Brick by brick to recovery

    St Mungo's client, CarrieAnn

    Our client, CarrieAnn, shares the story of her love for building work at St Mungo’s Bricks and Mortar project and how learning new skills is helping her to recover from drug misuse.

    I was on cocaine for about nine years, and with that came heavy drinking, but that was when I was using. I realised I was spiralling out of control, then I decided that I needed to get help, so I referred myself to a day recovery programme. They referred me here to St Mungo’s Bricks and Mortar project in Euston, London. The project helps people recover from homelessness through social and therapeutic construction skills development.

    I’m 34 years old. I have had four years of decorating experience with my step dad. I was a labourer for him and he taught me how to paint. From there I came here and I’ve been here about eight months. I finished my course, which covered bricking, plastering, dry lining, rendering, and now I do wet lining. Since finishing the course, I’ve gone into volunteering.

    I’m a very hands on person. I’m dyslexic so I steer away from reading and writing. Actually, St Mungo’s Brick and Mortar Tutor, John Gani, taught me to pick up a newspaper every morning on the way in – so I’m reading a little bit now. I like anything hands on, building things, decorating is my favourite. I find decorating therapeutic. When I have thoughts in my head and I am feeling a bit down I find a paint brush and a wall to paint. It takes me into my own little world.

    Coming here has made me realise I now have a future ahead of me, instead of the darkness where I was. I’ve learned more skills. Every morning I look forward to coming here because I know I will learn something new. It gives me a reason to get up.

    I was not good at travelling, now I realise I am ok – I used to be terrified of the tube. I live in Battersea, so when I first started I used to take a really long route to get here, not knowing there was a quicker route. Coming here has been really good for my confidence.

    People who come here are from different walks of life. When I first started the course I met people here as they were finishing. I don’t know how they were when they first arrived here, but they walked out of here full of confidence. I am more confident in myself. We all get on and know that if there’s a problem, we can talk to the boss – he can have a quiet word to sort out any confusion.

    Not only do I get to learn new skills, I am in recovery as well. The tutors are amazing; they’re both in recovery with us. There was an incident a couple of weeks ago. I walked in and one of the tutors knew straight away that something was wrong. I went to walk out and he said, ‘stop’. When I turned around, I completely had a meltdown. I’d had a slight relapse. Because I’m in recovery I stay away from cocaine. But I had used some and it was eating me up inside because I knew it was wrong. The advice my tutor gave me was amazing.

    There are a few others in recovery here. The advice we get from tutors helps us stay clean. They share with us what they’ve learned, and with their encouragement we know we can do it.

    Set up almost ten years ago, St Mungo’s Bricks and Mortar project offers practical skills in construction, including, plastering, rendering, brickwork and dry lining. The course is accredited so students leave with a basic entry qualification in construction.

    St Mungo’s relies on the generosity of the public to run projects like Bricks and Mortar. You can find more information about how you can get involved in supporting us on the website.

    Celebrating St Mungo’s women

    St Mungo's clients

    Cat Glew, Women’s Strategy Manager for St Mungo’s, marks International Women’s Day by celebrating St Mungo’s women and the services that support them.

    International Women’s Day on 8 March 2018 is a chance to celebrate the strengths and achievements of women. Here at St Mungo’s we’ve got a lot to celebrate.

    We work with women every day – women sleeping rough, women facing homelessness and women living in our supported housing who are fighting to recover and build a future for themselves.

    We work will women who have dealt with the most difficult challenges, with lives marked by violence, abuse and poverty. Women who have lost everything, and kept going.

    Four in ten of our residents are women. In London alone, 1,175 women were found sleeping rough by outreach teams last year.

    These are women with incredible talent and strength, and we think they are worth celebrating. Since last March, St Mungo’s women have climbed Snowdon, appeared on The One Show, and been honoured by the Royal Horticultural Society. They have spoken in front of Ministers and MPs in Parliament. They have created art and poetry. They have been parents and colleagues and friends. They have escaped the streets. They have survived.

