Experiencing homelessness at Christmas

    Nathaniel is a former client and a member of our Client Involvement Working Group. Here, he shares his experiences of homelessness at Christmas and the message he wants people to know.

    I was adopted from birth and grew up with my family in Bounds Green, North London. I used to spend Christmas at home and celebrate with my mother and our extended family but since I became homeless I’m on my own.

    I became homeless after I started to experience voices in my head which was mentally and physically debilitating. I was in dire straits and my mum didn’t understand what was happening and couldn’t look after me.

    I spent my first Christmas in supported accommodation and it was very lonely. We didn’t have any festivities and, at the time, I was experiencing negative voices which also caused me pain and physical manifestations. It really affected my mental health and I was physically and mentally debilitated. I couldn’t do anything so I spend Christmas day alone in bed drinking soup, trying to fight my way out of something that was really dark and difficult to get out of. It was a really tough time.

    Since then I’ve taken part in a lot of client involvement projects with St Mungo’s and I volunteered at the StreetLink service. At StreetLink they were really supportive and gave me my role responsibilities in stages, to make sure I had jobs that I felt comfortable in doing. My first role was inputting information into the computer and then, as my confidence grew, I worked up to taking phone calls and assisting people in that way. I felt happy, content and valued for the work I was doing and I felt that I was part of the team.

    I also joined the Outside In network and started to get involved in some client involvement projects. The work I’ve been doing has definitely been life changing for me. Being able to do things and support with activities has definitely helped me keep my mind free and I’ve been able to talk to other people who have experienced homelessness and hear their stories which has been really educational.

    This Christmas I would like people to open their hearts and minds and be able to connect to others and to the issues and plights of people around them. Homelessness is something that is so common that we don’t really see it anymore. Homelessness has been around since recorded history and I want to encourage people to educate themselves about homelessness and to open up the dialog that will bring about action, understanding, and education and will hopefully inspire people to change the systems and policies in place. Homelessness is something that together, in unity with organisations, the public and policy makers we need to eradicate.

    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.

    Our Putting Down Roots programme

    Image: Putting Down Roots

    Matt Woodruff, Horticulture Skills Manager, shares his work supporting St Mungo’s clients through Putting Down Roots.

    Before joining St Mungo’s, Matt had a variety of jobs including garden designer and horticulture teacher – he believes his current role is the most rewarding so far.

    What is Putting Down Roots?

    Putting Down Roots is a horticultural therapy and training project, using gardening as a tool to help people in their recovery. It has been taking place for 21 years – we had been due to celebrate 20 years in 2020!

    How does Putting Down Roots help clients* in their recovery journey?

    Putting Down Roots helps to build people’s self-esteem, confidence and sociability.

    It establishes a routine by asking participants to commit to attending regular sessions, and taking responsibility in caring for plants. Learning to nurture something else helps people to learn to nurture themselves, and there is a parallel between the growth and development of plants and the growth and development of people.

    Putting Down Roots can be an up and down journey, with set-backs and recovering from things going wrong. The cyclical nature of gardening can teach a wider message about positive outcomes coming after cold spells.

    How do clients find out about Putting Down Roots?

    A client may be told about Putting Down Roots via their key worker or another client who has been involved. Clients fill out an application form, and the Putting Down Roots team then make an assessment to ensure the client would be suitable and safe to participate, and at the appropriate stage of their recovery journey to do so.

    Clients can take part in Putting Down Roots for up to two years, before being encouraged to move on to another activity to make space for someone else. This can be difficult as people enjoy the programme so much!

    Is Putting Down Roots an accessible programme?

    It is very accessible! Putting Down Roots is open to all clients and we can assign tasks depending on physicality, for example a participant can sow seeds or do digging, and we have raised beds for people who can’t bend over.

    In addition to our permanent sites in Bristol and London, we are doing in-reach work in hostels to encourage new recruits who may not feel comfortable travelling to a project site. People may feel comfortable participating in the garden of their accommodation project initially, to build up their confidence.

    What outcomes do you expect to see from Putting Down Roots?

