Finding acceptance and understanding in the workplace

    Bi-Visibility day is the 23rd of September 2022. At St Mungo’s, we pride ourselves on inclusion, whether this is providing safe spaces for our clients in the LGBTQIA+ community, or access to our diversity networks for staff. Here, Liz from our Communications team discusses her experience of working at St Mungo’s.

    “Research from Stonewall shows that 31% of bisexual people having been insulted or harassed for their identity, and more broadly, people who identify as LGBTQIA+ are much more likely to experience homelessness at some point in their lives. With this in mind, creating safe spaces and having an empathetic culture is so important to everything we do.

    At St Mungo’s, we make sure our services are informed about LGBTQIA+ issues, and are welcoming to everyone regardless of sexual or gender identity. When referring people to our different kinds of accommodation, we assess whether that environment is right for them, including any support needs they might have, and what will make them feel most safe.

    This understanding and acceptance also extends to our colleagues. When I first joined St Mungo’s, I was provided information about our diversity networks as part of my induction. Not only were we able to join the networks we identified with the most (roughly 10% of staff at St Mungo’s identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community), but simple things, like having posters that encourage you to use the toilets that best fit your gender identity, and information about our workplace supporter scheme for anything and everything you might need, made for an incredibly welcoming environment.

    I’d never been part of an organisation that so openly celebrated the diversity of its staff in every way. There’s a school of thought that you should always be authentic to yourself, and it was this environment that helped me to feel that I was able to be entirely myself around my colleagues for the first time in any job I’ve ever had.

    The acceptance that I’ve seen and received at St Mungo’s has been so important. The meetings for our LGBTQIA+ network that I’ve attended have been so friendly and welcoming, and I’ve even been able to support on some projects for Pride. I’ve met people in the network who I’ve then come across in other areas of the organisation, meaning I already have a connection, which has been really valuable, particularly during the pandemic.

    There is an incredible commitment to diversity and inclusion at St Mungo’s, not just for staff but also for the people we support. And so, this Bisexual Awareness Week, it’s important to take a moment to celebrate everything we’re doing to make people feel safe, valued and understood.”

    Find out more about Diversity and Inclusion at St Mungo’s.

    Supporting people through a lonely time of year

    During the winter there’s less opportunity for people to go out and so the people we support can isolate themselves which can have a negative impact on their mental health. Here, Ben, a Housing First Caseworker in Westminster shares how our teams are focusing on arranging activities for the people we support to ensure they don’t feel lonely this time of the year. 

    Housing First is a service that moves people into accommodation first and then work with them around that to help them support their tenancy. I think it’s really important that we work in this way as I think it’s easy to get someone into accommodation and then to lose them as they’ll get into somewhere and they find themselves isolated and by themselves and they don’t know what to do and they can sometimes develop depression because they’re feeling so alone. It’s not something many people would expect for someone who has just been given their own home but because they’re not used to being on their own all the time it’s difficult for them.

    When you’ve housed people who have been living on the streets during the winter time it’s hard to persuade them to come out in the cold and wet weather. So it’s important that we offer them something new, and we try to give them a new experience, whether that’s a museum visit or going out for a Chinese so that they feel part of society and their community.

    I was speaking with someone today who had been on the streets for 14 years and now they’re in the flat they can’t give it up for anything, the home is everything they have and since he’s moved into accommodation he has regressed and hidden himself away because he’s never had the opportunity to do that before. It becomes harder during the winter months to keep our clients engaged and to get them out of their houses and taking part in activities. I also recognise the fact that none of us do particularly well during the winter, it’s not a great time of year for most people so there’s definitely  a change of mood. It’s making sure that I’m having daily check ins with my clients to see how they’re coping and to make sure they’re ok and what support they need.

    Christmas is a bit of a taboo subject as if you’ve had very traumatic experience, Christmas is not a fun loving or pleasant time for them. They see people around them that are off doing their Christmas shopping, meeting with their friends and being able to spend time with their family and loved ones and it can add to the isolation people feel. Just because they’re in their own accommodation it doesn’t get any easier for them and it can sometimes bring up period of their life where they are reflecting on the past and they realise they are alone for Christmas. It’s a real struggle and I think it is a bit of a taboo subject, as the reality of it is that it is a really tough time for a lot of people.

