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.

    Our severe weather response will save lives

    Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) is triggered when the Met Office forecasts freezing temperatures. This trigger can vary from region to region, for example in London it’s zero degrees or below forecast for one night, in Brighton, our commissioners use a “feels like” temperature. Most boroughs will activate SWEP when it’s a three night zero forecast. Due to the pandemic SWEP will be different this year. Here Wendy Dodds, Outreach Coordinator in Reading shines a light on what this means and what’s been happening on her streets.

    Photo of Wendy Dodds, Reading Outreach

    I have worked in outreach for sixteen and a half years. In that time I have seen many system changes but the heart breaking circumstances for people remain devastating.

    St Mungo’s were first commissioned to run the outreach service in Reading on 1 January 2008 and we have managed it ever since. We took it over from an organisation called Crime Reduction Initiative, where I had been working since April 2004 and when St Mungo’s took over I moved to be on the team.

    The past context and why SWEP is important

    The homeless picture was very different then, we didn’t have a homeless pathway and it very much depended on our relationship with housing providers to enable a client to access accommodation. This saw an imbalance in service provision and often people with the most complex needs suffered the most. People were more willing to accept a person with low support needs into their accommodation. We saw people who were more entrenched in rough sleeping because there was no pathway for them, yet some people new to rough sleeping were picked up quickly while others remained on the streets for years. It’s shocking to reflect back and I’m glad that has changed.

    We didn’t have a Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) back then either. SWEP was introduced as a life-saving initiative by central government. I have a love hate relationship with SWEP, I love that we get more people in and treated as a priority but it adds a lot more pressure to an already pressurised team.

    Some people still refuse help and it happens a lot, mainly because people do not want to share accommodation – especially if a person had experienced trauma there can be a lot of triggers sleeping in a noisy environment where people are wrestling with all kinds of issues, people often say they don’t feel safe and would prefer to sleep alone on the street. The worry never leaves you, I get frustrated and I make sure people know they are at risk of death, you have to be blunt sometimes – there’s no point dressing it up SWEP is lifesaving and there is no doubt cold kills. In Reading we have people refuse to come inside, people who will accept our help and people who are sofa-surfing booking a space in the hope they will be escalated through the pathway into housing. It’s a tough call, as all are vulnerable but SWEP is emergency provision to save lives. If I give you an example on one night during SWEP last year we had 14 people stay and 9 were sofa surfing.

    During the pandemic

    So with the Covid-19 pandemic and our policy to offer everyone a room of their own in a local B&B will bring a new SWEP. I will be really interested to see what the landscape is like this year. It’s going to be very interesting. The barrier to shared accommodations has been removed so I’m hoping we will be able to help people who tend to refuse support.

    This year has been a difficult year with constant changes to our service provision to adapt to Covid-19 restrictions.

    The highlights of my job and what drive me

    Housing First! In Reading we received funding for a Housing First Outreach worker through a philanthropist. I am a huge believer in housing first and I would love to see it expand across the UK. Seeing the progress people make has been inspirational. It makes me proud to have played a small part in it. Watching a client on their road to recovery and bumping into them on the high street and seeing the difference… it makes me so proud even when they are not my client.

    It’s a massive privilege to do a job I really love. These are people that have fallen through every single safety net in society. We should be the ones that feel privileged that they even engage with us. We need to look at the barriers to why people don’t want to engage. Housing is a right, it shouldn’t be deserved, and it is disgusting. People shouldn’t have to be on the streets but unfortunately they are. If I came in to work tomorrow and was told I had no job because we had solved homelessness – I would skip all the way home.

    Cold weather can kill. Our clients are at greater risk due to underlying health conditions and the year round dangers of sleeping rough. But in extreme cold, these challenges are brought into sharp focus for our clients, for our staff and for our partners and supporters.

    It is vital that everyone who is on the streets, or who is at risk of rough sleeping, can access self-contained accommodation as soon as cold weather hits, alongside the support they need to recover and rebuild their lives. Find out more how you can help here.

    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.