    The small things can be the biggest achievement. Simply leaving a room or quitting a substance can be a subtle way in which people have turned their lives around.

    Everyone has a unique recovery journey, and therefore will have different outcomes from Putting Down Roots. For some people, employment or retraining may be the ultimate goal. For others, it may be feeling comfortable and confident in joining another community group as a volunteer. For others, it is regaining confidence and managing to work as part of a team.

    We build our own community within St Mungo’s and seeing the change in people’s outlook is very powerful.

    What has been the impact on the Coronavirus pandemic?

    There has been a massive impact – the initial lockdown in March 2020 meant that the programme could not run and the gardens quickly became out of control. Again, there can be an analogy between people’s lives spiralling due to the pandemic in the same way as the gardens.

    We were allowed to resume at the end of summer, and it has been a start-stop process since then. Putting Down Roots has recently resumed however the rule of 6 means that only four clients and two trainers can participate in a session at the moment. We are looking forward to welcoming more clients back when it is safe to do so.

    We always encourage new recruits and are currently seeing massive demand for Putting Down Roots with a waiting list of clients wishing to take part. I think lockdown has contributed to this – people want to be taking part in a physical activity in new surroundings.

    What is the most rewarding part of your job?

    The most rewarding part is getting to see a tangible difference in people in a very short period of time. In about six weeks you can really notice a person’s confidence increasing, and the feedback we receive from clients is great – they wouldn’t keep coming back if they didn’t enjoy it.

    The transformations are amazing and it feels like a privilege to be part of that.

     

    *Clients are people who use our services, for example, some are residents in our hostels and/or use our Recovery College to gain skills and confidence after homelessness. 


    Putting Down Roots is funded by our generous supporters including corporate partners Barratt Developments and Jo Malone London. Find out more about our partnerships and how you can get involved here


    Donate to help us fund more programmes like Putting Down Roots.

    St Mungo’s Recovery College – online for our clients

    By Holly Smith, Strategic Marketing Officer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Independent Review on Drugs is an opportunity for bold change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The vicious circle continues. 

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

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

    • Integrated, person centred and holistic services.

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

    • Access to affordable and appropriate housing.

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

    • Further funding for drug support services.

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

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

    St Mungo’s Remote Recovery College for summer 2020

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

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

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

     

    What are we doing and how

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Challenges 

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

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

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

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

    What our clients think 

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

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

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

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

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

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

    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.

    Tackling homelessness in Lisbon

    In summer 2018 Ed Addison, Case Coordinator for St Mungo’s project Street Impact London, took part in a two week long cultural exchange programme in the USA. Since then he has also been to Portugal to see how they approach street homelessness. Ed explains more about what he learned from Crescer, an organisation which has homeless and substance use outreach services in Lisbon.

    In my work in London, I see on a daily basis how the cycle of homelessness and drug use can be very hard for people to break out of. Using drugs can make people very sick and hard for them to address some basic needs, including housing. I wanted to see if I could learn a different way to support people who are using drugs and facing homelessness, and was fortunate to be able to spend three days with Crescer, which has staff offering substance misuse and homeless outreach services in Portugal’s capital, Lisbon.

    Minimising harm

    Throughout the 1990s Portugal had high rates of HIV and opiate related death, affecting all levels of society. Many people in Portugal knew a close friend or family member who was affected.

    In 2001 the government decriminalised the use of drugs and gave organisations like Crescer a platform to use a harm minimisation approach to address the issue. This kind of approach recognises that sometimes people will not be ready to make changes such as stopping their drinking or drug use completely, and helps people to minimise the risks to themselves and others.

    On my first day at Crescer I went out with the ‘E Uma Rua’ service in the east of the city. The team was made up of three psychologists, a nurse, a social worker and a psychiatrist. I watched as they talked to people on the streets, offering harm reduction advice, distributing kits meaning people could use drugs more safely and collecting used needles in a needle disposal bin. I was moved to see how the outreach workers offered support to individuals where they were, regardless of their situation. Those they spoke to seemed to hold them in high esteem and were willing to talk about their issues.

