Finding acceptance and understanding in the workplace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The passion of a freelance gardener: Oriana’s story

    Joining St Mungo’s Putting Down Roots project helped Oriana to discover a new passion for gardening. Now, she’s forging a rewarding career as a freelance gardener. She explains why she’s so excited about the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

    “The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is great opportunity for everyone at Putting Down Roots. I’ve never been and I’m very excited to take part.

    “I came across Putting Down Roots for the first time in 2014. I took part in the project for one year and during that time, I learned the basics of horticulture. More importantly, I discovered my passion for nature and the benefits of working with the living plants that are so precious for everyone to survive.

    “Since then I have embarked on a gardening career path. At first I worked as an employee for some companies, but that didn’t suit me. Then I set myself up as a freelance gardener and I have ended up coming back here, working side by side with Putting Down Roots.

    “I’ve recently completed a garden design qualification and my goal is to study permaculture, and permaculture design. I want to contribute to making this world greener and it’s thanks to Putting Down Roots as well.”

    Find out more about putting Down Roots at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show here.

    St Mungo’s Pride 2022: LGBTQIA+ and Homelessness

    June is Pride Month, an annual celebration for the LGBTQIA+ community focusing on sexual and gender diversities. At St Mungo’s, there are many reasons why promoting equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamentally important for us. The people we support are more likely to experience disadvantage and discrimination, including those who identify as LGBTQIA+.

    In this blog, we look at the link between LGBTQIA+ communities and homelessness, as well as how we support people.

    What is the link between LGBTQIA+ people and homelessness?

    Many LGBTQIA+ people still experience discrimination and bigotry and this can have an effect on home environments. This can result in them needing to leave home, sometimes without anywhere to go. As much as 24% of young people who are at risk of homelessness are LGBTQIA+ (Akt, 2015).

    Data from the charity Akt shows that many young LGBTQIA+ people experiencing homelessness aren’t aware of what services are available to support them, or are worried about experiencing discrimination in those services.

    Their 2021 report shows that 50% of young people fear that expressing their identity may end in being made to leave home. Before becoming homeless, 61% felt frightened or intimidated by family members.

    How does St Mungo’s help support LGBTQIA+ individuals?

    At St Mungo’s, we make sure our services are informed about LGBTQIA+ issues, and are welcoming to everyone regardless of sexual or gender identity.

    When referring people to our different kinds of accommodation, we assess whether that environment is right for them, including any support needs they might have, and what will make them feel most safe. Sometimes, single gender places are the best fit for the people we’re supporting, and in these cases we always make sure that people go to the accommodation that best fits their gender identity, unless they request otherwise.

    Our staff are trained on LGBTQIA+ issues, and we continually assess and consider the experience of our clients through feedback forms and services.

    How does St Mungo’s support and welcome LGBTQIA+ staff?

    We work with Stonewall UK and we are 14th on their Top Employers List.

    Stonewall has also awarded St Mungo’s a prestigious Gold Award, which celebrates organisations that go above and beyond to empower LGBTQIA+ staff members to be themselves at work.

    For the great inclusion work achieved by our LGBTQIA+ Network, St Mungo’s has also received a Highly Commended Network Group award.

    St Mungo’s Roma Team: Elena’s Story

    Here, Nicoleta from our Roma Rough Sleeping team tells the story of one of our clients, Elena and how we supported her.

    Elena is one of our clients; we’ve worked with her since November 2019. I met her for the first time on a shift I was doing with my dear colleague, Adrian from SOS Westminster. She used to sleep on the corner, close to Marble Arch in Hyde Park, on the cement. I remember her refusing to go to the doctor although Adrian was so worried about what appeared to be an ear infection.

    Later, the same year, she approached me while I was with a group of Roma in the park. She was offered accommodation with Glassdoor as it was the second lockdown, but she refused. She heard my name from other Romani woman I was working with and who had high health needs, too. She had heard good things about me from these other Romani women. I am smiling while writing this down!

