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.

    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.

    Outreach on the streets of Connecticut

    This summer Ed Addison, Case Coordinator for St Mungo’s project Street Impact London, took part in an eye opening two week long cultural exchange programme, travelling to Connecticut in the USA to learn about their approach to supporting people who are sleeping rough. Ed explains more about the homelessness situation in New Haven, the challenges they face conducting outreach and what he has taken away from the experience.

    I travelled to the USA as part of the Transatlantic Practice Exchange run by Homeless Link, the national membership charity for organisations working directly with people who become homeless in England. I applied because I wanted to learn more about different approaches to engaging with and supporting people who are sleeping rough.

    Like much of New England, New Haven, a small city in Connecticut, has seen an unprecedented increase in rough sleeping. With long waiting lists for shelters and few other resources, my hosts, the Columbus House outreach team, have a challenge on their hands.

    Personal experience helps outreach work

    The outreach team explained to me that working with certain groups, like couples and people that don’t engage, can be challenging. They also told me about their own experiences of homelessness and how this helps them in their work.

    Recovery support specialist Stephanie said, “I too have been homeless and lived through this experience myself and used that experience to help others.”

    The team see a lot of people with mental health needs who also use alcohol or drugs, but place an emphasis on recovery.

    Stephanie explained that using lived experience to help others is a crucial part of the recovery programme, saying “[you] show them you can live through this experience and get to the other side.”

    Supporting others is its own reward

    What struck me is that, despite the challenges, the team were so motivated and passionate about their work. Their persistent and flexible approach provides a lifeline to those experiencing homelessness.

    As outreach worker Rhonda explained, “Someone helped me, so I am going to in return… It gives me a sense of satisfaction knowing that I am helping somebody to better their quality of life.”

    Applying learning in London

    The Street Impact London project I work for is all about supporting people who have experience of sleeping rough to sustain their lives off the street. I’ve been inspired by the multi-disciplinary approach in New Haven which brings essential services, including street psychiatry and healthcare, to people directly on the street.

    I’d like to highlight the challenges people have accessing support here in the UK and continue to ensure that St Mungo’s clients are given as much choice and decision making capacity in their recovery journey as possible.

    My time in New Haven has also highlighted the importance of a community based approach to working with rough sleepers. The experience is shaping the way I build relationships with people to encourage positive change in their lives.

    You can listen to an interview Ed conducted with the New Haven outreach team here.

    Find out more about Street Impact here.

    Homeless Link’s Transatlantic Practice Exchange is supported by the Oak Foundation and delivered in partnership with the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Placements are funded for five frontline homelessness staff to spend a fortnight in the United States, exploring different practice topics and sharing this learning on their return.

    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.

    A turning point in the history of rough sleeping?

    As the Government publishes its new Rough Sleeping Strategy, Beatrice Orchard, St Mungo’s Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research, welcomes a good first step, but calls for more work to ensure no one has to sleep rough ever again

    At the last count 4,751 people were sleeping rough on any one night in England. Each one vulnerable to poor health, violence and premature death. No one should have to suffer the damaging long-term consequences of not having a roof over their head or the support they need.

    Rough sleeping is a problem caused by many individual, structural and societal factors. There are no quick solutions, but that doesn’t mean rough sleeping can’t be solved.

    Stopping the scandal

    Shocked, like others at the sharp rise in rough sleeping since 2010, St Mungo’s launched its Stop the Scandal campaign to demand a new cross-government strategy to end rough sleeping.

    The snap General Election in 2017 provided an opportunity to work with other homelessness charities to make rough sleeping a priority for politicians, and both the Conservative and Labour parties committed to end rough sleeping in their election manifestos.

    The Government’s target is to end rough sleeping by 2027 and this week it has published a rough sleeping strategy as a first step towards realising this vision of a country where no one has to sleep rough.

    A good first step

    The strategy is backed by £100 million to fund measures to prevent rough sleeping, help people off the street quickly and support them to settle into a home. It’s a really good first step.

    The Somewhere Safe to Stay pilots will provide more emergency accommodation where people in crisis can have their needs assessed quickly, in safety away from the street. It is vital these services are targeted at those at immediate risk of sleeping rough, as well as those already on the street. Getting this approach right should pave the way for desperately needed reforms, preventing people sleeping rough in the first place.

    The initial investment in health services for people who sleep rough, in support for non-UK nationals and in floating support services to help people hang on to their home is also welcome.