    Corporate volunteering with Fieldfisher

    This #VolunteersWeek, Millie Hawes from Fieldfisher shares how their teams have been getting stuck in and volunteering with St Mungo’s, and what getting involved has meant to them. 

    The St Mungo’s and Fieldfisher partnership is like no other. St Mungo’s has gone above and beyond in giving our people the chance to get involved in every aspect of their work, allowing us to get a genuine insight into their community.

    Corporate volunteering is at the heart of our partnership. Fieldfisher’s staff were excited that not only could they get stuck into wild and wonderful fundraising activities, but they could also engage directly with St Mungo’s clients. Our IT team was especially keen to leverage their skills to support people in their recovery from homelessness. They designed a bespoke web development course for the Recovery College and helped to upskill those ambitious clients looking to one day set up their own business. The team are now working on developing a more holistic IT and soft skills training course that will be delivered remotely in this new post-Covid-19 world. This project has enabled Fieldfisher teams to develop their skills personally and professionally while offering an invaluable opportunity to increase the employability of St Mungo’s clients.

    Volunteering doesn’t have to fit in a neat box; it complements fundraising and awareness-raising beautifully. For World Homelessness Day in October, and to mark the 50th Anniversary of St Mungo’s, 50 Fieldfisher employees donned the eye-catching orange t-shirts for the day and walked the streets of London raising money and awareness for St Mungo’s (those t-shirts really are hard to miss), and referring any rough sleepers they saw via StreetLink. This was the perfect catalyst to inspire people to do more. Motivated by the people they met and stories they heard, teams signed up to prepare Christmas meals and create decorations at some of St Mungo’s services, one department put on a rugby event with a few familiar faces (spot who you recognise below), and others started doing weekly lunch-time runs around London so they could chat with rough sleepers they came across.

    What’s next? I hear you ask. The world around us may be changing, but we are prioritising creativity in finding new ways of doing things. Remote digital inclusion workshops being the obvious next step. We are also all too aware of some of the housing and social welfare legal challenges facing people experiencing homelessness so we are launching a project to empower St Mungo’s staff to help clients have their rights realised.

    Ultimately, our passion to support St Mungo’s and their clients continues to grow. Volunteering isn’t just a ‘nice thing to do’, it has given us a chance to develop and share our own skills, to think creatively, to take initiative, and to take responsibility for helping to change lives. There’s so much on offer so, what’s stopping you? Get stuck into the community!

    Volunteers are an integral part of St Mungo’s and we recognise and value the huge contribution they make, there are many ways to get involved.

    Our Women’s Strategy turns 1

    Today is International Women’s Day, and Cat Glew, our Women’s Strategy Manager, celebrates the first anniversary of our Women’s Strategy, and shares details of our exciting projects for the year ahead.

    Today, on Sunday 8 March 2020, the world is celebrating International Women’s Day – and St Mungo’s is celebrating the first birthday of our Women’s Strategy!

    A lot has changed in 12 months at St Mungo’s and beyond. Across the world and in our services, women are facing challenges to their rights and their safety that we can’t ignore.

    The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) has published a new Gender Social Norms Index warning that progress towards gender equality is slowing worldwide. Nearly nine in 10 people across the world hold some bias against women.

    The data showed that half of men and women think that men make better political leaders, and four in 10 think men make better business executives. Twenty-eight per cent of people think it is justified for a man to beat his wife.

    Progress is possible, even if it does feel far too slow. Last week saw the return of the Domestic Abuse Bill to Parliament, more than two years since it was first introduced. Along with the commitments to tackle rough sleeping made by the Government, the new bill offers a once in a generation opportunity to make sure the voices of women who are homeless and sleeping rough are heard by those in power.

    What’s changed since the launch of our Women’s Strategy

    It has never been more important to build alliances and partnerships with women’s organisations so that our clients can have access to the specialist support they deserve. This year, we were delighted to be awarded funding from the Homeless Link Ending Women’s Homelessness Fund for a partnership project led by Standing Together Against Domestic Violence.