    My colleague Mania and I spoke in Romany with her all the time, and we found out that her Romany nickname is Cometa, which means Comet.

    The definition of Comet is a celestial object consisting of a nucleus of ice and dust and, when near the sun, a ‘tail’ of gas and dust particles pointing away from the sun. This definition embodies the personality of Elena, the power she holds inside and both her warmth and iced attitudes toward her disease, life and us, too.

    She was diagnosed with a degenerative disease, and we witnessed too the deterioration of her health, month after month. We became her support network here, outraged by the way the system has treated her sometimes, but sticking with her.

    We have learned from her, like in mirror or a movie, what is to be born a woman, Roma in Romania, choices she made, and changes in social status. We have learned the pain of a mother who can’t see her children as she is not fit for travel anymore. But, at the same time, we have been amazed by her immense determination and her trust in us, that she will penetrate the system and will enjoy her rights here.

    Her doctor told us that we saved her life when Mania brought her to the hospital for her brain surgery. A surgery she decided to have, which is a sign she trusts us and doctors here even though her family was very reluctant as she was not home with them.

    Our Cometa has taught us many lessons, as human beings, as women, and each time I feel down she comes as a light in my thoughts and tells me to hold on.

    She is the first Romany woman rough sleeper with pre-settled status that passed the Care Act Assessment, after nine months of going back and forth with Adult Social Services.

    She is proof that it is not impossible to work with Roma clients. She is proof that, if we listen to the human stories and break all our prejudices, we may find wonderful, surprising people who will make a strong and lasting impression on our lives.

    Supporting people through a lonely time of year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Find out more about our Housing First service here.

    We must not let the health needs of women experiencing homelessness be forgotten

    We recently submitted our joint recommendations to the Government’s public consultation on England’s first Women’s Health Strategy alongside Crisis, Groundswell and Homeless Link. In this blog Emma Cookson, our Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, explains why health for women experiencing homelessness is such an important issue.

    The average age of death for women sleeping rough or living in emergency accommodation is just 43 years old – that’s nearly 40 years younger than women in the general population.

    These numbers reflect the devastating reality that in far too many cases, the health needs of women experiencing or at risk of homelessness are too often forgotten.

    The Government recently held a public consultation on their women’s health strategy. And, working together with Crisis, Groundswell and Homeless Link, we submitted a series of recommendations to make sure that our clients’ needs are brought to the forefront.


    Hidden from help

    Our experience as a leading service provider shows us how inextricably linked homelessness and health are. In 2021, 81% of women in St Mungo’s housing-related support services had a mental health support need, 49% had a drug support need, and 57% had a physical health support need.

    It’s also important to recognise that women’s experiences of homelessness – and the traumas they face – are vastly different from men’s. Their trauma is often rooted in gender-based violence and abuse. A 2015 study from Ireland found that as many as 92% of homeless women had experienced violence or abuse during their lifetime.

    Many women are hidden whilst homeless or rough sleeping. They find secluded sleep sites or may be forced to stay with strangers who expect sex in return for shelter.

    Hiding from harm means that women are also hidden from help. They are missing from homelessness services and statistically invisible, but the problems they’re facing are considerable.

    Despite all of this, there aren’t enough homelessness services that cater specifically to the needs of women. In 2019, only ten percent of accommodation services in England provided women-only accommodation.


    Trapped in a cycle

    How can women feel safe in healthcare settings when they are constantly facing reminders of their experiences of violence and abuse?

    We know that trauma and abuse can impact women’s attitudes and experiences when dealing with support and mental health services. It can leave women trapped in a cycle of homelessness and poor health as their problems are aggravated.

    Women recovering from domestic abuse might struggle to feel comfortable in services which are mostly male-dominated. Some of our clients are also known to be involved in selling or exchanging sex, which can place them at greater risk of physical harm and sexual health issues, including sexual violence. Some women might also feel too ashamed or embarrassed to engage with support.