    A lot of the things that we do around Housing First, is to make sure all our clients have food hampers over Christmas and we individualise each of our clients Christmas packages as much as we can which I Think makes a real difference. Making sure that our clients are aware of the extra support that is available to them over the winter time. As a team we work for the majority of Christmas and we make sure that staff are available to support clients when they need them and they’ll receive daily check-ins and phone calls and we share the work load a lot as sometimes people do need to be off, we also take on other teams clients when they’re off on leave to make sure that everyone is still supported during the break.

    I do go out and buy my clients their very own mini Christmas tree and a few decorations so they have something to look forward to. I think it’s also a nice reminder that if they do start to feel lonely at Christmas and if they are on their own then they can look at the tree and know that someone does care about them and hopefully it will remind them of a happier moment.

    I think it’s really important that people show that they care at this time of year, however they do that. There are parts of Christmas that I don’t enjoy and I think sharing these experiences and my own feeling helps my clients to see that they’re not alone, and that not everyone is having a jolly festive time, regardless of their situation.

    I’ve been working with someone with very complex mental health. At the beginning the only way he would feel comfortable talking to me was if he was in his bed under a duvet. He wouldn’t come out to see me and he wasn’t looking after himself very well. Six months later, we now meet up three times a week and get a cup of coffee at a local café and he’s beginning to trust me which is amazing. He’s now on a mental health pathway within St Mungo’s and is moving to additional support, he said “I can’t believe you’ve listened to me and you’ve made it happen”. He was so happy. I think it goes to show that there isn’t a perfect scenario for people experiencing homelessness and your options are always limited when you’re in the system, but being able to find him a space that’s more calming environment and less chaotic is really great for me. To see the growth in someone is the reason why I do this job.

    Find out more about our Housing First service here.

    Having difficult conversations about grief and loss

    This National Grief Awareness Week, Catherine our Bereavement Support Coordinator explains her role in helping our staff and the people we support through our Bereavement Support Service.

    Bereavement is cited in the top 10 reasons that contribute to homelessness. This is why it’s so important to be with the people we support as they process their loss as well as ensure that staff are properly equipped to help them with all the difficult emotions that grief can bring up. Our Bereavement Support Service is available across all St Mungo’s services and aims to do just that – provide a range of bereavement support to those in services and the staff supporting them.

    While each person’s story is unique, there can be factors that can contribute to why people find themselves facing homelessness. Sometimes this is having an unstable environment in childhood or traumatic life experiences such as losing loved ones. In my role as Bereavement Care Coordinator, I offer emotional support to people in St Mungo’s services, with the aim to offer a calm presence in a non-judgemental space for them to discuss their loss and feelings, either face to face or over the phone.

    People who experience homelessness can face chronic health problems and, the sad reality is that without support, people on the streets face a much shorter life expectancy. This is why my role equally focuses on supporting staff members who work in our services and closely with people who are experiencing homelessness to help them process their feelings of loss if someone they have been supporting passes away.

    Whether the individual has passed away under tragic circumstances or due to prolonged ill health, staff can often be caught between the need to remain professional but being personally impact by the person’s death. It’s important to offer reassurance and promote the need for self-care and space for them to reflect about what has happened – to try and normalise the grieving process. But this can be hard and there is often an incredible sadness of feeling like a life has been cut short. Cruelly in most cases, staff will have seen the people we support start to make changes, improve drinking habits and get onto a path of recovery but this can’t always be maintained.

    With time we work with staff about the need to pre-empt the potential outcome of individuals passing away in their services – our Palliative Care Service is crucial in this. But despite coming into their jobs to make a difference and to bring hope in ending homelessness, staff do often say they still need to mentally prepare themselves for seeing people they interact with every day approaching the end of life. Nevertheless, I am always struck by the bond that staff have with the people they support and the ‘family’ type feeling they have for each other.

    Find out more about National Grief Awareness Week run by the Good Grief Trust here.

    Volunteering to support people with their mental health

    We take a holistic approach to mental and physical health, addressing these issues alongside each other. Volunteers play a crucial role in helping us to achieve this. Here, Amie shares her experiences of volunteering to support people who’ve experienced homelessness with their mental health.