    The Safety by Experience project will develop bespoke tools for homelessness services working to end violence against women. We’ll be working with clients to ask what safety advice they would give other women in homelessness settings, and with staff to create tools that fit our services much better.

    We’ve also made progress towards our Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance accreditation this year. We’ve got new domestic abuse training and e-learning available for staff, along with an updated domestic abuse policy, quick guide, posters and leaflets.

    The Women’s Strategy work has focussed this year on our core challenge – creating an environment of physical and emotional safety for women, who are at disproportionate risk of harm from those they love and trust. But as the strategy enters its second year, it’s also time for a positive celebration of the strength and resilience of our female clients and women’s services.

    LGBTQIA+ Network: Emma’s experience

    Emma joined St Mungo’s in the Strategic Asset Team and has also been an active member of our LGBTQIA+ Network ever since. In this blog, she tells us what the network means to her, reflects on the importance of, and shares a powerful poem on, LGBT History Month.

    When I came to work for St Mungo’s, I was astounded on my first day at the obvious dedication to diversity and inclusion. I have never worked anywhere before where they were so inclusive, and it blew me away.

    I felt like a weight had been lifted off me; here, finally, was a place where I didn’t need to hide parts of myself to fit in, somewhere I wouldn’t be asked stupid and intrusive questions, and I wouldn’t face judgement. I was so excited, I even took a picture of the notice up on the toilets about using whichever bathroom made you more comfortable and text it to a loads of friends, gushing over it (I’ll be honest, they didn’t quite understand my excitement).

    I was excited to work for a company that had been consistently recognised by Stonewall, and that showed such acceptance of all different types of people, and celebrated these differences. I wanted to be a part of this, which is why I volunteer to help for as many events as I can, even if my contribution is just a poem.

    When I then learned about how many different diversity networks there were, I immediately contacted the ones that fit me, that meant the most, and one of these was the LGBT+ Network.

    I can’t put into words how it feels to know there are other people in the office that, like me, are proud of their sexuality and want to encourage others to be the same. It’s an amazing feeling to not feel so alone.

    Despite growing up in Greater London, I didn’t know that many openly LGBT+ people in my area in my younger, formative years. I knew experimenters, a few gay guys (from whom I have experienced some of the worst bi-erasure in my life), and I was bullied for being unapologetically bi in an all girls’ school.

    To get into my early adult years and be able to work somewhere so accepting, with a network of people like me – words don’t do the feelings justice.

    So when it comes to LGBT+ History Month… The reason it’s so important to me, like everything else meaningful in life, is multi-layered. For a start, I have a degree in history, have always loved it, and always believed that we have to know the past in order to be best prepared for the future. We do, as a species, tend to repeat patterns of behaviour, and being able to recognise these patterns can stop us from repeatedly making the same mistakes. There’s the corny reason out of the way.

    Another reason – probably the most significant – it’s so important to me is because it is humbling and uniting to look back at who fought and sacrificed so that I could enjoy the freedoms I have. And yes, the fight is not over, we still haven’t achieved the aim of complete acceptance, but we are in a much better position than we were even five years ago.

    I look back at what others achieved, despite the mountainous obstacles they had to overcome, and it makes me feel better about the biphobia and bigotry I have to face, and I know that things will get better. Knowing what all these amazing people did for us inspires me to be better, do better, do more for my community. It makes me want to fight, raise awareness, be a safe space, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

    LGBT History Month gives us the opportunity to highlight these people, what they gave in our past for a future they didn’t know of, and I hope they inspire others like they inspired me; to be unapologetically yourself.