    Grief, shame and guilt

    Another big challenge is supporting women in discussions and decision-making around childcare. Feelings of shame and stigma can make it harder for women to access contraceptives.

    Not to mention the complex feelings surrounding decisions to continue with an unplanned pregnancy in challenging circumstances, coupled with potential judgement from others.

    For many women experiencing homelessness, a lack of support means they are separated from their children permanently – a situation of unimaginable grief, shame and guilt, which can alienate them even further from health and support services.

    All of this highlights why it was so important for us as homeless organisations to make a submission to this strategy, to share the knowledge and experience from our clients’ lived experience and that we have gained working on the frontline.

    These are the main points we included:

    • We need the Government’s Women’s Health Strategy to recognise and meet the needs of women experiencing homelessness, and engage directly with women with lived experience of homelessness and rough sleeping.
    • There needs to be adequate funding for women’s specialist services across the country, including provision of accommodation. Providing the right accommodation is a health intervention in itself – along with women-only services and drop-in sessions in mixed provision being available in every local area.
    • The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to provide increased long-term funding and additional training so services can offer better support for women with complex needs who are trying to sustain or gain access to their children.
    • We need health and homelessness services to be trauma and psychologically informed.
    • Better research into women’s homelessness and data collection to build a clear picture of the problems around women’s homelessness and healthcare.


    Women’s lives depend on a Women’s Health Strategy that meets the needs of women experiencing homelessness. Funding is needed so that these women aren’t forgotten or side-lined, even within the homelessness sector. And a focus on women’s health is needed now more than ever.

    St Mungo’s welcomes long term funding commitment to provide homes for people sleeping rough

    The news that the next phase of funding for the Government’s scheme to provide homes for people who had been sleeping rough will cover the next three years, has been described as ‘welcome’ by leading homelessness charity St Mungo’s.

    Today (18 March) the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has launched the application process for councils to submit their requests for a share of the £212m funding.

    The money, which is part of the Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programme, will provide funding for both housing and support over the next three years.

    Homes will be made available in every region of England, enabling people who sleep rough, or who are at risk of sleeping rough, to be rehoused in secure, long-term accommodation.

    It is the next stage of investment in longer-term accommodation for people who have experienced rough sleeping, and will be used to support schemes such as those provided by St Mungo’s in partnership with Bristol City Council.

    Chief Executive of St Mungo’s Steve Douglas CBE said: “This is welcome news, and what we hope will be the next step in the development of a long term strategy to end rough sleeping for good.

    “We saw unprecedented collaboration between national, regional and local government, health agencies, homelessness organisations and housing associations in the response to the pandemic.

    “That response undoubtedly saved lives. We must now ensure that this recognition that longer term planning and funding for the homes and the health support that is necessary, is a cross-government commitment.”

    On 26 March last year the Government launched the Everyone In initiative which saw people who had been sleeping rough supported into emergency accommodation to help protect them from the virus.

    So far more than 37,000 people have been helped, with more than 26,000 already moved on to longer-term accommodation.

    Yesterday the Public Affairs Committee released a report analysing the Government’s handling of the issue rough sleeping during the pandemic which praised the “considerable achievement” of the Everyone In scheme, but which also addressed several areas of concern.

    In May last year the Government pledged £161m for the first year of the programme which was to be used to provide more than 3,000 new homes.

    In total the Government has pledged to provide 6,000 homes by the end of the current Parliament.

    Next Steps Accommodation Programme: Working together to deliver move on accommodation in Bristol

    With over 50 years’ experience providing a wide range of frontline homelessness and housing services across London and the south of England, St Mungo’s works with individuals throughout all stages of homelessness. For people with a history of sleeping rough, the move from supported accommodation to independent housing can often be a challenging step. Without the right accommodation and support available, sometimes individuals can end up returning to the streets.

    To break this cycle St Mungo’s has developed a model of housing acquisition and management with an experienced support team in place to help people move from the homelessness pathways system into their own self-contained accommodation. With good quality, affordable, move-on accommodation alongside sustained 1-2-1 support, residents will be able to build the skills they need to not only maintain their tenancy, but to thrive in their new home eventually accessing fully independent housing.