    My journey with St Mungo’s began in September 2019, I had graduated from University and knew that I wanted to get into the charity sector. I applied for the role of a Mental Health Volunteer at St Mungo’s via their website which I was successful for. I then went through the training with the St Mungo’s Volunteer Services staff. My first role with St Mungo’s was doing the ‘Women’s Morning’ with a mental health service in Bristol which I really enjoyed.

    During lockdown the ‘Women’s Morning’ stopped due to Covid-19 and I was put on furlough from my day job. I then got an email from the Volunteer Services about the emergency hotels and from there I started my second volunteering role as an Emergency Hotel Volunteer which was a unique service to be a part of. I managed to network with a whole range of staff members as the team at the hotel was made up of different services from around the Bristol hub.

    I then went through the locum application whilst volunteering and I picked up a locum shift at a Women’s Services. I had only been there for a month, but I ended up staying there for a year because I loved it so much! I loved trying something new and challenging. I was there for about a year, and then a vacancy came up for the place I’m at now which is a mixed hostel. The role involves more incident and crisis management which I’m also really enjoying.

    At my current role, we’re getting more volunteers into the services which means I’m going to be a supervisor, so I’ve come full circle in such a short space of time!

    Inspiration for why I got involved in volunteering

    I was inspired to start volunteering when I was in my final year of university, I had a bad mental health crisis. This crisis made me realise that I wanted to help and support those who have gone through similar mental health issues. My role as a Mental Health Volunteer at St Mungo’s made me re-evaluate everything of what’s important in life.

    St Mungo’s appealed a lot because there’s great structure for volunteers and they have great training for volunteers. They even paid for me to be a mental health first aider whilst I was a volunteer. I also chose St Mungo’s because of their locum scheme which I think is a great way to inspire volunteers to continue their career into the homeless sector. The volunteer team really make you feel valued as a volunteer.

    The rewards and challenges of volunteering the impact it can have:

    It was quite challenging when I first started in the ‘Women’s Morning’ because I had never worked with people who’ve experienced homelessness before so it was a massive learning curb. At the beginning communication with the people we were supporting was tough and there were some difficult situations. But once you’ve experienced those situations more and more, you feel much more confident. And it was very rewarding, I got to go and do something that I truly enjoyed every day.

    Volunteers play such a crucial role in helping St Mungo’s staff members with support areas such an art therapy, gardening and cooking as the charity can’t have many specialised staff full time for these activities. The volunteers are integral to the people St Mungo’s support and their progression in moving away from the streets as full time staff might not have time to do certain activities and having volunteers come up with ideas for the sessions and planning these sessions is something that’s valuable.

    A moment that still stands out whilst volunteering at St Mungo’s was when I was at the women’s services. I drove someone who had been staying at the service over to their new flat and helped them set up their belongings and home. Seeing them turn their whole life around I’d supported them every step of the way was an emotional but rewarding experience!

    Find out more about current volunteering vacancies here.

    What Black History Month means to me

    This month, as we continue to celebrate Black History Month (BHM), Esther from our Learning and Development team shares what Black history means to her, the importance of diversity and how her mother supported her community despite the odds.

    Blackness, history and tomorrow

    Someone recently asked me what Black History Month means to me and I struggled to answer this because one month out of twelve isn’t enough to celebrate oneself, and others. Yes, Black History Month can lead to a glance back at people who having done great things in the world, have impacted another generation. However, we should always use October (in the UK) and February (in the USA and Canada), to turn up the volume of our blackness and celebrate our history.  My roots are deeper than the skin I wear to work, to church or to school. This BHM, I celebrate what makes me different and how I was created in God’s image.

    Darwin, in his escapist mentality, gave the world an image of a monkey to depict evolution. Unfortunately, there have been many occasions when that image has been used as a distorted representation of black people, who apparently refused to move from all fours to the erect posture of hunter-gatherer. That is why positive representation of black people from all walks of life, not only during this month but throughout the year, is very important. Some people who wish to deny the accurate history of Black people, run to the theory of confusion by using negative labels and descriptors to break our spirit. However, BHM continues to affirm that we have a stake on earth— look at the size of Africa before and after earth-splitting environmental changes.

    Diversity provides the world with access to grow into its full potential in terms of commerce and freedoms that other species lack. For example, a lion has no need to prove its origins or intelligence to the tiger. They both belong to the “Big Cat” family. I strongly believe that the world (metaphorically) still has one tree which gives birth to its kind. But there is potential for it to yield a progressed kind, where a guava tree produces passion, apples and mangos because diversity has bridged the historical, cancerous division between the branches.