    You marvel at the beauty
    Of a rainbow that paints the sky
    Wondering how such brightness
    Can be birthed from a storm
    And yet question our colours
    And our tempestuous struggles
    When you, ancient perpetrator
    Are the rains and winds
    The lightning and the thunder
    Trying in vain to dim us
    And then claim it does not exist

    But we weep not for we are protected
    By each other under the umbrella
    A shelter which has expanded over years
    Shielding many from the hail storm
    Of insults and phobia, words and actions
    Seeking to break our blossoming community
    But we are family, connected by shared experience
    Ready to fight and defend all
    Who don’t stick to monochrome

    Across the fields of years gone by, I see
    An army of multi-coloured flags
    Sauntering forward with self-determined righteousness
    Hearts and souls covered in blood and tears
    But hands free from the stain
    Never looking back, but never forsaking the rear view
    And I march with them

    We remember and honour all
    Who could not be here today
    But whose courageous actions
    Paved the path we have walked thus far
    And now we, blessed by their inception
    Must continue through the dense jungle
    Until all the world is painted
    In the brightest colours of joy

    And the Old World
    Bigoted, prejudiced and cruel
    Is trampled underfoot
    A festival or light and colour
    Acceptance of every shade
    Waiting to greet us
    In the dawning of the New Age

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

    Knocked Back: A tragic loss of human potential

    Our Knocked Back report revealed that at least 12,000 people who are homeless are missing out on potentially life-saving drug and alcohol treatment. Oliver Standing, Director of Collective Voice, reflects on the report’s findings.

    Collective Voice is the national alliance of drug and alcohol treatment charities, whose members collectively support 200,000 people every year. A substantial proportion of these people will not only be dealing with a substance misuse problem but with other areas of severe and multiple disadvantage, including homelessness.

    For this reason, we welcome the publication of St Mungo’s latest report, Knocked Back, highlighting the growing prevalence of drug and alcohol use by people sleeping rough, and its increasingly tragic consequences.

    It will be sadly unsurprising to many in our sector to read that drugs and alcohol caused the deaths of 380 people sleeping rough in 2018 (over half the total number of people who died). But we must remain shocked and appalled at this growing public health crisis, and stay resolute in our ambition to reach the huge numbers sleeping rough who desperately need treatment but at present are not getting it – 12,000 people according to the St Mungo’s report.

    Every year people in the substance misuse treatment sector anticipate with sickening dread the latest drug death statistics. And with every year in recent times bringing more bad news, the dread only increases. In 2018, we know that hundreds of people sleeping rough died as a result of drugs or alcohol. The total number of drug related deaths are even higher, at 4,359. That’s the largest amount since we started counting in 1993 and a 16% leap from 2017’s figures. Those statistics alone make for disturbing reading.

    But what’s really disturbing are the human stories behind the statistics. Our communities have lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, who will no longer fulfil the promise their parents saw in their bright eyes as children, will no longer laugh or love. These are not just numbers, but a tragic loss of human potential.

    It can sometimes seem hard to determine the real-world impact of public policy making. But surely the seemingly unstoppable increase of this particular type of death marks a clear and significant failure of the public policy and political leadership necessary to protect a very vulnerable group of people.

    When it comes to people who use drugs and sleep rough we can’t ignore stigma as a factor. When people are dying on our streets from conditions we know how to treat we must ask ourselves the question — what is different about this group of people that allows this to happen well into 21st century Britain?

    The most frustrating aspect of this? That the evidence on what works is so very clear. We have a world class compendium of evidence in our “Orange Book” and multiple NICE guidelines. We have a substance use workforce not short of ambition, compassion and expertise.

    It’s welcome to see St Mungo’s Knocked Back report make clear the link between homelessness and drug related deaths. It demonstrates how some substance use outreach services, so vital in reaching people sleeping rough, have been lost in the blizzard of local authority cuts.

    While in 2013, local government was handed the responsibility for commissioning life-saving substance misuse treatment services, but it was asked to do so with one hand tied behind its back. In the eight years to 2020 local government has lost 60 pence in every pound it received from national government.

    It’s welcome to see the report stress the importance of close partnership work across the domains of severe and multiple disadvantage. People’s challenges simply do not resolve into the neat concepts such as ‘substance use’ or ‘mental ill health’ we use to think about the delivery of public services.

    On the frontline, practitioners have of course always known that partnership working across those boundaries is essential. The same can be said for service-managers, commissioners and Chief Executives. National programmes such as Fulfilling Lives and MEAM are making robust coordinated attempts to bring together these services at the local level. These are all to be welcomed.