    The St Mungo’s women’s strategy is about finding and creating ways for women to recover from homelessness. Our research has shown that the causes and experiences of homelessness are different for women, so we know that the solutions for women should be different, too.

    The majority of women who have slept rough have experienced violence or abuse from a partner or their family. According to figures from London’s CHAIN database, 60 per cent of women sleeping rough last year faced problems with their mental health. Safety from violence and support to deal with trauma are fundamental for women’s recovery.

    So this International Women’s Day, we are celebrating our projects designed for women. St Mungo’s runs women-only projects in London and Bristol, including emergency shelters, hostels and a women’s psychotherapy service. We are also working hard to develop and improve our work with women in our mixed services.

    We do this work because we know how important it is that women feel safe when they access support to end their homelessness, and that they can work with someone that understands their experience.

    So this International Women’s Day, thank you to all St Mungo’s staff and volunteers supporting women to recover. And thank you to our supporters who make this work possible.

    I will be in Parliament on this day with a group of St Mungo’s women, learning more about the Suffragettes and their campaign for voting rights. There’s plenty more for us to do. The government has committed to end rough sleeping, so we’ll be asking them to deliver a new rough sleeping strategy that understands and invests in women.

    A strategy to end rough sleeping for women ­- that really would be something to celebrate.

    Share this article and #PressForProgress this International Women’s Day.

    Housing First, bringing learning home.

    St Mungo’s is one of the main providers of Housing First projects in England. We manage eight Housing First projects, offering more than 80 bed spaces between them.

    Housing First is an innovative approach in the UK. We’re keen to develop learning about this model and what it can offer. Here’s the second of a two part blog by Louisa Steele, who was part of a Transatlantic Practice Exchange earlier this year, and went to the US to explore how Housing First works with chronically homeless women to promote safety and build resilience. The views are her own.

    ‘A whirlwind of talking to clients and staff’

    As explained in my first blog, I was lucky enough to be one of five people working in homelessness in the UK to get the opportunity to travel to the US to research a topic of their choosing on the issue of homelessness.

    I flew out to Los Angeles at the beginning of May, with the aim of researching how organisations there use the Housing First model to meet the specific and varied needs of homeless women.

    It was a whirlwind and varied two weeks of talking to clients and staff from my host organisation, the Downtown Women’s Centre, visiting other homelessness agencies, going out on home visits with workers and attending meetings at City Hall.

    Before I go any further, I want to emphasise the sheer scale of both Los Angeles, the city, and of its homeless population.

    Los Angeles is vast, divided up into 84 separate cities, mostly only practically navigable by car, and with a stark divide between those that have and those that don’t.

    ‘Women face multiple disadvantage in similar ways to women in the UK’

    I was hosted by and based at the Downtown Women’s Centre on Skid Row. Skid Row is the area of LA where many of the homelessness services are situated, and therefore homeless people gravitate towards it, and in huge numbers. On Skid Row the community of tents stretches over several blocks, and the effects of poverty, substance use, poor mental and physical health are all too plain to see.

    It was clear that many of the women experience multiple disadvantage in similar ways to women in the UK, where poor mental health, experiences of violence and trauma, substance use, and loss of children combine.

    What is different, though, are the lack of options available to help women off the streets. I met many women sleeping in temporary beds in emergency shelters, which are dormitory style and very short term – not comparable to hostels in the UK. Women in shelters have reported high rates of violence and abuse and many women will switch between these, and sleeping out.

    ‘Diversity of services available for women’

    Another major difference is that women on Skid Row are also more likely to be older; 48% of those surveyed by the Downtown Women’s Centre were aged 51-61, therefore physical health is a major issue.

    I think one of the things that struck me the most during my time in LA, was the diversity of services available for women at the Downtown Women’s Centre, each designed around the acknowledgement that each women’s experience of homelessness and current circumstances would be very different, and with an overarching aim to get women permanently housed, as quickly as possible.

    The Downtown Women’s Centre worked with each woman from whatever stage she was at, or position she was in, whether she was street homeless and needed a shower at the day centre, or whether she was living in a tent on the pavement, had long term mental health issues and needed housing and intensive support.