    My mother: an example of unity and perseverance

    This month I celebrate my mother Rachel, a Black-African woman, who only studied up to year three of primary school. Due to colonialism, she was separated from her parents at fifteen, to work the land in the Rift Valley while they returned home to Murang’a, near Nairobi, Kenya. She went through an extremely difficult time but continued to work hard to raise us and to put my brothers and I through school.  For years, she has supported her community so others could stand too. And although we complain about her excessive giving, at 85, she has shown us how historical wrongs turned on their head can expel divisions between people.

    Lived experience of dual diagnosis

    David, shares his experience of homelessness as well as overcoming alcohol abuse and mental health struggles.

    I’ve had depression, anxiety and OCD intrusive thoughts since I was around 9 years old. It was pretty scary at that age, as I had no idea of what was going on. I remember feeling apart or different from everyone else, and had a feeling that something was just ‘not right’. On the outside I was quite a happy outgoing friendly kid, but on the inside I was very unhappy and lonely.

    I first discovered alcohol at around the same age 9-10. I vividly remember the effect of alcohol leaving me calm and relaxed, and feeling ‘normal’, whatever normal means? It was a very addictive feeling. The only problem was once the alcohol wore off, the mental health problems came back. I didn’t realise it then, but I had learnt to self-medicate.

    I did try to reach out to my family and GP in my late teens and early twenties, but they didn’t understand what was going on. That left me feeling ashamed, stigmatised and misunderstood for many years. I remember telling myself ‘I’ll just get on with it myself ‘and ‘drink my way through it’. I was alcohol dependent by the time I was around 23. I was now caught in a trap, I couldn’t stop drinking because I would get withdrawals, and was also afraid to stop due to being mentally unwell.

    I continued to drink daily for many years, and ended up park drinking and street drinking. I developed alcoholic hepatitis which was really painful and was told by Doctors I had a year to live. But I was more afraid of stopping drinking than dying. I have no idea why I stopped drinking, but looking back it was a combination of a lot of factors. The main one being able to talk to someone in MH services openly about my MH issues without feeling judged for the first time. This was a very freeing experience.

    Stopping drinking was really hard, as my MH problems worsened instantly without the alcohol. I can’t explain how hard it was to go through it, especially as I knew one drink would take it all away. But I didn’t drink and threw myself straight into recovery. I started taking medication for my MH problems, I engaged with local MH services, had therapy, attend fellowship meetings, went back into education and volunteered at various local services.

    It hasn’t been easy in recovery, I was made homeless early on and that was a pretty hard time. I have SHP to thank for helping to rehouse me. I now believe I’ve come full circle working for St Mungo’s, and feel privileged to be able to help those who going through the same issues I once had. I still have to look after my mental health, but I’m doing well. Recovery has been a life changing experience it’s been incredible, and I haven’t a drink or drug now for over 12 ½ years.

    Leaving the streets isn’t easy

    In this long read, Outreach Coordinator for our Tower Hamlets team, Leon, discusses the complexities of supporting people away from homelessness.

    First, a bit about me…

    I was born in England but moved to Edinburgh within my first year. I lived with my mum in different Thatcher era council estates. Music was my escape from some tough times growing up. From these musical roots, I’ve carried creativity and innovation into my work with people sleeping rough in East London.

    And a bit about the team…

    We reflect the locality we live in. We have representation from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, which is vital for supporting people away from the streets, particularly as we communicate to people early in the morning or late at night. Our diverse representation helps us overcome barriers of language, culture, and faith – giving the people we work with the best opportunity to maximise their time working with us.

    Between us we have expansive local street knowledge, years of experience of working with vulnerable people, as well as passion and an ability to work under pressure. We also have knowledge of local services, welfare rights and, particularly important in the current climate, an understanding of navigating immigration cases in partnership with St Mungo’s Street Legal service, Praxis and partnerships law firms, like the Tower Hamlets Law CentreDuncan Lewis and Tamson’s Solicitors.

    We are blessed to have a dedicated team which includes roles specialising in health and supporting women, as well as strong partnerships with other impressive local agencies, including NHS Rough Sleeping Mental Health Team and Providence Row.