    With teams based in cities and towns across the south of England and an infrastructure of support functions providing specialist expertise – in areas such as property and asset management, recruitment and data security – St Mungo’s is able to deliver services at scale with the local knowledge and existing partnerships ensuring that these projects can move quickly and are the right fit for their local communities. When the government announced the Next Steps Accommodation Programme (NSAP) funding for 2020/21, St Mungo’s developed a number of proposals built on this central principle. In Bristol, working closely with Bristol City Council and Homes England, a bid for funding to support the acquisition of a number self-contained units of accommodation was successfully developed.

    The Funding

    On 24 May the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announced the Next Steps Accommodation Programme funding, part of their COVID-19 Rough Sleeping response, for both short and longer term support for people with a history of sleeping rough or those who were made vulnerable to rough sleeping by the pandemic.

    As part of NSAP, over £150 million was announced to deliver 3,300 units of longer-term, move on accommodation within 20/21. As well as capital funding, organisations could also apply for revenue funding to provide support for people moving into the accommodation.

    With the Everyone In initiative seeing thousands of people being supported away from sleeping rough into hotel accommodation, the NSAP funding would allow the sector to find long term housing solutions ensuring the move into emergency accommodation was just the first step towards a safe and secure home, rather than a temporary measure.

    ‘The NSAP is funded by the MHCLG and managed by Homes England (with the exception of London where the GLA managed the funding). In Bristol this was allocated via Bristol City Council, who also managed the revenue funding stream.

    The Partnership

    Whilst partnership working has always been central to the way that St Mungo’s plans and delivers homelessness and housing services, the Covid-19 emergency response showed what could be achieved when all parties work together with a genuinely collaborative approach.

    St Mungo’s works closely with the MHCLG at both a national and regional level resulting in valuable and aligned partnership working across a number of areas, including policy discussions, service developments and capital projects. At a national level, St Mungo’s and Homes England have a strong relationship supported by a shared approach towards strategic planning focussed on long term housing solutions around homelessness.

    In Bristol, St Mungo’s has worked alongside Bristol City Council for over ten years, delivering a number of commissioned homelessness services alongside a number of other housing projects. Shared values and a strong working history formed the basis of a collaborative emergency response that, so far, has seen 546 people supported into emergency hotel accommodation in the city during the pandemic.

    St Mungo’s worked closely with Bristol City Council developing a bid for NSAP funding that would lead to property acquisition to ultimately benefit the city. With rapidly increasing house prices, the private rented sector in Bristol is inaccessible to the vast majority of clients using homelessness services and, as a result, Bristol City Council is working to increase availability of affordable accommodation. St Mungo’s NSAP bid proposal supported this strategy, with a plan to purchase good quality housing that would be both affordable and accessible, providing a long
    term asset available for people in the city.

    Homes England, working with the local authority, administer the NSAP funding for capital and revenue applications. As St Mungo’s would be leading on all the decisions around purchasing the properties, the NSAP bid included documentation to demonstrate the knowledge and resources in place to ensure that only good quality, value for money accommodation would be acquired in line with a robust set of property specifications.

    The Project

    In a unique position to be able to both purchase property and provide experienced support teams for the accommodation, St Mungo’s were able to move quickly once they were awarded the NSAP funding. The St Mungo’s Properties and Acquisition team had a number of properties of interest in Bristol that had already met the criteria for purchase.

    With our Bristol-based staff, the team were able to begin the purchase process immediately whilst regional and national service teams could start modelling the support aspect of the project. A property in east Bristol comprising 11 self-contained units of accommodation, made up of 1 and 2 bedroom flats, was identified and
    assessed against the St Mungo’s property criteria. The funding was allocated in November 2020 and the property purchase was completed in December 2020.