    The challenges ahead

    The big challenge for the Government, and where the strategy falls short, is providing enough stable, safe and affordable housing. According to the evaluation of the Rough Sleepers Initiative in the 1990s, 5,500 people were housed in 3,500 units of permanent accommodation in London alone over a nine year period. Delivering more homes for people with a history of rough sleeping should be an urgent priority for the Government and housing providers.

    The strategy pledges to learn from new evidence in order to scale up and roll out programmes. We will be holding the Government to this pledge. We must move on from pilots and short-term cash injections and towards a long-term plan and investment.

    When it comes to learning lessons, there is a particularly welcome commitment to ensure there are more reviews into the deaths of people who die while rough sleeping to help services improve. It is desperately sad that this commitment is even needed, but the rising number of rough sleeper deaths is another reminder of why this strategy has to mark the turning point in the history of rough sleeping in our country.

    We share the Government’s vision of a future where no one has to sleep rough. But this is only the first step. While the new rough sleeping strategy is important, to meet their target of ending rough sleeping by 2027, the government must set out a plan to stop people becoming homeless in the first place.

    That’s why we’re launching a new campaign in the autumn calling on the government to end rough sleeping for good. Be the first to hear all about it – sign up to campaign with us today.

    “The dignity and respect she deserved”

    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.

     

    How can we halt the rise in ‘returners’?

    Rory Weal, St Mungo’s Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, looks at why more people are returning to rough sleeping and why the Government needs to act now to halt a worrying trend

    For those of us passionate about ending homelessness there was, for once, some welcome news last week. New figures from the latest annual CHAIN (Combined Homelessness and Information Network) report (PDF) showed that there has been an 8% decrease in the number of people sleeping rough in London.

    The 7,484 people who were seen rough sleeping in 2017/18 is the lowest total since 2013/14, although it is still over twice the number seen ten years ago.

    London seems to be bucking the national trend, suggesting services are working better together to prevent people sleeping rough in the first place, as well as helping them off the streets quickly if they end up there.

    Rising numbers returning to rough sleeping

    However, we should be under no illusion that the annual CHAIN statistics paint a rosy picture. Among the positives, the figures also give serious causes for concern – not least on the rising number of people returning to rough sleeping after a period off the streets.

    In 2017/18, 1,119 people seen rough sleeping during the year were returners, representing a rise of 8% on the previous year and 27% since 2014/15. While overall numbers have gone down, the total number of returners continues to rise. In addition to the number of people sleeping rough, the CHAIN database also records the outcomes for people seen sleeping rough in London. These figures suggest the root of the problem is an increasing reliance on short term accommodation, with people who have experienced rough sleeping finding longer term sustainable housing harder and harder to access.

    Of those who had been sleeping rough and were booked into accommodation last year, 78% moved into short-term accommodation (such as hostels). Just 22% found mid-long term housing (such as the private rented sector or long term supported housing), a fall from the previous year.

    At the same time, the proportion of people leaving short-term accommodation to take up a place in longer term housing has halved in three years, from 40% in 2014/15 to 21% in 2017/18. Many of those who fail to find a home are moving back onto the streets, with ‘negative’ reasons for departure from hostels and other short-term options also rising in recent years.

    Why do people return to rough sleeping?

    To shed more light on the reasons people return to rough sleeping after time off the streets, St Mungo’s has published a new report, On my own two feetThe research, carried out by peer researchers with experience of homelessness and rough sleeping, uncovered many reasons people end up being pushed and pulled back to life on the streets.

    The research revealed multiple barriers to accessing long-term housing for people with experience of rough sleeping, including the reluctance of landlords to let to people receiving benefits, a lack of truly affordable rents, money for a deposit or support for individuals to manage their tenancies.

    The keys to ending rough sleeping for good

    How can we make things better? At St Mungo’s we believe the Government should use its upcoming rough sleeping strategy to increase long term accommodation options for people with a history of sleeping rough and guarantee funding for accompanying support.

    One model which should be expanded is the Clearing House in London, which offers ring-fenced social housing for people with a history of rough sleeping and ongoing support to help them cope with living independently and move towards employment. Another good model is Housing First, which provides stable tenancies and intensive support for people who have complex needs.

    We know that getting people into suitable, long term housing with appropriate support is key to ending rough sleeping for good. We now need action to achieve this. We cannot allow the rise in returners to become the start of a worrying new trend.

     

    We must not let fatalism set in

    Image: rough sleeper

    Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer at St Mungo’s, explains why we’re calling on Government to enact urgent measures to stop the scandal of people dying on the streets

    One week ago marked the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster. It was a time to reflect not only on the lives that were lost on that day, but also on how we all respond when faced with a human disaster on that scale.

