Helping people sleeping rough from Europe and beyond

    Petra Salva is St Mungo’s Director of Rough Sleepers, Migrants and Criminal Justice Services. She has been working directly with people sleeping rough in London for over 20 years and heads up St Mungo’s rough sleeper and outreach teams across London boroughs and south east England. Petra also represents St Mungo’s on a pan European network which shares best practice and ideas across Europe to help reduce street homelessness. In a blog first published on the Huffington Post, she explains how we work to help destitute non-UK rough sleepers to move away from the streets for good, with the right support in place to rebuild their lives.

    Every week I hear stories and get updates about people who St Mungo’s outreach teams are trying to help off the streets. I also try as much as possible to meet people myself so I can see first-hand how things are working and understand more about the issues that homeless people face, and the challenges for our outreach colleagues.

    Peter’s journey

    Recently I heard about Peter*, a 45 year old man from Poland. Peter had lived and worked in Poland and then the Netherlands with his partner for many years before moving to London with hopes of work and a better life here in the UK. However, once in London things didn’t work out as he hoped. After working in construction as a machine operative, his life was turned upside down when the relationship with his partner broke down and she returned to the Netherlands.

    Peter dealt with his sudden loneliness by drinking and then moved on to using cocaine. Eventually he lost his job and soon after his accommodation. He, like many others in a similar situation, ended up sleeping rough on the streets of London.

    Our outreach team met him on the streets and offered support. Initially Peter refused to engage with us. We didn’t give in though and kept visiting him on a regular basis. Eventually as winter and freezing temperatures set in he became more willing to talk and think about what to do.

    Peter began to talk about returning to Poland and getting help with his alcohol and drug use. He realised he could not “get clean” without support and that he couldn’t access treatment in the UK. He hadn’t considered that he might be able to get the treatment he needed in Poland. Through our supported reconnection service, we worked with Peter to make this option a reality.

    Getting the right help

    My colleagues told me that Peter completed his treatment in Warsaw and is now in full time skilled employment assembling electrical components. Just days before my outreach colleagues met up with him again in Poland he had finally been helped into his own flat. Peter was proud to tell us about his work and show us pictures of his flat where he enjoys having his friends and sister visit him. As they chatted, he reflected on the moment he arrived at the treatment agency in Warsaw and was met by his sister who had gone there to welcome him back.

    You might wonder why we couldn’t help Peter to get the help he needed in the UK? The simple answer is he, like many others, had become stuck on the streets. Government policy meant he wasn’t eligible for housing or publically funded support services in the UK. This situation has led many people to become destitute and eventually very unwell on our streets. We know of some who have died.

    In London about 57% of people sleeping rough are non-UK nationals. That means their options are legally limited when it comes to accessing housing, treatment services and any other welfare assistance that is possible for UK citizens. Our Routes Home service, funded by the Mayor of London, works with vulnerable people like Peter. Last year, the team helped over 60 people who had really complex and high support needs to voluntarily return to their home country into accommodation and treatment with the support and assistance they needed.

    Why couldn’t Peter get help in the UK?

    When we met Peter he didn’t have many choices. We didn’t want him to die on the streets of London. We wanted him to have a second chance. That meant persevering with him, and working with many different agencies and being realistic about the legal and practical limitations he faced.

    When our outreach teams meet people who are sleeping rough but have no support needs and are able to work, our focus is on helping them to find a job as the only way to stay in the UK and resolve their homelessness. Where people have physical or mental health needs or have issues around substance use, we work with partners in the UK and in people’s home countries to ensure they can receive appropriate housing and support, often through our Routes Home service.

    When they have complex immigration issues, we also support people to get legal advice through Street Legal, our partnership with migrant charity Praxis and Refugee Action UK.

    Working with migrants who are sleeping rough is challenging and complex work. We often get asked about the approach we take and the partners we work with, in particular what our relationship is with the Home Office in such cases.

    Supporting and advocating for our clients

    In terms of our approach, our first response to non-UK nationals sleeping rough is always to offer help and support, ensuring people understand their rights and entitlements and, where possible, are provided with assistance to take up options in the UK including work and housing. Where this is not possible, and people are not eligible, St Mungo’s will offer services to provide treatment and housing options in home countries through supported reconnection like Routes Home.

    In areas where local authorities have decided to engage the Home Office to take action against individuals or groups of rough sleepers, St Mungo’s outreach teams work alongside the Home Office teams to provide support and advocate on behalf of vulnerable individuals. This decision to be present on the street during such operations means we can ensure that the best solution for vulnerable people is sought and that any work being done with individuals to resolve their homelessness is not jeopardised by Home Office interventions.

    I am very clear about our approach, which has been developed over many years and is based on the realities of what we face out on the street every night working with people sleeping rough, often in extremely desperate conditions. Our position is clear: our role is to support and advocate on behalf of people sleeping rough so they can move on with their lives and leave homelessness behind them.

    *Peter is a pseudonym but he is happy for us to share his story.

    This story was first published on our website in March 2017.

    “The dignity and respect she deserved”

    Image: Map of London

    St Mungo’s project worker, Shayeena, explains how the Street Impact project enabled her to provide innovative, holistic support for our client June when she really needed it

    Working at St Mungo’s you sometimes receive some difficult phone calls. But last week I got a call that really made me smile.