    With a further 10 individual accommodation units currently in the process of being purchased before the end of the financial year, the first round of NSAP funding will have supported St Mungo’s to buy a total of 21 units of self-contained accommodation in Bristol.

    Whilst the properties were being purchased, the St Mungo’s Move On Housing Services team worked closely with Bristol City Council to develop a support model for individuals moving into the accommodation. The St Mungo’s team will provide ‘floating support’ with staff members visiting the accommodation once a week, as well as opportunities for clients to arrange individual appointments at the local St Mungo’s office. The support team will focus on preparing clients to move into the private rented sector, building skills such as budgeting and understanding tenancy responsibilities.

    With continued support from Homes England, St Mungo’s will be able to expand this vital offer, increasing Bristol’s availability of good quality, secure housing for people that cannot access accommodation in the private rental sector. With expert support from St Mungo’s teams, the NSAP properties will have a huge impact on the lives of the people that live in them. It is only by offering long term stability to people, alongside the skills needed to live independently, that the cycle of homelessness can be broken.

    The Response

    Eddie Hughes MP, Minister for Housing and Rough Sleeping said: “Looking back at an incredibly challenging twelve months, everyone who has helped protect rough sleepers, including St Mungo’s and other councils, charities, housing providers and support groups, should be immensely proud of the role they have played in our internationally recognised response.

    “This programme plays a vital role in maintaining this progress, with long-term, secure homes providing a safe place to live so that rough sleepers do not have to return to our streets.”

    Homes England said: “Through MHCLG’s Next Steps Accommodation Programme, we’ve supported local councils to fast-track long term, move-on accommodation, creating homes for some of the most vulnerable in our society.

    “St Mungo’s and Bristol City Council’s work to provide homes for 21 local people is a brilliant example of the tangible impact of this programme. Through our continued partnership, we hope to make this a reality for even more members of the local community.”

    Councillor Helen Godwin, Cabinet Member for Women, Children and Homes, Bristol City Council, said: “The pandemic gave us an opportunity to get a lot of people off the streets, and now we need to help them move on to the next stage of their journey.

    “This is a much needed alternative housing solution for people who do not need the level of intense support provided in supported housing, yet currently need a bit of a wrap-around support to help them gain the skills and confidence needed to maintain a tenancy and a home.

    “We are really pleased to be working in partnership with St Mungo’s, United Communities and Solon Housing to provide these new homes, as tackling an issue like homelessness cannot be done by one organisation alone. We all need to work together and continue to come up with new solutions to help support some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

    Nicki Doran, Senior Move On Housing Manager at St Mungo’s, said: “We’re really excited to shortly launch the new NSAP programme in Bristol and to expand Move On Housing Services in a new area.

    “This project will provide essential support and accommodation to those in need of a stepping stone towards fully independent housing.

    “We have been working closely with Bristol City Council to ensure that the referral and support elements of the project are tailored to the specific needs of the client group so that there is consistency across the board from all NSAP providers. This collaborative approach has enabled us to pull on knowledge and learnings, across both the organisation and sector, in a bid to secure successful outcomes for our clients.”

    Statistics, announcements and commitments put homelessness centre stage

    Last week was a busy one in the homelessness sector. Our Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research, Beatrice Orchard rounds up, and reflects on, the key moments. 

    The official rough sleeping statistics for England were published last week. They show a 37% reduction in the number of people sleeping rough on a single night, falling from 4,266 in autumn 2019 to 2,688 in autumn 2020. This is the lowest figure since 2013.

    The statistics also show just what can be achieved with a concerted effort and strong partnership working to help people rebuild their lives away from the streets, which is exactly what happened under the ‘Everyone In’ initiative.

    As usual there was much debate and discussion about the extent to which this ‘nightly snapshot’ can ever tell us about the true scale of rough sleeping across the country.

    The Everyone In initiative has provided safe, emergency accommodation and ongoing support for those sleeping rough, as well as others at risk of doing so. At the latest count 37,430 have been helped since March last year, a tremendous achievement and an unprecedented opportunity to support thousands of people to recover from homelessness.