    Our day to day…

    In outreach our day either starts early or finishes late. Morning shifts start at 5am and evening shifts finish anywhere from midnight to 2am.

    The first thing I do in the morning is check our referrals from StreetLink, which is run by St Mungo’s in partnership with Homeless Link. The StreetLink team field calls and monitor alerts which they use to drop pins upon geographical locations. They are sent to us and we start organising and prioritising people in need of support.

    Then we will head out and start to look for people. But it’s not just a matter of finding them – people don’t always want our help at first. This is because many people sleeping rough have had negative experiences with other services in the past so it’s hard for them to trust us. Not to mention that it’s very early in the morning – I know if someone woke me up at 5am I wouldn’t be too happy!

    It’s our job to build a relationship and encourage people to accept our support. You have to put yourself in a rough sleeper’s shoes – there is a lot to think about when you approach a homeless person. What should my opening be? What is my body language like? How much eye contact is friendly and how much is threatening? There is a lot of skill involved in being an Outreach Worker and it can take time to learn how to approach people.

    At around 9 or 10am, we head back to the office. Anyone we have been able to engage with will come back with us. They are given a hot meal and we’ll have a chat so I can work out the best way to help. I’ll also follow up with people we have met on previous shifts. Although we’re the first point of contact for people sleeping rough, we don’t just forget about them once they’re off the streets. There are many people we have supported throughout their journey to recovery.

    One person I’m particularly proud of is someone we first came across at the start of the pandemic. He had been homeless for years – lots of different teams across London had met him before, but he never wanted to accept help. He was a heroin user and was in a very dysfunctional relationship. But last year, we finally managed to get through to him. We found him a place in emergency accommodation and now, just a year later, he’s living in his own flat. It’s cases like that that make the job so rewarding.

    As well as being out on the streets, we also run a hub just off Brick Lane in the heart of Whitechapel in partnership with Providence Row. This gives rough sleepers a place to make contact with us throughout office hours. This consistent availability allows us to work with people to identify potential accommodation and put support in place to help them move away from the streets.

    We also have emergency bed spaces available to us – these are held for people fleeing violence, people with underlying physical health conditions, or other supporting needs that we deem as high risk.

    Before I go home I will hand over to the night shift team with a report on the day. But even when I’m at home, work is still on my mind. We can’t support everyone off the streets immediately. At night, I often worry about the people I have seen on the streets, especially women who often face exploitation. I wonder where they are and what they’re doing. And I hope that one day we will get through to them too.

    We never give up on people

    At Mungo’s we have a ‘never give up’ attitude when working with the rough sleeping community. During the pandemic our team has supported hundreds of people – in March 2020 alone, we supported over 130 people off the streets. The team’s response to this global emergency was simply heroic and demonstrated that with communal responsibility and action, we can end homelessness.

    However, sometimes even when people do engage with us, there are no immediate options for people off the streets. This is the most frustrating aspect of our work. There are lots of complex reasons why this might be the case – some may have compromised their placements locally, others may have exited prison without a supporting network and an accommodation option. In the current climate, the days of guaranteed offers for offenders coming out of prison have diminished significantly. We see people who have absconded from hospitals, being cuckooed out of their flats by street gangs and people fleeing domestic violence – the variables are extreme and can be totally different person by person, day by day.

    If there are delays in placing people sleeping rough, we have to exercise our specific knowledge of welfare rights and the Homeless Reduction Act. We offer street assessments, so we can gather sufficient information on someone’s local connections to towns and cities in the UK and offer them to return. We can sometimes refer people straight into the private rented sector, via locality agencies, where our commitment to partnership work has resulted in some great outcomes for people.  We can also offer people routes to their original boroughs in London, cities in Britain, and reconnecting people to Europe and beyond.  This service is for people with no eligibility in the borough or coming from different parts of the world.

    Our commitment to ensuring everybody has options when in crisis is unyielding. Leaving the streets isn’t easy, but we will continue working day and night to reach people and support them into accommodation – and you can help us!

    See miracles in life everyday…

    You can support our work in two easy steps: smiling and using StreetLink. Why are these steps important?