    In the sector, we have the compassion, ambition and expertise to meet the needs of a great proportion of the people we support — we just lack the resource.

    The government’s new addictions strategy and monitoring unit should both be unveiled this year and will provide important opportunities to drive much needed change.

    I implore the government to set out an ambitious plan for preventing further deaths through the delivery of adequately funded evidence-based services — and I know that effective partnership between the substance use and homeless sectors will be essential in supporting the delivery of such a plan.

    Read our Knocked Back research.

    Find out more about Collective Voice.

    Jo and Rai take on our Make a Splash challenge

    In this blog we hear from Jo and Rachel who took part in our Make a Splash challenge on the morning of #GivingTuesday. Our swimming fundraiser is a fun way to make a splash and raise some cash to help us reach more people sleeping rough and bring them into the warmth. 

    1. Can you introduce yourself and tell us why you decided to take part in St Mungo’s Make A Splash challenge?

    Jo: Rai and I are part of a swimming group who try to get into the water all year round. We quite often do 10-15 minutes in the winter (as the water gets cold), and so when we saw the St Mungo’s Make a Splash appeal we decided that we would challenge ourselves to do the full 50 minutes in the sea!!

    Rai: During December we’re all rushing around buying for our loved ones, it felt right to do something for those that don’t have as much as myself. I also wanted to do something that would test my own limits; the sunrise splash hit both these targets.

    Image: Make A Splash swimmers
    Jo and Rai after the swimming challenge

    2. Do you think homelessness is a big problem in the area that you live?

    Jo: Yes, and it’s getting bigger. There have been huge changes and more people sleeping rough throughout the year. In Cornwall there used to be a seasonal influx, but that season doesn’t seem to be there any more. There are people sleeping rough here all year round.

    Rai: Cornwall is one of Europe’s poorest locations so we have a high population of people who are homeless. Additionally, when we have cold snaps – which are rarer this end of the country – people sleeping rough really suffer as they aren’t prepared for it as it’s not something that they would usually have to deal with.

    3. How did you find the Make A Splash challenge?

    Jo: We did 50 minutes in the sea in Cornwall where we live. The sea was about 11°C, so we got pretty cold; my fingers and toes completely stopped working until they thawed about an hour or so later.

    Whilst we were in the water we had a good chance to chat about why we were doing this. We were both looking forward to some hot chocolate and a bath when we finished. When you’re homeless you just don’t have that luxury – that really struck a chord with both of us.

    Rai: As well as the usual refreshing and exhilarating experience, it was also marked by a sense of purpose. In the last 10-15 minutes it was especially difficult to remain in the water as the coldness was beginning to creep into my arms and legs, and I had no control over my fingers and hands (a first for me during a sea swim).

    4. Do you regularly swim in the sea? Tell us what it’s like taking on an open water challenge during the winter months.

    Rai: I have been regularly swimming in the sea since November 2018 – I try to go at least once a week. I always swim without a wetsuit. The best part was completing the challenge – not because of the fact it was over but because I was so proud to have pushed my cold water acclimatisation ability.

    Jo: The weather can be unpredictable and we won’t swim when it is dangerous to do so. We have looked out at the sea and thought, hmmm, maybe not today! The morning on #GivingTuesday was absolutely gorgeous and there is something peaceful and beautiful about seeing the sun rise over a wintry flat calm sea on a cold crisp morning. It was definitely inspiring.

    5. What do you hope St Mungo’s will be able to do with the money you raise?

    Jo: I hope that it will help St Mungo’s to make sure that homeless and vulnerable people will be able to sleep safely. I really love that they are accepting of homeless people with dogs. I own two and they are such a comfort when things get too much – I can’t ever imagine having to choose between them and being safe in a bed at night with food. I hope that in supporting St Mungo’s, fewer people have to make this choice.

    Image: Dogs-make-a-splash
    Jo’s dogs came out to support the challenge

    6. Have you got a message to any supporters thinking about taking on our Make A Splash challenge this winter?

    Jo: Do it! It’s brilliant and really gives you time to contemplate and appreciate the important things in life.

