Ending homelessness, rebuilding lives

Winter Edition 2023

Support that can turn lives around

St Mungo’s offers help in so many ways – such as running 12 Housing First schemes, which offer people experiencing homelessness housing as quickly as possible so they can then deal with other issues (such as addiction, unemployment, or mental health issues) from a secure environment.

We talked to case worker Andrew Murray and his client ‘L’ about how this kind of support turns lives around…

Providing clients with essential support

“As a case worker, you’ve got to build a trusting relationship quite quickly and that’s hard to do, because you’re working with people who don’t really trust many people at all.

“You become an integral part of their lives. It’s a testament to how well the service does that when I started there were six clients and now there’s almost 60.

“The success rate is incredibly high, which for us means that people stay in accommodation and break the cycle of going back to the streets. I had clients who were housed with Housing First in 2016 who have managed to stay in the same accommodation.

“Christmas is a difficult time for a lot of people, those with children or extended family they don’t see or are estranged from can find it really hard. You’ve just got to be there for them.

“To supporters of St Mungo’s, I would say, your contributions enable St Mungo’s to be able to invest in services like Housing First, which gives people the time and resources to develop to their full potential and succeed.”

Client L's story

“I had an abusive father, and I’d been on heroin since I was seven. I knew about withdrawal and how to inject myself before I finished primary school.

“When I got away from my dad I was moved into a hostel (not run by St Mungo’s). I was trying to get clean, but other residents were difficult. There’d be a knock on my door at 3am, and someone’s arm would come through with a tourniquet around it and a needle asking me to do it because they couldn’t find a vein. So I left, thinking I’d rather be on the streets – and I was, for seven years.

“I was polite to people, never asked for money, I just had a sign. I tried getting into accommodation, but I was sent to the same place, with some of the same residents. I decided again to take my chances on the streets. The council saw this as me making myself intentionally homeless.

“During ‘the Beast from the East’ I was outside a Tesco’s literally getting covered in snow, and people threw coffee at me from a moving car. That’s your lowest point. I’ve had a tent set on fire while I was inside, I’ve been urinated on, beaten up, had my shoes stolen.

“I’ve had a tent set on fire while I was inside, I’ve been urinated on, beaten up, had my shoes stolen.”

“As an addict, winter is particularly dangerous. You’re physically dependent so if you don’t have it, you’re vomiting every five seconds, going to the toilet uncontrollably and all your trauma that’s been blocked out is going to hit you like a wave and none of your coping mechanisms are there to protect you. If you’re homeless, you’ve got no change of clothes, no shower – it’s dangerous to be sweating profusely and unable to keep water or food down.

“I became suicidal. When I tried to kill myself, I was sectioned for all of six hours: the second they found out I was homeless and an addict they gave me £30 for a B&B and dropped me back in Bournemouth.

“Things turned around, but only after something terrible happened. A guy I knew froze to death after he said the council took his bedding away. We used to talk a lot, he would stand outside McDonalds and say hi to people; I’m lactose and gluten intolerant so I would give him my extra food. I didn’t see him for a couple of days, and then I found out he’d frozen to death. A week or so later, my phone rang: the council were putting me in a hotel.

“After a few weeks I was referred to Housing First. They said, ‘We’ll give you a flat with the rent paid, and you can take it from there.‘ They said I was getting a key worker from St Mungo’s and I was very wary of letting a stranger in.

“Now Andy and I have worked together for almost five years. I feel like doctors make up their mind about me straight away but when I have Andy present I have a witness with a laminated badge which completely changes how people treat you.

“The reason this has worked for me is the autonomy I have: I’ve been able to taper my methadone down at my own pace, and request that the drugs charity WeAreWithYou lower my dose as I’ve gotten my daily intake lower and lower.

“Out of all the different services I’ve worked with, with St Mungo’s the practical help is huge.

“I feel like doctors make up their mind about me straight away but when I have Andy present I have a witness with a laminated badge which completely changes how people treat you.”

“Whether it’s needing to go to the pharmacy or ‘I need to talk to someone right now!’, they’ve always been able to help. Andy is perfectly suited for helping people.”

Resource Library