    Studies have shown that smiling releases endorphins, other natural painkillers, and serotonin. Together, these brain chemicals make us feel good from head to toe. Not only do they elevate your mood, but they also relax your body and reduce physical pain. Smiling is a natural drug. Next time you walk past a homeless person, stop, make eye contact, smile and say hello. If you feel comfortable, giving someone a few moments on top can give them a feeling of recognition, dignity, and even hope. If our society is going to grow, we all know that our future generations will remember how we treated the worst off in the world.

    This interaction costs nothing and if you see them sleeping rough, take another five minutes and complete a StreetLink referral. That few minutes may help us identify a person in critical need of support and care. You will be helping us, help people achieve a pathway to somewhere they can call home. For us at the Tower Hamlets Street Outreach Team, that is our primary objective, which we will continue to fight for 24/7.

    Biphobia and bi-erasure should not be as prevalent as they are

    For International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia 2021, Emma from our Lease and Contracts team explains what biphobia and bi-erasuare are and how they are sadly still too prevalent in today’s society.

    There are many different stereotypes depicted that are then perpetuated by society and contribute to bisexuals having such a negative reputation. Biphobia and bi-erasure have sadly been prevalent in society for decades, if not longer, and as I’ve gotten older I have noticed some similarities and some glaring differences in the portrayal of bi men, women, non-binaries and all other gender identities in the media. For clarification, for the duration of this blog, I will be using the term “bi” to cover all those under the umbrella term (e.g. bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, multisexual, polysexual, heteroflexible, homoflexible, fluid).

    A common stereotype of bi people generally is that they’re greedy nymphomaniacs unable to settle down with one person, and therefore more likely to cheat which then leads to the belief that they are more likely to contract and pass on STIs. There are no facts to support any of these claims, and yet these are the most common accusations the bi community faces. Bi people usually find that a lot their “friends” believe they are always trying to flirt with them, usually after we have opened up and come out to them which discourages many from being open with others about their sexuality. Partners often accuse bi people of wanting to leave them for someone of a different gender, claiming they can’t be satisfied with one partner because they can be attracted to more than one gender. A common claim is that bi people are just going through a phase or doing it for attention before they eventually decide on heterosexuality or homosexuality; that sexuality is and can only be that black and white with no grey areas. Additionally, when a bi person goes from dating one gender to another and people comment “so you’re straight/gay now”; this insistence that we must be one or the other invalidates our orientation and is one of the most infuriating things to experience.

    As for differences, bi women are often sexualised and fetishized whereas bi men are abhorred and ridiculed. Bi women face comments from straight men about automatically being ok with a threesome, and many face attitudes for so-called “gold star” lesbians who won’t have anything to do with bi women as they may have been with a man in the past. Bi men are not as fetishized; instead, they are often avoided by straight women, who act as though they are dirty or shameful and more likely to pass on STIs due to possible relations with other men, and gay men, for being “too straight”. There is one common element I have noticed about the different things said about bi men and bi women in particular that I would like to draw attention to. A lot of the comments I and other bi women hear is that we’re only doing it for attention from men, to make us seem more sexually appealing, and that eventually we will settle down with a man so we can have a family. Bi men, on the other hand, are frequently told that they’re just too scared to be gay and that they will eventually admit that they are gay and settle down with a man. In both circumstances, a male partner is viewed as the inevitable ending for us all; it implies that women are not a viable option for a long-term partner, and this in itself is a very sexist attitude to hold and perpetuate.

    Those who identify as non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer, etc. usually face the same comments as bi men and women but it is dependent on how others perceive them which in itself is alienating and can be very dysphoric to the individual.  It erases more of their identity than bi men or women as their gender is invalidated as well as their sexual orientation, and this can be very damaging.

    One of the most concerning things I have found from speaking with others within the bi community is that some of the worst biphobia and bi-erasure they have experienced has come from within the LGBTQIA+ community itself. Here, too, exist the beliefs that bi people will cheat with a different gender because they can never be satisfied with one partner. This is not only unfair and untrue, but it also invalidates any who choose a polyamorous lifestyle. There are also many who claim bi people don’t belong if they are in a relationship with someone of a different gender to themselves as they have “straight passing privilege”, meaning they don’t face the same discrimination as an openly and obviously gay couple would as they can pass as a straight couple. This further alienates bi people from a community that is supposed to accept us, and has left a lot of bi people questioning if they want to date outside of the bi or straight community as they feel they will get less judgement.