    Crescer work in cooperation with other services including a methadone van. Once people are registered, they are able to access a mobile service to receive their methadone prescriptions from a van. This serves the city seven days a week distributing methadone to 1,200 people at four locations throughout the day and is thought to be behind a reduction seen in drug related antisocial behaviour.

    The harm reduction approach means in Portugal, whilst there hasn’t necessarily been a decrease in the number of drug users, there has been a massive drop in cases of HIV, other blood born viruses and opiate related death.

    Housing First

    Crescer also offers a Housing First service – ‘E Uma Casa’ – which provides people who have slept rough for long periods, and also have mental and physical health needs, with a home. Their approach is multi-disciplinary, meaning lots of different agencies work together to provide support. The team currently supports 36 people and is made up of psychologists, a social worker, a nurse, a psychiatrist and a peer advocate.

    The team establishes a relationship with a person living on the street over a number of months and offers them a house. Once they have a home, the team put support plans in place, conducting home visits and offering psychological support, to help manage their drug use, mental health needs and encourage development of independent living skills.

    The team also works to empower the local community to offer support to those housed in the project. For example, I saw people from a local convenience store looking after a person with mental health needs and dispensing their daily medication.

    The challenge of ending rough sleeping

    I would like to say a big thank you to Crescer for hosting me for three days and giving me a fantastic insight in to the amazing work they are doing in Lisbon.

    In London I cycle up to 100 miles a week as part of my job, finding and working with people who are sleeping rough. That equates to a lot of thinking time!

    I’ve been inspired by some of the innovations I saw, particularly those which take specialists to the streets to meet people where they are. In Portugal, working together in an interdisciplinary way is reducing harm, and linking people who are using drugs on the street with other services that could help them leave homelessness behind such as sorting out benefit claims and mental health support.

    What I have seen in Portugal convinced me that treating the issue of drug use as a matter of public health is effective. I believe it is time for the UK to follow suit and recognise the severe health crisis that is occurring on our streets, in our communities and in our prisons, often due to drug dependency and other complex interrelated factors such as trauma, and mental health issues.

    We are starting to see more funding for multi-disciplinary approaches to supporting people who are homeless. I believe introducing innovative ideas could improve health outcomes for people who are sleeping rough and using drugs, helping to reduce drug related antisocial behaviour, the number of people needing ambulance services and the number of drug related deaths.

    Find out more about our service models, including Housing First and Social Impact Bonds.

    I call myself a citizen of the world

    In celebration of Black History Month, we have been sharing the diverse stories of our staff and clients. Shaaban, Deputy Manager of Islington Mental Health Service, explains how his own experiences of homelessness have helped shape his approach to supporting people with complex needs such as those recovering from drug and alcohol use or mental and physical health problems. Shaaban focuses on individual strengths and inspires people to believe that their recovery really is possible.

    Many people think about people who are homeless in terms of what their needs are, what is wrong with them. But I believe that we should be thinking about what they are good at. Everyone has a story, and everyone has achieved something in their lives.

    I call myself a citizen of the world, a global citizen. My dad was a Tanzanian diplomat so I’ve travelled around a bit; I started primary school in Beijing and lived in the Sudan, so I speak a bit of Arabic. I was also in the Tanzanian army for about two and a half years. But my own story also involves personal experience of sleeping rough on the streets of London.

    I used to sleep on the Strand or near Victoria station

    For me, one of the worst things about sleeping rough was being physically abused. In the 90s, I used to sleep on the Strand or near Victoria station in London. It got busy around there, especially at night. Sometimes people got drunk and violent, and would attack and even urinate on people sleeping rough. I was also singled out by some other rough sleepers because of my race.

    After three months on the streets, an outreach worker gave me details of a St Mungo’s hostel in Clapham. I went and they checked me in the same day. I slept in a bed that night.

    That was the beginning of my journey to recovery. I was at the St Mungo’s hostel for about six months, and then moved on to another hostel in Soho for nine months. After that I went through rehab twice, the first time in 2000, and the second time in 2005.