    Rai: My message for those thinking of doing the Make A Splash Challenge would take the form of some advice for those who want to do more than run in and out of the water.

    • Cold water swimming is all about mental fortitude!
    • Take your time getting in and breathe through your cold water shock response. It’s perfectly natural to gasp and shiver but it will pass once you’re fully in.
    • Once you’re in, stay close to the shore and get out before you start shivering again – even if it’s only for 5 minutes.
    • If you can, swim with someone else who’s into it.
    • Wrap up warm when you get out and appreciate the lovely sensations!

    7. Would you take on the challenge again yourself?

    Jo: Yes! 51 minutes, bring it on!

    Rai: I plan on doing the Polar Bear Challenge in 2020, which I hope to include St Mungo’s Make A Splash challenge.

    Fancy taking the icy plunge? You can still take part in our Make a Splash challenge.

    Cold Water swimming can be dangerous. We advise that those wanting to take on a long distance swimming challenge do so in a swimming pool or seek professional training before doing so. If you have any under lying health conditions please consult a doctor before taking on Make a Splash.

    Here’s to 2018 and Thank You

    St Mungo’s Chief Executive, Howard Sinclair, reflects on the achievements by clients, staff and volunteers this year and looks ahead to 2018.

    This time of year – however you mark the holidays – can be a time of reflection, gratitude and goodwill.

    Reflecting on 2017, I’ve been thinking about our clients’ achievements this year.

    Mandy (pictured centre), for example. Her story has included mental health issues, family relationship breakdown and sleeping rough.

    Mandy now lives in a St Mungo’s project in Islington which is for people who need some support. She’s also connected in with our client representative group Outside In and our innovative Recovery College. In Mandy’s blog she wrote: “I am at a turning point in my life, where my life is more positive. I can honestly say I am doing things I never thought I would do. If it wasn’t for St Mungo’s I would most likely be dead, they saved my life.”

    On 21 June 2017 she and her friend Claire, who is also a client at St Mungo’s, led a team of St Mungo’s clients and staff up Snowdon. Between them they raised over £40,000 for St Mungo’s.

    It was a tremendous thing to do and a privilege to hear her talk about it at our Carol Concert this year. My very best wishes to her and all of the Snowdon Challenge team. Please do read more about what they accomplished and why.

    And Paul (pictured right). He’s an apprentice in our Housing First scheme in Brighton. This year he told us: “I have peace of mind, a safe home, a pound in my pocket, food in the cupboard and good friends – that’s a world beyond my wildest dreams.”

    My congratulations to him and all those involved in our award-winning apprenticeship scheme for people with lived experience of homelessness. Apprentices like Garry (pictured left), who works in one of our projects for people with mental health needs.

    He told us about his new role: “It feels really good that I’m helping people to recover – it’s that old cliché ‘giving something back’. I’m being a resource rather than using the resource.”

    I agree with his sentiment that: “There’s outside stuff beyond St Mungo’s where frustrations lie, for example, things that should be different with the government, but you have to work with what you’ve got. There are only some things you can impact.”

    We live in a complicated world, where homelessness is rising and, without more joined up national and local strategies, the concern is that welfare changes, lack of affordable accommodation and other social factors may see even more of a rise in rough sleeping and homelessness.

    But homelessness is not inevitable. In 2018 I will be sitting on the Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel, made up of people from charities and local government. Our role is to support a new Ministerial Taskforce, which brings together ministers from key departments to provide a cross-government approach to preventing rough sleeping and homelessness. I will be making sure our client voices are heard as we feedback  on ways we can work together to end homelessness and rebuild people’s lives.

    Thank you to our clients, staff and amazing volunteers and supporters for their dedication and commitment this year. May I wish you all a happy and peaceful holiday. Here’s to 2018.

    Why I volunteer at the 365 shelter

    The third contactless donation station in Bristol launched last week at Bristol Energy. It’s a quick and easy way for people to donate £2 direct to the four city night shelters.

