physical health, addressing these issues alongside each other. We run mental health dedicated services in Bath and our Building Bridges to Wellbeing programme empowers people to use their experience of managing their mental health to help others.

    Building Bridges to Wellbeing has a peer mentoring service where volunteers use their own experience of living with mental health challenges to help and support clients to improve their wellbeing, confidence and mental health. These volunteers, known as Peer Mentors, work on a one-to-one basis with their clients. They support them to explore how to make small changes, look at their interests and options available, hopefully enabling them to link with their community by joining groups or courses, planning and supporting them to make small steps towards this goal. Mentors use their own experience of living with mental health challenges to build this relationship and share useful tools and resources.

    However, due to safety guidance and Government restrictions relating to Covid-19 pandemic, this was no longer possible. Our peer mentors have adapted quickly to the Government’s measures and put in place a new way to support clients remotely. Our clients are now being supported by regular wellbeing phone conversations with their peer mentor, some have even started using video link calls, to share resources and encourage positivity in regards to exploring things they can engage with. We are working with local partners, to distribute wellbeing packs that include activities, puzzles and techniques to help with any mental health difficulties arising during lockdown.

    What is it like being a part of the programme?

    Two of our mentors, Zoe and Dena share why they got involved with the Building Bridges to Wellbeing programme and what it means to them.

    Mentoring has given me back a purpose.

    Zoe wanted to get involved with peer mentoring following her own personal battle with mental illness after the breakdown of her marriage and working long hours at a job in social care. Through various drug treatments, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and the support of her family and friends, she’s been feeling stronger and felt that she wanted to give something back.

    I absolutely love what I do and I like to think I’m making a difference to those during the various stages of their journeys.

    After weeks of training, Zoe was matched with first mentee and has since been a peer mentor for five different people, supporting them with their own stories. She feels lucky to be able to support those in need during this difficult time, especially through uncertainty and loneliness in isolation. She hopes that her mentoring will lead to permanent position in a mental health setting.

    In these current times, everyone is prone to be feeling unsettled, scared and, at times, lonely, and this particularly true for vulnerable and isolated people.

    Dena, a fellow peer mentor wanted to help because she believes that mentoring and helping others is one of the key wellness techniques.

    I think the real power of peer mentoring is empathy.

    Following access to excellent resources and training through St Mungo’s, Zoe works with our clients, having a weekly a non-judgemental chat and providing support and information on the different kinds of self-care methods available that could make a difference to the client’s mental health.

    People can gain such reassurance and peace from simply hearing “I understand” from someone that they know really does.

    Mental Health Awareness Week

    Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 10-16 May 2021. The theme is Connect with Nature.

    Having difficult conversations about death

    Andy Knee from our Palliative Care team writes about having difficult conversations about death and provides a few ways that may help having them a little easier.

    Though death happens to everyone, many of us have not spoken to anyone about our concerns, fears or wishes when it comes to our end of life. This may be because we don’t want to. Or it may be that we haven’t thought about discussing it before. Or we don’t know who we could talk to. It may be that we prefer to just focus on the here and now, or have suffered so much that we cannot face talking about it.

    The nature of homelessness itself presents many barriers: complex needs, trauma, substance misuse, living on the streets and multiple health conditions. As a result many individuals live for the moment, prioritising needs in the present rather than focussing on what care they might hope for in the future. It maybe the fear of facing our own mortality. Perhaps our fears could be turned around? Instead of fear, maybe we could focus on what we want. For example, what would living well look like?

    Maybe we can turn fear into hope? Talking about hope when someone is approaching the end of their life may seem like a strange concept, but in having these conversations it enables us to have discussions that identify a person’s wishes and preferences. Those who are homeless are no different and we all deserve to die with dignity and respect.

    Someone once told me that by accepting death they were able to embrace life. Some might say this is a strange thing to say. But death is a natural part of life.

    What can we do?

    This is a difficult question to ask. We may think to ourselves “I don’t have the skills. I’m not an expert” or “I don’t know what to say. I might make things worse!” and this is perfectly natural. So here are a few things that may help.