    This week St Mungo’s has been highlighting another human disaster: the rising number of people dying on the streets. It is less visible, more dispersed and slower moving. But it is a disaster nonetheless, when so many people are dying in circumstances that are preventable and shockingly premature.

    Data suggests that, in London, someone dies on the streets every fortnight. In the rest of the UK, as many as two people are now dying every week, a rate twice as high as five years ago. The average age of someone who dies sleeping rough is 47 for a man and just 43 for a woman.

    What is worse is that these figures are likely to be an underestimate, given that recording deaths is infrequent and not done systematically.

    Our new report Dying on the Streets: the case for moving quickly to end rough sleeping looks into these figures in more detail. We found that mental health support needs among people who have died has increased dramatically, from 29% in 2010 to 80% last year.

    To find out more about what is going on the ground, we also carried out a national survey of street outreach services earlier this year. The picture that emerged is one in which the number of rough sleepers is growing, at the same time as access to vital service is getting harder. This is creating a perfect storm to which the most vulnerable homeless people are falling victims.

    Some of the findings were shocking. 70% of respondents said access to mental health services for people sleeping rough had got harder compared to five years ago, and 64% said this was true for emergency accommodation. The majority of respondents had experienced a death in their area, but only one-quarter of those had any experience of a review being carried out.

    In short: there is less help available, people are dying, and these deaths are going ignored.

    But statistics don’t capture the most tragic consequence: the sense of acceptance and inevitability which increasingly meets the death of someone sleeping rough. As such tragedies become more commonplace, we come to expect, and sadly, accept them.

    We must not let fatalism set in. Dying on the streets should be unthinkable. It is certainly preventable. There are ways to stop this scandal from continuing, but only if the determination and political will is there.

    To achieve that end, earlier this week we held a roundtable discussion in Parliament. This was attended by the Minister for Mental Health, MPs, and experts in the field, who all recognised the gravity of the issue and resolved to stop the scandal of deaths on the streets. With the Government’s rough sleeping strategy due for publication next month, now is the time to turn those warm words into firm action.

    We are calling for a package of measures to ensure rapid relief from rough sleeping, to get people off the streets and prevent future deaths. This includes access to specialist mental health services, an expansion of emergency accommodation, and full reviews to learn the lessons from every single death that occurs on our streets.

    Without such interventions, I fear current trends will worsen, lives will be cut short, and our claims to being a compassionate society will be left in tatters. We hope the Government uses its upcoming rough sleeping strategy to avoid this fate. The price of failure is too high.

    ‘Giving people a fresh start in life’

    “We help people who are living in their own homes but need support to ensure they are able to keep a roof over their head.” Ola Pedro, Team Leader at St Mungo’s Tenancy Sustainment Team North, tells us about how his team supports people who previously slept rough to live independently in the community.

    St Mungo’s Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST) North works with people who formerly slept rough and who are now housed across North London. Our team supports them to maintain their tenancies and to further develop their skills and confidence to move on into independent accommodation – moving away from homelessness for good.

    We want to make sure people are socially included. We link them with packages of support, as needed – around mental health, substance misuse, employment, ex-offending, offending – as well as other activities to help them sustain their tenancies and feel part of the wider community.

    ‘We carry out home visits to make sure that people are living safely’

    We work with people who are often tackling three or more health and other issues, for example, substance use, risk of offending, and or physical and mental health problems. The sector jargon would be ‘high needs’ clients and they can need a lot more intense one to one support.

    We carry out home visits regularly to check that people are living safely. If there are any issues around their support needs, these can be represented in how they live. For example, if a person is going through severe depression, the state of their property can reveal that. These visits mean we can make sure the person is comfortable in their home, in their area, and to identify any maintenance issues or anything that landlords need to be aware of.

    Benefits are a major issue at the moment. The roll out of Universal Credit has caused a lot of stress for our clients. We are finding many people are having to go without money while their applications are being processed, for six to eight weeks. This is something that TST staff have had to pick up. If not, it creates issues which permeate into every other area of people’s lives and means they need even more support. We help people, for example, by offering food vouchers and topping up their electricity and gas, if needed. We have drop-ins every Monday and Friday, so people can also come in and sit down with us for some support if they want.

    ‘I feel joy when I go home’

    I got into St Mungo’s through volunteering at St Mungo’s Islington Mental Health Team. I tried a corporate job but just didn’t find it rewarding. I like the dynamism of this role – it’s extremely active, you’re never in once place for a long time. I’m the team manager but I also work with clients, I support around 55 clients myself. I’ll visit about four or five clients in one day, each needing different kinds of support, so it’s about balancing that with the managing and admin side of the role.