    I started an apprenticeship

    During my second and final stay in rehab, the manager there suggested that I train as a support worker, so I started an apprenticeship.

    I wanted to turn my own painful experiences into something positive, so after finishing my training, I decided to specialise in mental health and substance use. I have a degree and qualifications in mental health, psychology and counselling.

    I’ve worked for St Mungo’s for almost a decade now. It’s an inspiring organisation to work for, because we don’t stop at giving people a roof over their heads. We address the underlying reasons why people become homeless in the first place.

    I know from first-hand experience that recovery is possible

    My role is certainly challenging, but the thing that puts a smile on my face is getting to know my clients, and seeing the transition that they make.

    People are always asking me about my hat, because I never take it off! I tell them, when people get married, they wear a wedding ring to represent the commitment that they’ve made. My hat represents a moment of great change in my life, a moment when I committed to my own recovery, and to helping others to recover.

    A lot of my clients experienced feelings of failure, shame and guilt when they were sleeping rough. People often turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate against the pain of these emotions. I know from first-hand experience that recovery is possible, with the right help. I’m glad that telling my story helps people to believe that.

    How we’re supporting local authorities to help more people off the streets

    Image: St Mungo's outreach worker with person sleeping rough

    In March 2018 the government announced a targeted £30m fund to support local authorities with high numbers of people sleeping rough help more people off the streets. This funding is welcome, but scaling up and developing new services quickly and effectively can prove challenging. Petra Salva, Director of Outreach Services, and Julie Middleton, Head of Resourcing, explain how St Mungo’s is helping local authorities recruit for and deliver services that really make a difference.

    “We are currently working with 19 commissioners from local authorities,” says Julie. “When they found out they had been successful in applying for the new funds, they realised that some of the services would need to be set up by the end of August. It quickly became clear that we would need to recruit over 90 staff to get these new services up and running ahead of winter.

    “But recruitment naturally slows down in the middle of the summer – and with the hot weather, summer holidays and World Cup football we knew it would be even harder.”

    Effective planning and processes

    Building on St Mungo’s long-standing success in recruiting outreach workers and learning from how other organisations have managed a rapid scale up of their workforce, we set up a talent pool recruitment pilot project, involving colleagues in HR, Services and Business Development.

    Over six weeks, we set up ten open days in London, Bournemouth, Bristol and Brighton to give candidates the opportunity to hear about St Mungo’s, our services and the roles we were recruiting for. The sessions were facilitated by experienced operational staff and, when possible, some of our clients, so candidates could hear about homelessness from people directly involved in delivering and receiving support from our rough sleeping services.

    “Our aim was to give people the opportunity to talk to people who currently work in these services and share the challenges they face, set expectations and hear what they love about their work,” said Petra. “It was also an opportunity for people to ask questions about St Mungo’s and understand more about the work we do.”

    Tailored recruitment campaigns

    Behind the scenes, two dedicated Resourcing Advisors managed the recruitment process. “When you’re quickly responding to a big recruitment campaign, you need effective planning, recruiting methods and processes, as well as technology to help you manage a high volume of applicants,” said Monique, Resourcing Advisor.

    We tailored the recruitment campaigns to ensure we could attract people who had never worked in homelessness services before but who had transferable skills and wanted to actively take part in reducing rough sleeping.

    As a result of the advertising, we received 604 expressions of interest, reviewed 392 job applications and so far we have offered 53 positions. We have another 14 interview days scheduled during September.

    Delivering for clients and partners

    “What I am the most proud of is that we didn’t compromise on our recruitment processes,” said Julie. “We have a robust competency-based recruitment process which includes online tests, written exercises and role plays, in addition to the usual job application and interview.”

    “This means it may take us longer to recruit people and some candidates may drop out along the way, but we know it is a risk worth taking to honor our primary commitment – providing excellent services to our clients and partners.

    “It has proved a great success so far and we are hoping to recruit a further 42 posts during the second phase.”

    “We have learnt a lot from this project and are looking at ways we can build on this experience to further improve our approach in future,” added Petra.

    Find out more about St Mungo’s services models and see our latest vacancies.

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