    • We shouldn’t be afraid to talk. We don’t need to wait until we are sick, before we talk about dying. We may all chose to speak to different people about our fears, concerns, wishes and what’s important to us, be it friends or health professionals. Talking about what would happen should our health get worse, will not make it happen – it may make us feel more in control.
    • Parallel Planning: Hoping for the best, but planning for the worst. By using parallel planning we are maintaining hope, but are ready for the worst case scenarios. We have those difficult conversations, but always maintain hope.
    • Our life, our choices: To try and ensure we are treated as we chose towards the end of our lives, we may choose to have our wishes written down (for example: What music we like? How we would like to be remembered?)
    • Making our voice heard: we can decide how we want to be cared for including refusing treatment if we wish.

    Dying Matters Week 2021

    This year’s Dying Matters Week is 10-16 May and will focus on the importance of being in a good place to die. More information on the week here. 

    A chance to end rough sleeping that must not be missed

    Our Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research, Beatrice Orchard, reflects on the unprecedented and impressive response to the coronavirus pandemic so far and outlines what the Government must do to protect people experiencing homelessness during the crisis.

    Daily life has been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. High streets have closed for business and the Government has told everyone to ‘stay at home’, except in some very limited circumstances. But for people who are sleeping rough, this is impossible.

    The Government was quick to recognise the issue and put some measures in place, including allocating £3.2 million to help councils get accommodation for people sleeping rough to self-isolate. Ministers sent a clear message to all councils that everyone sleeping rough must be urgently supported into appropriate accommodation.

    The response from councils, homelessness charities and other partner agencies has been unprecedented and impressive. Rightly so.

    So far our teams have supported more than 700 people who were sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation to self-isolate safely in hotel rooms and other self-contained accommodation. And we will continue to help many more in the days and weeks to come.

    However, this task is not simple because it’s about more much more than just getting people indoors. People need support to be able to follow public health advice. The provision of food and medicine is obviously critical, but so is support to cope with boredom and isolation, as well as poor mental health, drug and alcohol problems and domestic abuse.

    Which is why it is good to hear about thoughtful responses in local areas, such as Brighton and Hove where televisions and games consoles are also being collected to help people who are feeling isolated.

    There has been great progress to date. But there is much more to do.

    To truly protect everyone from coronavirus the Government must to do more to recognise the specific needs of every individual who is homeless during the current crisis. That’s why we’re calling on the Government to:

    • Ensure everyone can get suitable accommodation and stop more people ending up on the streets by:

    Continuing to support council and charity outreach teams to help people sleeping rough, or staying in night shelters, get into housing or hotel accommodation. Despite enormous efforts, there are still hundreds of people on the streets.

    Helping councils to support everyone who needs it to get help. We are hearing that people who might have been sofa surfing before are starting to end up on the streets as this option becomes more difficult. The Government should send a clear message to councils that everyone at risk of, or already homeless, must be found suitable temporary accommodation, regardless of the rules which normally apply, such as local connection, priority need or intentionality.

    Ending the exclusion of some migrants from being able to get help by suspending ‘no recourse’ rules that restrict access to publicly funded support for the duration of the pandemic. Global travel restrictions mean no one can be expected to return to another country while the pandemic is ongoing. The Government has already suspended evictions from Home Office accommodation for asylum seekers, but must now ensure everyone living in the UK is entitled to homelessness and welfare assistance if they need it, regardless of their immigration status. This is vital for preventing more people from sleeping rough during the crisis.

    • Meet the needs of women who are homeless. Women are more likely to be ‘hidden homeless’ due to sleeping out of sight for safety and avoiding male dominated services where they are at risk of sexual violence. Councils should provide safe, women-only accommodation and specialist support for women sleeping rough, and at risk of doing so, during the crisis.
    • Provide more funding to support people in temporary housing or hotel accommodation and ensure no one returns to rough sleeping. It is essential that homeless people accommodated during the crisis are not left unsupported, and it will take skilled and specialist teams to support people to find and maintain longer-term housing beyond the crisis. Funding for  services providing this type of support had been cut by £1bn since 2008-9. The Government must be prepared to provide additional funding to ensure no one has to return to rough sleeping.

    It’s absolutely right that efforts to accommodate people sleeping rough are driven by a focus on saving lives during this public health emergency. No one should be more likely to die from coronavirus simply because they are homeless.

    More than this though, the efforts that we are seeing now represent a unique  chance to end rough sleeping once and for all. Let’s work together to make sure that opportunity is not missed.

    Keep up to date and help us continue to put pressure on the Government during these unprecedented times by signing up as a campaigner.

    If you see someone sleeping rough, please let StreetLink know so they can help connect them to local services. Or in a medical emergency call 999.

    Find out more on how you can help during the coronavirus crisis.

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