    Trauma informed support was another key aspect in the response to women’s homelessness. Onsite health and wellbeing services provide physical health and specialist trauma support as well as a wide range of activities from walking groups to confidence and resilience building workshops.

    ‘Partnership working a key part of Housing First ethos’

    I was also lucky enough to sit in on a meeting of the Domestic Violence Homelessness Services Coalition, of which the Downtown Women’s Centre are key members, and drivers for change. The coalition represents an important piece of partnership work, aiming to address the gaps between homelessness and domestic violence services, and ultimately achieve system wide change and reduce the number of women experiencing homelessness due to domestic violence. Partnership working of this kind is a key part of the Housing First ethos, and it was inspiring to see such innovative work in action.

    Downtown have also worked incredibly hard and creatively to change the stigma surrounding homeless women in the community, a key piece of work in changing attitudes and fostering confidence and self-respect among the women they serve.

    It only remains to say that the exchange was an amazing experience, and I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of it.

    I am in the process of writing a report on my findings which should be available on the Homeless Link website sometime in September, and I will continue to talk about women and housing first at my blog http://louisasteele.blogspot.co.uk, and tweet about it here, https://twitter.com/louamarie.

    Transatlantic practice exchange…the countdown has begun

    St Mungo’s Housing First worker Louisa has been selected to travel to Los Angeles as part of the Transatlantic Practice Exchange. She tells us about how she’ll be using the experience to bring back fresh ideas and approaches to help in her work ending homelessness.

    I’m finding it hard to believe that I will be flying out to Los Angeles, California, USA, this Sunday 7 May!

    I am lucky enough to be taking part in the Transatlantic Practice Exchange. The Exchange is an exciting opportunity for myself, as a representative of St Mungo’s, and four other frontline staff from services across the UK to spend a fortnight in the United States, exploring different practice topics and sharing learning on our return. Similarly, services in the UK have volunteered to host five participants from the US. The exchange is a collaboration between Homeless Link in the UK and the National Alliance to End Homelessness in the US and is funded by the Oak Foundation.

    I have been a Housing First Worker at a St Mungo’s North London Housing First service for a year and a half now. Housing First works with people who have been homeless for long periods of time, and who have complex and varied needs. We provide them with a tenancy, intensive support to maintain that tenancy, and to make other positive changes in their lives.

    ‘Rebuilding shattered lives’

    When I started at St Mungo’s Housing First I was amazed at the different ethos and approach, and the great outcomes that had been achieved. With a background working in specialist services for women, and a keen interest in gender studies, I became interested in homeless women’s experiences of services, especially as their needs can be different to those of homeless men.

    The innovative research carried out by St Mungo’s in their ‘Rebuilding Shattered Lives’ report has highlighted how women are likely to have experienced sustained trauma, abuse and violence throughout their lives, have lost contact with their children, have complex and untreated mental and physical health issues, as well as myriad of other interrelated issues. This inspired me to start a project to find out more about the needs of women accessing our Housing First service, what we were doing well and where the challenges lay. So when the opportunity to take part in the exchange came up, I knew exactly what topic I wanted to focus on.

    ‘An intense but fascinating two weeks of learning’

    On Monday morning, probably fairly dazed and half asleep, I will make my way to my host organisation, Downtown Women’s Centre, on Skid Row in Downtown LA, to meet chief programme officer, Amy Turk, and begin what will be an intense but fascinating two weeks of learning. The Downtown Women’s Centre has a well-established housing first service for women, with 119 on site apartments as well as a community based housing programme. They also run an incredibly busy day centre, where 200 women a day take a shower, get meals, clothes and advice, and access health and trauma recovery services.

    I have more questions to ask than I can count! I have done so much reading on Housing First and the context of homelessness in the US I feel finally ready to get out there and experience it first-hand.
    I will be sharing reflections and some of my experiences with you in a short series of blog postsat, http://louisasteele.blogspot.co.uk, and I will be tweeting about it here, https://twitter.com/louamarie. See you on the other side!

     

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