    Since the original launch in May for the two stations in Broadmead Shopping Quarter they have taken approximately £3,000.

    The night shelters are free for the people who use them but St Mungo’s and the other charities we work with rely on fundraising and donations to keep them open.

    Heather Lister volunteers at the 365 night shelter. She tells us why and what it is like to offer support to some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

    ‘I really enjoy working at the 365 shelter’

    I volunteer at the 365 shelter with my husband, Richard, once a fortnight. The shelter is in a Quaker Meeting House, and can accommodate 15 homeless people overnight. Two volunteers attend each night, with experienced members of staff on call.

    Why do I volunteer? We all see daily evidence of suffering, need, misfortune and injustice – I want to do my bit to try to make things better. It’s hard to ignore; misfortune and homelessness can affect anybody. Recently one of my sons became homeless when a long-term relationship broke down. Luckily, he could rely on family support – many cannot.

    I don’t think there are any special qualities that volunteers need, other than being happy to listen to troubles and triumphs, and having a conviction that this support is worthwhile – it is appreciated and it works.

    I really enjoy working at the 365 shelter. I don’t believe hardship and poverty improve anyone’s character or mental health – people may not be responsible for their situation, but they can still feel deep shame and become angry and depressed.

    But often we see the best of people – keeping their spirits up, being kind and hopeful, showing courage. I think we as volunteers can help people sustain this by being respectful and encouraging towards them.
    I can do little to change guests’ circumstances, but maybe I can play a small part in helping them endure and respond positively to help. So it’s enough that they appear pleased to see me, enjoy talking to me, and leave the shelter after a good night’s sleep with a smile and a lighter step.

    ‘What we do’

    Richard and I arrive at about 9.45pm to get things ready before guests arrive at 10.30pm. The first thing we do is check supplies (tea, coffee and sugar) and look through the hand-over book, where everyone who attends each night is recorded. We check whether there are any likely problems or considerations – we may be asked to give a guest a message or remind them of an appointment. Guests are referred by St Mungo’s, and we are given a list of people to expect. St Mungo’s tell us of any special medical conditions or needs people might have.

    Each guest is supplied with a camp bed and a plastic box with a sheet, duvet and pillow. When the guests arrive they find their boxes, set up their beds and have a welcoming cup of tea and a chat. First-timers are asked to sign an agreement comprising a few simple rules, and we help them settle in and see how things work. Guests are asked to arrive by 11.15pm. Many are exhausted, and all seem happy to get their heads down by about midnight. We provide ear-plugs (for the snoring!) Richard and I doze off on sofas just outside the “dormitory.”

    ‘People coming to the 365 shelter are diverse’

    People usually start stirring at about 6.30am. At 6.45am gentle prompting such as drawing back curtains gets everyone else moving. There’s another cup of tea or coffee, and off they go with our good wishes. Showers are available at The Compass Centre however, Bristol Quakers plan to build showers and laundry facilities at the Meeting House, which are much needed.

    People coming to the 365 shelter are diverse – in age, background and circumstances. Not all are without jobs – we’ve known some to get up well before 6.30am to travel to work. Some move on from the shelter quite quickly, being already on their way to getting their own accommodation. All are engaging with services. A camp-bed in a dormitory isn’t ideal, but it’s a warm, safe place to stay, and hopefully prevents many people in temporary difficulty from becoming stuck in a harsh, dangerous lifestyle in which it is easy to lose hope.

    Ours is a simple provision. We’ve thought of organising evening meals, but this would need more volunteers to do an evening shift, and there are other places providing free food in Bristol.

    If you would like to volunteer at any of the four city night shelters please contact the following people:

    St Mungo’s night assessment shelter: Sommer.Rouse@mungos.org

    Julian Trust night shelter: volunteers@juliantrust.org.uk

    Caring in Bristol 365 shelter: Alex.wallace@caringinbristol.org.uk

    Spring of Hope women’s night shelter: val@crisis-centre.org.uk

    You can also make an online donation via the SOSBristol fundsurfer page.

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