    What the official rough sleeping statistics do provide is a consistent measure, independently verified by Homeless Link, which can be used to help review progress on ending rough sleeping. And it was extremely welcome to see both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Housing commit once again to achieving this goal.

    As well as praising the efforts of everyone involved in securing the reduction in rough sleeping during the past year, including councils, outreach workers, volunteers and civil servants, the Government also took the opportunity to say a bit more about its future Rough Sleeping Strategy.

    We heard Housing First ‘was integral to that mission’ following calls from the Centre for Social Justice, St Mungo’s and others for a significant expansion of the approach.

    Equally, the Housing Secretary told Parliament that the ‘marriage of health and housing’ would be at the heart of the Government’s strategy.

    The pandemic has served as another reminder that homelessness and health are inextricably linked. Recent research by St Mungo’s found almost one in four (24%) of our clients has a health condition which put them at serious risk from Covid-19, with illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and severe respiratory conditions being common.

    The research also found that joined-up working between health and homelessness services has been a key factor in the success of Everyone In. Ministers have agreed and committed to ‘fortify those partnerships between local homelessness and health services, and between central and local government and the NHS.’

    We stand ready to work with the Government to deliver on the recommendations in our Housing and Health report to turn this commitment into a reality.

    Finally, there was also the hint that the Government’s strategy would also be about modernising the approach to street homelessness and finally repealing the 1824 Vagrancy Act which criminalises rough sleeping.

    The Government’s review of the act is still to be published, but the Housing Secretary has now agreed publicly with MPs and homelessness charities that the ‘antiquated’ act should be repealed.

    St Mungo’s has long advocated for an end to the Vagrancy Act. Its very existence runs against modern understandings of homelessness and often drives people sleeping rough further from the support they need.

    A renewed strategy and a modern day approach, which embeds the lessons from the pandemic, is exactly what is needed. With continued political will, and close partnership working, we can make much more progress on the journey to ending rough sleeping for good.

    In my shoes – taking a proactive approach to race action

    In response to the issues raised as a result of the killing of George Floyd in May 2020 and Black Lives Matter, St Mungo’s is taking a proactive approach.

    As a leading homelessness charity, we have always had a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Survey feedback is that 91% of our staff believe we are committed to diversity and inclusion but we know there is more to do.

    We set up a reverse mentoring scheme called In My Shoes which sees senior staff matched with BAME mentors to ensure better awareness of issues that BAME staff may experience. Here Catherine and Jo write about their mentoring experience.

    What did you hope to gain from your experience? Is it different to what you expected?

    Catherine: I had no real expectations other than to go in with an open mind and have a good chat. I felt mildly anxious beforehand because I am curious about these important issues but I don’t want to offend or say the wrong thing, so setting boundaries was useful.

    Jo has been very open and honest, which I appreciate that at times it can’t be easy. I think there is an element of vulnerability in the conversations from both sides, you are opening yourselves up to expose parts of yourself that may be buried, whether through fear, ignorance or our own unconscious biases; so establishing that trust and rapport has been essential.

    Jo: The main expectation I had was that the mentee would be proactive in their learning. I think that mentoring should focus more on coaching, guidance and support rather than teaching. I was feeling nervous about how I was going to deal with any unpredicted triggers that may come up.

    In my first meeting with Catherine we talked about boundaries, triggers and appropriate language. An important boundary we talked about was how we would communicate if an offensive phrase or word was used, the ways we would both express how that made us feel and that we would take breaks if needed. It was important to remember that we are both learning, and that some mistakes will be made as part of this process.

    This meeting took away most of the pressure I was feeling about making sure Catherine got a lot out of our discussions and would encourage her learning beyond our sessions.

    Is there anything specific that you’ve learnt that has shifted your perspective?

    Catherine: It has been great for me that Jo has a sense of humour, so we have been able to bring a lightness to some very serious subjects. We have talked about a wide range of things in each of our four sessions, bouncing around loads ideas and thoughts. It has certainly challenged me and we have both reflected that our conversations have left us quite tired.

