St Mungo’s is celebrating the third year anniversary of our innovative First Response service, which is funded by the estate agent Chestertons and currently has over 50 volunteers devoting their spare time to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping during the Covid-19 crisis. The First Response team has recruited over 260 volunteers since it began in 2018.

First Response, which is supported by Chestertons and the Chestertons Foundation, works by recruiting and training volunteers to work alongside Streetlink – the national rough sleeping referral service – and St Mungo’s London outreach teams to find people who are sleeping rough.

As one of the largest providers of outreach services in the country, St Mungo’s has supported over 4,000 people to isolate safely since the pandemic began.

First Response volunteers help these efforts by locating people or checking areas where members of the public say they have seen someone sleeping outside, and then letting St Mungo’s dedicated outreach teams know if they need to respond, or if that person cannot be found.

Typically, over 74% of these public referrals are not found, meaning that specialist outreach workers’ time is often spent checking empty sites. Thanks to the efforts of First Response volunteers filtering out these referrals, St Mungo’s specialist outreach workers are able to use their time more effectively, ensuring as many people as possible can be supported.

From 2018-2020, First Response checked an average of 30% of all referrals, saving St Mungo’s outreach teams’ valuable time. In the past three years, First Response volunteers have dedicated over 5,500 hours to locating people sleeping rough across the capital – the equivalent of approximately 1,380 outreach team shifts.

Mathilde Dupouy, St Mungo’s First Response Coordinator, said: “First Response has made a huge difference over the last three years and wouldn’t have been possible without support from Chestertons and the Chestertons Foundation.”

“Our fantastic First Response volunteers have spent hours searching the streets looking for vulnerable people sleeping rough across London to make sure they are supported.

“Their incredible contribution means that our outreach teams can dedicate more time to offering people routes out of homelessness and towards recovery, including helping them to access support services and emergency accommodation during the pandemic.”

Salah Mussa, Chairman of the Chestertons Foundation, said: “The Chestertons Foundation is delighted to support St Mungo’s innovative approach to reaching more people who are rough sleeping across London. We are incredibly proud and grateful to all the staff and volunteers that have put themselves on the frontline during the Covid-19 crisis to support people experiencing homelessness – selfless acts that have without doubt saved countless lives.”

The partnership between St Mungo’s and Chestertonsas played an integral role in the emergency response to the outbreak of Covid-19. Despite being restricted in what they have been able to do on the streets during the pandemic, First Response volunteers switched from helping search for people sleeping rough, to supporting St Mungo’s staff in the emergency hotels, which were used to accommodate people who had been rough sleeping so they could safely isolate from the virus. Between 24 March and 4 December 2020, volunteers completed a total of 791 hours in our emergency hotels.

Rumbi, a Rapid Intervention Worker for Westminster Outreach Team, said: “I started working with First Response volunteers over a year ago and the volunteers really help me in my work. The programme reduces the time we have to spend looking for referrals within each area of the borough and enables us to spend more time working directly with clients.

“Instead of having to look for all the referrals, we delegate some to our First Responders who then provide us with the outcome for each referral they check. It’s a big deal for volunteers to give up their time, and I really commend them all.”

Dominic Olins, a First Response volunteer since 2019 who also helped clients in emergency hotel accommodation during Covid-19, said: “Volunteering with First Response is a great experience because you feel like you’re making a valuable contribution and your efforts have tangible results.

“In lockdown, I did several shifts in an emergency hotel in North Acton. I really enjoyed volunteering in the hotel. There are a wealth of reasons why people experience homelessness and the people I spoke to were very resilient.

“As volunteers, we’re there to respond to a need and increase efficiency, so we must be able to go with the flow. If you are thinking about volunteering with First Response, I would say definitely do it!”

Through funding provided by Chestertons, St Mungo’s was also able to continue employing a Volunteer Coordinator to oversee the recruitment and training of 264 First Response volunteers, who have helped search the streets of Westminster, Tower Hamlets, City and Islington and Southwark over the last three years.

The First Response programme is currently operating in the London boroughs of Westminster and Tower Hamlets.

If you would like to get involved and see opportunities available, please visit this page.