    The attitude towards bisexuality from both straight and LGBTQIA+ people is that it is a stepping point to “picking a side”; they ignore the huge expanse of no man’s land between straight and gay where all the bi’s live. Also, both straight and LGBTQIA+ people try to dictate what bi means, assigning descriptions without discussing it with those it concerns. For example, bi people are often told that identifying as bisexual is transphobic and/or doesn’t include non-binary people and, that if you are attracted to trans/non binary people, you are automatically pansexual. The basis is that “bi” means “two” and is interpreted as two genders; this is not the true definition of bisexuality which is romantic or sexual attraction to more than one gender.

    Biphobia and bi-erasure should not be as prevalent as they are. In the last fifty years, we as a society have made great strides in acceptance for those within the LGBTQIA+ community, and we are in a much better position than our forebears. That’s not to say that there isn’t more still to do, but now imagine that that community who fought so hard to get here are also still ostracising one of their own; bi people are still fighting stereotypes, misconceptions and ignorance from all corners when we should be banding together. We need to unite to show that, regardless of our spectrum, all flags are valid, seen, respected, valued, and loved.

    Find out more about Diversity and Inclusion at St Mungo’s here.

    Looking back at the last year, “What a privilege to be a part of it all”

    John from our Outreach team in Bristol reflects on what has been achieved in the past year.

    Looking back at the last year, the first words I think of are tiring and exhausting. But also, what a privilege to be part of it all. What we managed to achieve within that year is absolutely amazing.

    When we first went into lockdown we had to get everyone in, and we had to find the best way to get everybody in. It was that simple. My role is to go onto the streets and reach out to people. To build a relationship. To build trust.

    Sometimes, I was literally able to chat to someone who was sleeping rough, talk to Bristol City Council, and depending on what was available I could get them into emergency accommodation within 20 minutes.

    I have to mention other services. I can only talk about my experience but I can’t emphasize enough how much it was a collective thing. The team, St Mungo’s, other homelessness organisations, the emergency services, Bristol City Council – us as a city, we all pulled together.

    Let’s not forget that most important is the person who is on the street. What we manage to achieve alongside each other. When I think about people who are homeless and how difficult it must have been – one minute they were on a busy street, the next thing they knew the whole city had locked down. How hard that was for people with no homes, for people that needed support or who had alcohol and drug problems. We had to make sure we tailored our support so it was right for their needs.

    You need to remember how fast everything happened at the beginning. Hotels being opened for people on the streets, supported accommodation project making changes so they could keep going – it all happened very quickly! It’s also important to emphasise how Bristol City Council stepped in to help, and how the government gave funding.

    It was stressful and exhausting. I remember some nights I’d get home after a day’s work and fall asleep with my tea on my lap. Go straight to bed and then wake up the next morning to do it all again.

    When we offered people on the streets a hotel room, they couldn’t believe it. Honestly, within a night you could see a difference. An instant stabilisation – being somewhere warm, safe and with a hot meal. Doing the job I do I know how important that is. Imagine how difficult it is on the streets; how hard it is to rest, to find food, to find warm bedding, to find somewhere safe to sleep. And how traumatic that must be for anybody.

    Of course, Covid has been horrific for everyone. But I do have gratitude for some of the positive things that I’ve seen come out of a bad experience. There were people that we had been engaging with for some time – who might have experienced trauma, difficulties with their mental health, or have had challenging experiences – and we were able to get them in for the first time. And because we could get them into emergency accommodation, we have had so many amazing stories of people moving into their own places. Sometimes I see people that I supported into accommodation and they are walking down the street like a completely different person.

    Recently, over winter, we’ve activated our severe weather response three times in Bristol. So we’ve got Covid, we’ve got lockdowns starting and stopping, shops opening and closing and then all of a sudden the weather is freezing and it’s all hands on deck again. We’re out from 6 in the morning until midnight, going out to get everyone in from the cold.

    Even though we achieved what we did in lockdown, sadly there are still people on the street. We can’t lose sight of that. Every single person deserves a home.

    When I reflect back on the last year – exhaustion, tiredness, not sleeping very well – have I recovered from it? Absolutely not! As a team it’s been hard work.

    But also, what a lovely thing to be able to do. What a privilege to be part of it.

    And you know what? I’d do it all again tomorrow.

    “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.

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