    What I have found most interesting and thought provoking are the non-obvious challenges that people of colour face. I would never have thought about hair being an issue, in terms of what it represents and the fact that people of colour have to deal with having their hair touched by strangers or it be a point of conversation all the time.

    This led on to discussions about defensive living, which as a woman I think we all do in some way but then take that further as a black woman – that made me think a lot. I did some further reading and listening to some podcasts, which delved deeper into this issue and about appearance in general. I can’t imagine having to really think about my appearance if say, I went for a job interview, other than to try to look presentable. But to hear how some people of colour – of any gender – have to consider changing their outward appearance and hide who they are in order to blend in, made me really take a step back. A job interview is enough pressure and to change who you are puts that pressure at a new level. That is just one example in life that I take for granted, I can just be me but that is not the case for everyone. That saddened me.

    Can you share any learnings that you plan to or have started implementing in your day-to-day interactions?

    Catherine: It has definitely made me think about how open we all are, even when we think we are, are we really? I have often heard the phrase ‘I don’t see colour, I just see people.’ To me that feels worse, as there is zero appreciation of someone else’s life experience; that’s something I will challenge more freely now, because I can offer some insight into the impact of those sorts of phrases. I have also got a few exercises that I am going to introduce to my team, to help get others thinking and to spark further conversations and discussions.

    Jo: Catherine is right. When a person says they “don’t see colour” it is very invalidating.

    One of the most important learnings I took away from our discussions is to remember not everyone lives with the same knowledge and experiences. Sometimes I had to rethink how I was explaining a subject to Catherine, as she didn’t have the same insight or understanding. For example, when we talked about hair in our second meeting, Catherine didn’t realise people still touch other people’s hair without consent because this is not something that happens to her. This led to a long discussion about hair history and politics and how this is connected to the Slave Trade. A deep and disturbing subject to talk about with someone who hasn’t grown up with that kind of communal grief and trauma.

    That leads on to another important learning, something I became more aware of was how emotionally draining talking about these subjects can be. When you’re living day to day, certain behaviours are so entrenched, they become subconscious. It takes a lot of self-reflection to sit and pick apart and explain to someone why you do things a certain way.

    It was important to tell Catherine if a subject was too much to talk about in that meeting or highlight a need to change to a “lighter” discussion. I also had to re-assess my own self-care skills and make sure I was doing them, I can be a little bit lazy about that.



    What else are we doing?

    Our Board and Executive recognise that racism and other forms of discrimination have a profound impact on our clients and our staff. We have had a BAME Positive Action Strategy and action plan since 2017 and we are committed to doing what we can to address these issues.

    Over the past three years we had already reviewed training, policy and guidance, profiled BAME staff and their career progression internally and set up a Steps into Management career progression scheme which BAME staff are particularly encouraged to apply to.

    We asked ourselves what we could do to demonstrate our support to the principle that Black Lives Matter in a meaningful way and to reconfirm our commitment to tackling racism. We:

    • set up discussions with Board members and our BAME Network in the summer
    • surveyed BAME staff
    • took advice from consultants
    • set up a Race Action Steering Group in August to develop a Race Action Plan.

    Our Race Action Plan sets out a programme of activities across three main areas: Leadership awareness and commitment, positive action, and creating safe spaces.

    These commitments include using the Leadership 2025 five point plan as a framework for action and accountability and agreeing aspirational targets to aim for, namely one in three appointments to senior management (Service Development Manager and above) and Trustee roles over the next five years to be people from a BAME background.

    We will also seek to ensure that at least one member of every shortlisting panel for a senior role is BAME and introduce a new Leadership Development Programme for BAME managers to support their progression into senior roles.

    What will success look like?

    Success is when our organisation fully reflects the diversity of the clients we work with and the communities where we work, at all levels of the organisation and when anti-discrimination, in all of its forms, is increasingly embedded in all we do.

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