I was refused a bed at a refuge because I had substance use and mental health issues and most refuges can’t offer that kind of support. But after a while I was found a place at a more suitable women’s project in Camden (not a St Mungo’s hostel). It was safe and the staff were amazing, but I found living in a hostel really difficult. For security we had to be ‘seen’ all the time so that meant we didn’t have any privacy.
I was then offered a flat by the charity that ran the Camden hostel but that didn’t go well. It was infested with mice. I so badly didn’t want to be there that one night I ended up sleeping outside in the park. I eventually had to leave this flat so I went back to staying with people like I had done before. Finally, I was moved to a low support hostel but it was so lonely there. No one really spoke to each other and I felt really isolated. My keyworker didn’t even know my name.
I felt trapped because there were no real plans for what my next steps would be to get back on my feet. I felt that my only way out was the private rental sector. I didn’t want other people controlling my life any more or making decisions for me.
I applied to be a Duty Worker at St Mungo’s and was successful. It was a while before I could start so I found it quite difficult initially to find accommodation before I got my first pay-cheque, but it all came together eventually. It was so good to have a fixed tenancy, knowing that no one is going to take it away. I don’t think many people understand the importance of the feeling of safety. Then, three months later, I was promoted to Support Worker.
Adapting from living in a service to being a staff member in a service was hard, but I really enjoyed it. I feel incredibly lucky and privileged. I want other people to have the opportunities I’ve had. The times I was sectioned for my mental health issues, I had my decisions taken away from me. I want to make sure people don’t have to feel the same level of powerlessness that I felt.
That’s why I think it’s great that there is such a push from St Mungo’s for client involvement. When I was a resident I wanted to have a say in how the house was run and we try to make sure that’s possible for our clients.
Having someone who knows what it’s like to live in a hostel means they can make sure the resident’s voice is heard because they can see what’s missing. I remember when I was sectioned I was so terrified of what was happening around me that I didn’t ask any of the questions I wanted to and I didn’t ever say what I needed or wanted.
Now I can support clients to do this and validate their concerns and make sure their needs are truly being met. It is a privilege to be able to make sense of my past – I get to turn my negative experiences into positive ones which is exactly what we are supporting our clients to do.
Involving clients in all we do.
Clients are at the heart of everything we do at St Mungo’s. That is why we are committed to meaningful client involvement at every level of the organisation, bringing diverse groups and opinions together to shape how we run our activities, how we plan for the future and how we make decisions.
We have two organisational client involvement groups:
- Outside In – this is a group made up of people who live in our accommodation or use our services. They work in partnership with St Mungo’s to use their voices, skills, talents and strengths to improve our services.
- Client Advisory Board – this is a formal group of clients who meet with the St Mungo’s Board of Trustees and Directors every six weeks to represent clients. Putting forward ideas and concerns, they help to set the agenda for future development.
Interested in reading more of our client’s stories? Read Charrissa’s story next here.