50 years after St Mungo’s came into existence, it remains a national scandal that so many people are forced to sleep rough on the streets. What remains heartening though, is that so many people also want to find a way to make a difference. In my role as Head of Volunteering, Apprenticeships and Placements, I am regularly asked ‘what can I do to help?’ People often say that they want to make a difference but they’re not sure how. As a charity, we are always looking to harness the goodwill and talents of people who want to donate their time. So, with this in mind, and as we celebrate Volunteers’ Week, here are five practical ways that you can volunteer your time and support St Mungo’s to end homelessness.
Support someone who is rough sleeping
Rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness and also the most dangerous. There are a number of ways you can support people who are sleeping rough.
When the public sees someone sleeping rough in their area, they are encouraged to tell StreetLink, a service that connects people to local services that can support them away from the streets. StreetLink is volunteer-led, and they welcome voluntary support all year round, helping respond to referrals made over the phone, online and through their app.
Referrals from StreetLink help thousands of people sleeping rough access support each year, but our Outreach teams have a lot of ground to cover and our client group is often moving. This means that around 50% of referrals are not found. This is where First Response comes in. First Response volunteers go out to areas to verify referrals and pass on accurate information to the Outreach teams. Volunteers are needed for early and late shifts, playing an essential role so Outreach teams can find people sleeping rough and get them the help that they need.
Help our clients get creative
There is lots of research suggesting that if you are in recovery, the opportunity to have a creative outlet helps you to manage emotions, learn new skills and engage in group settings. At St Mungo’s, we support clients through a recovery approach. A big part of this involves encouraging clients to engage with creative activities, either at their accommodation or at our Recovery Colleges. If you have a skill in the arts, music or drama, then you can pass on your knowledge to our clients and facilitate a vital step in their recovery journey.
Improve health outcomes
Rough sleeping is dangerous, and the effects of homelessness will often have a significant impact on the physical and mental health of our clients. Our services work with our clients with the aim of improving their access to health services, while decreasing health inequalities for those whose housing situation is vulnerable and/or temporary. Demystifying health conditions and treatment is an important part of this. We involve volunteers with a medical background and qualifications, or those in training, to develop and deliver workshops on a range of health topics including nutrition, mental wellbeing, healthy lifestyles, nutrition, diet, physical activity, diabetes, substance use, blood-borne viruses (BBV) and sexual health.
Help our clients learn to read and write
For many of us, settling down with a good book is a pleasure. However at the end of the last financial year, around 17% of our clients needed support with literacy. Not being able to read or write can make even some of the most everyday tasks very difficult. Volunteers at our Recovery Colleges and across St Mungo’s, support clients to develop their literacy skills and increase their confidence in a friendly, inclusive environment.
Cook up a storm
Food – who doesn’t love food? We know that giving our clients the skills and knowledge to cook healthy and nutritious food on a budget will help them to move away from homelessness and towards independence. If there are budding Jamie Olivers among you, running a cooking class in one of our accommodation services will make a real difference as we prepare our clients for independent living.
Volunteering at St Mungo’s gives you the opportunity to make a real difference to some of the most vulnerable in society. We value our volunteers and the contribution they make. A comprehensive induction and training programme, and ongoing support from a central team and your local supervisor, will be an important part of your volunteering journey with us.
We have been accredited with Investing in Volunteers since 2011 and, just this month, we were reaccredited, thanks to the sustained quality of our volunteer management practices.
Our volunteering opportunities are available on our website, and our recruitment sessions, which run twice monthly, will help you to understand the impact of your contribution.
Happy Volunteers’ Week 2019, and we look forward to seeing you soon!