    I received a voicemail from a man who had recently been bereaved. He said he was a relative of June, and was sorting out her affairs. While he was doing this he came across her old phone, and by looking at the messages she had saved, he came to understand more about June’s story, and the part St Mungo’s had played in helping her rebuild her life after experiencing homelessness. He had called to thank me for all our support for her.

    I met and supported June. She told me she had come to the UK from Ghana in 2002, fleeing domestic violence, on a three-month tourist visa. She overstayed her visa and worked informally, before borrowing a friend’s document to get official work in a supermarket.

    However, in 2010 she was diagnosed with a serious illness and her accommodation and social networks started to break down. She ended up rough sleeping in central London and eventually was picked up and placed into a detention centre.

    At this time St Mungo’s had just established our Street Impact project, which was designed to develop innovative ways to tackle rough sleeping in London. It was the first such project to be funded by a Social Impact Bond (SIB). This meant the running costs were funded by social investors, who were reimbursed by the Greater London Authority on a ‘payments-by-results’ basis.

    This meant we only received payment if it achieved certain agreed outcomes, including reducing rough sleeping and helping people into tenancies, while working with a group of 415 rough sleepers.

    Payment by results meant we were free to innovate in the ways we supported people, and take a much more holistic model in helping them rebuild their lives. June was among those 415 people.

    When we contacted the detention centre about June they told us she had been released but gave us no other information. We eventually tracked her down in north London. We sent her a letter with our phone number and she called us straight away.

    At that point June was 69, depressed, withdrawn, clearly isolated and in need of assistance. While in detention, she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer but was still living on £35 vouchers per week and sharing a room with a lady suffering from post-traumatic stress who would wail throughout the night, meaning that June was getting very little sleep.

    The Home Office eventually granted June exceptional Leave to Remain on medical grounds. Alongside her solicitor, I was able to support June through this stressful experience, and then help June to get a home in a sheltered housing scheme. This was an incredibly complicated process, involving her council’s homelessness team, supported housing team and social services.

    Because of the innovative way we were able to work within Street Impact, however, I could support June with everything from taxi fares to hospital visits, gathering evidence for an appeal and securing donations of furniture. Eventually we were able to establish a support network for June that included medical staff, social workers, the local hospice, a minister from her local church and a St Mungo’s palliative care volunteer.

    We also helped her to stay in contact with her family in Ghana, which had become harder for her as her speech deteriorated. She was 70 by then, not used to computers, and found it hard to speak on the phone. With her consent, I started emailing her family and asked her daughter to send photos of her young granddaughter (who June had never seen) and printed these all out for her and framed a couple so she could keep them in her living room. She was so happy to have these… I remember her laughing with joy and looking at the prints over and over again. In her final years she was treated with dignity and respect that she deserved.

    Much of this would have been impossible under a more conventional outreach model. Despite everything she had been through, I think June managed to trust me and my colleagues and this allowed us to help her.

    Find out more about Street Impact.

     

    Dedication and commitment

    Adil and Mohammed pictured above with Horn of Africa project manager, Pippa Brown

    To mark Refugee Week, Helen Kirk, Refugee Skills Development Advisor at St Mungo’s Horn of Africa Health and Wellbeing Project, tells us about two inspirational people who volunteer on the project

    The Horn of Africa Project was set up in in 2013 to respond to the needs of people from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan who were turning to our centre in Shepherd’s Bush for support. Over half of our clients have been recognised as refugees within the last few years. We help them with advice, signposting and one-to-one holistic casework.

    Employment outcomes for refugees are well below the UK average, with over half of those employed feeling overqualified in their jobs. It’s my job to help bridge this gap, through things like one-to-one careers coaching, providing advice on education and training, co-facilitating peer-led groups and creating volunteer opportunities.

    Our project is supported by a small number of fantastic volunteers, but this Refugee Week, we would like to particularly thank Adil and Mohammed, who both sought sanctuary in the UK. Despite the many challenges they have faced, they both have shown dedication and commitment to the project. They have helped with casework, shared their ideas and their knowledge about the practical and cultural needs of the Horn of Africa community, and have given us suggestions for how the project might respond to those needs.

    Adil says: “When I came over to this country, I was very much in need of help. The only people I found to offer me this support was St Mungo’s. They taught me how the humanity look like. For this reason I strongly need to involve in this community to reduce destitution amongst the refugee and homelessness… I am very fascinated of helping the destitute people as I am one of them and born in a very poor environment, that is why I know how the person feel when he is in a trauma or suffer a loss.”

    Mohammed told us: “I … volunteer because I’m a refugee and was homeless at one point in my life. I want to give back to the people who are in need of any help.”

    Mohammed and Adil are working towards rebuilding their respective careers in law and finance, and are re-qualifying at university. They are driven to support others as they do so. They both recently won Volunteer of the Year London Awards at St Mungo’s Volunteer Awards in partnership with the Marsh Christian Trust, and we can’t think of two people who deserve it more. I feel privileged to work alongside them while they fulfil their goals.

    Find out more about the contributions refugees have made across the world.

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