    I feel joy when I go home as I know I’m making a difference. I’m improving the quality of people’s lives – taking them from a place where they are not so happy to a place where they can feel confident, and our team are part of that process.

    ‘Giving people a fresh start in life’

    I supported one person, for example, who had his tenancy taken over by a group of drug dealers. They were force feeding him crack cocaine and heroin, just so they could use his accommodation to cook and to sell the drugs.

    He didn’t actually tell me this had happened until I got a phone call to say that he’d been admitted into hospital for abscesses on his arms and hands from injecting. He had also been beaten up really badly.

    When I went to the hospital, I had a really long discussion with him about why he didn’t want to tell me this. He said there were a lot of feelings of guilt and shame around why he didn’t want to tell me what had happened.

    We worked together very closely over the next three months and he’s now been rehoused away from that area. He got a chance to start a fresh life and went to rehab. He’s completely clean of the drugs that were forcibly put in his system.

    When I go home and think about that story, that’s what drives me and makes me want to do this job always.

    Towards a new rough sleeping strategy

    Beatrice Orchard, St Mungo’s Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research, writes about our priorities as the Homelessness Reduction Act and other measures seek to end homelessness

    The Homelessness Reduction Act comes into force today. This is a landmark piece of legislation with the potential to have a hugely positive impact on the lives of many more people who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, compared to the previous system. It places new duties on local authorities to help prevent and relieve homelessness for people regardless of ‘priority need’ criteria.

    This follows news last week of a new initiative to reduce rough sleeping and a decision to reinstate entitlement to housing benefit for all 18-21 year olds. These are very welcome steps towards ending the misery of sleeping rough, an aim that surely unites us all.

    In 2016, we at St Mungo’s launched our Stop the Scandal campaign calling for a new national strategy to end rough sleeping and this is what we want to see next.

    The government has committed to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and to eliminate it altogether by 2027. To meet this pledge, a ministerial taskforce has been established to produce a new rough sleeping strategy. A Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel made up of homeless sector representatives, including St Mungo’s, is providing guidance to this ministerial taskforce.

    Rough sleeping has increased by 169% since 2010. On any given night, 4,751 people sleep rough in England.

    Behind these stark figures are people who are living each day at risk of violence, abuse and serious ill health. We have evidence of this from the people themselves, from our outreach teams and our research with people who have experienced rough sleeping. Put simply, it is a scandal.

    That’s why it is good to see a sense of urgency from the government.

    We agree immediate action is needed to move people off the streets and out of danger. Effective outreach services are part of this. So is emergency accommodation and access to mental health and substance use treatment and support. This must also be aligned with measures to prevent people sleeping rough in the first place and long term support to ensure people don’t return to the street.

    The new strategy must protect and expand existing services, which support people off the streets. That includes supported housing, which is the primary route out of rough sleeping for people who need both a safe place to stay and support to recover from homelessness and associated problems, including poor health and experience of violence and abuse.

    However, the government’s current proposals to change the way homeless hostels and other short term supported housing is funded puts the future of these life-saving services at risk.

    As rough sleeping continues to rise nationally, available places in supported housing have fallen due to major cuts in local authority funding. Research by Homeless Link found there was an 18% reduction in bed spaces in homelessness accommodation between 2010 and 2016.

    Despite this, the government now wants local authorities to become responsible for funding the housing costs in hostels, in addition to the support services which councils are already struggling to fund.

    Instead, we think the government should adjust its plans in line with calls from the supported housing sector and continue to provide funding for housing costs via the welfare system.

    Beyond this, ministers will need to consider the role for innovative approaches, such as Housing First, which has proven successful for ending rough sleeping among those with the most complex problems. Government investment in three Housing First pilots is, again, welcome, but ministers will need to establish long term funding arrangements to make this approach work.

    An integrated rough sleeping strategy will also need to be underpinned by a legal framework to help ensure services benefit from sustainable funding and can respond to fluctuations in demand. The Homelessness Reduction Act is a good start, using new legal duties to shift the focus of councils in England towards providing help to prevent homelessness in the first place.

    But if the Act is to be a success, councils must be able to help those in danger of sleeping rough find the right housing and support. Sadly, the reality is the unacceptable shortage of affordable housing options for too many people, and this is another long term challenge for the ministerial taskforce.

    St Mungo’s has always supported people to move off the streets into accommodation and to access the services that can help them rebuild their lives. This can take days, weeks, sometimes years.

    We don’t think it is an easy challenge the government has accepted, but we share their ambition of ending rough sleeping and welcome the opportunity to help get on with it.

Go back