The new NHS plan for mental health services has a clear offer for people sleeping rough

    For organisations who have campaigned for many years on homeless health, the NHS Mental Health Implementation Plan is a cause for celebration. Beatrice Orchard, St Mungo’s Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research, explains why the plan must deliver on its ambition to make sure everyone sleeping rough can access the mental health support they need.

    When the Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy was published exactly one year ago by MHCLG, there were some positive signs that other government departments would also be doing their bit to reverse the dramatic rise in the number of people sleeping rough in England.

    One of the most solid commitments was in relation to improving mental health support for people who are sleeping on the streets. Last month, the details of this commitment became clearer when the NHS Mental Health Implementation Plan was published.

    The plan is clear that by 2023-24, 20 areas with high levels of rough sleeping will have established new specialist mental health provision for people sleeping rough, which will be made possible with £30m of central NHS funding invested for this specific purpose.

    This is a fantastic result for St Mungo’s Stop the Scandal campaign and our continued efforts to press the Government for investment in specialist mental health services to ensure people sleeping rough can access the support they need.

    Sleeping rough and mental health – the links

    It is fairly easy to understand that sleeping rough has a negative impact on a person’s mental health and wellbeing, as well as their physical health.

    Evidence shows people sleeping rough are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence compared to the general population. News reports describe horrifying attacks and abuse on people sleeping rough and our clients tell us about their experiences of feeling lonely, frightened and even suicidal.

    Furthermore, we mustn’t overlook the fact that some people sleeping rough have already been through many traumatic experiences in their lives, including violence and abuse from a young age.

    All of these experiences can cause mental health problems to develop or worsen, but also impact on the type of mental health support people need and how easy they find services to access.

    New avenues into support

    The new, NHS-funded, specialist services will make sure that people sleeping rough can access to clinical mental health support by integrating with existing homeless outreach, accommodation and physical healthcare services.

    They will be required to adopt a trauma-informed approach, known to help improve the psychological and emotional wellbeing of people with complex needs. We also expect the new services to help people who have drug and alcohol problems and are currently excluded from some mainstream mental health services as a result.

    This specialist support breaks down all of the barriers people sleeping rough often face when trying to get help to improve their mental health. Really effective specialist teams can also influence mainstream health services in their local area, encouraging them to become more knowledgeable and understanding of the needs of people who are sleeping rough.

    So far, so good. But what about people sleeping rough in other areas not in receipt of this new funding?

    A welcome step forward

    Research shows 4 in 10 people sleeping rough in England have an identified mental health problem. The latest data from the CHAIN reports on rough sleeping in London shows 50% of people sleeping rough in the capital in 2018-19 had a mental health support need.

    It is welcome, therefore, that the new plan for mental health requires all areas of the country to complete a mental health needs assessment for people sleeping rough and take action to increase access to mental health services for this group.

    This new approach to mental health for people sleeping rough is a real step forward.

    Specialist mental health services have been tried in the past. We know they can make a dramatic difference to individuals’ lives, and help to reduce rough sleeping by supporting people to move on from homelessness for good.

    Better still, it doesn’t stop with specialist services this time. Instead all NHS services will need to think about how people sleeping rough can access the healthcare they need in order to rebuild their lives.

    St Mungo’s will be watching closely and encouraging all areas to ensure the plan delivers.

    Ending homelessness? Fund domestic abuse services

    In May, the Government announced proposals for a new legal duty to help secure the future of domestic abuse refuges. With partners from across the housing, homelessness and women’s sectors, St Mungo’s is calling for support for survivors facing homelessness.

    Photo fo Cat Glew, Women's Strategy Manager for St Mungo'sSt Mungo’s helps thousands of women and men find a home away from the dangers of the street. But home isn’t always a safe place.

    Many St Mungo’s clients are survivors of domestic abuse. St Mungo’s data from 2016 shows that at least 54% of our female residents with a history of rough sleeping had experienced violence or abuse from a partner or family member. A 2015 study found that as many as 92% of homeless women had experienced violence or abuse during their lifetime.

    Creating safety for people facing harm from those they love and trust is a serious challenge. St Mungo’s works with specialist domestic abuse organisations who support our clients, so we welcome proposals to try to provide a more certain future for domestic abuse services.

    Working with housing, domestic abuse and homelessness partners, we have responded to the Government’s consultation on future support for survivors of domestic abuse.

    We need a strong, specialist domestic abuse sector who can work with survivors facing homelessness. Only then can Government hope to achieve its aims to end rough sleeping and support all survivors of domestic abuse.

    But why would improving domestic abuse support help end homelessness?

    1. Domestic abuse puts survivors at risk of homelessness – and vice versa

    A third of female St Mungo’s clients say that domestic abuse contributed to their homelessness. Escaping domestic abuse can force survivors to make an impossible choice – live with abuse, or face homelessness.

    Trying to keep safe while homeless can also be risky. A study by the University of York for St Mungo’s found that women are often hidden homeless: staying with friends, family, or strangers who expect sex in return for shelter.

    Women who do sleep rough can form intimate relationships on the street in order to survive – but relying on a partner for protection can expose survivors to escalating abuse and control.

    2. Lack of funding and support is forcing survivors to sleep rough

    Funding for refuges and other life-saving domestic abuse services has suffered severe cuts. English local authorities cut spending on refuges by nearly a quarter between 2010 and 2017.

    In 2016-17, Women’s Aid found that 60% of referrals to refuges could not be accepted. One in 10 women supported by their No Woman Turned Away project were forced to sleep rough whilst waiting for a refuge space.

    3. Support for survivors facing multiple disadvantage is in short supply

    Survivors with mental health, drug or alcohol problems are less likely to be able to access specialist domestic abuse services, who are rarely resourced to support them safely.

    Women’s Aid research found that 31% of women with mental health problems and 65% of women with substance use problems were refused an available refuge space because of their needs.

    SafeLives found that survivors facing multiple disadvantage may be unable to work with local domestic abuse services if they do not have a phone or cannot attend regular appointments.

    Survivors with no access to public funds because of their immigration status are excluded from most domestic abuse accommodation because they are not eligible for housing benefit to cover the rent.

    4. Survivors without a safe home are left in danger

    Under the current legislation, survivors of domestic abuse approaching their local council for help are not automatically considered to be in priority need for housing. Instead, people are required to prove they are additionally vulnerable in order to be owed the ‘main homelessness duty’ – and access to settled accommodation.

    Evidence shows that survivors found not to be owed the duty are more likely to return to a dangerous situation. Some end up rough sleeping, sofa-surfing or living in unsuitable temporary accommodation where they are at further risk of abuse and are removed from services that could support them.

    Calling for change

    The Government has proposed a new duty on local authorities to assess local need and commission domestic abuse accommodation.

    It’s a good start, but Government must also confirm ring fenced funding to support those services. The proposed definition must be made clearer to make sure that specialist refuges are rebuilt and protected.

    Every survivor deserves support, and we think Government should also provide separate future funding for specialist domestic abuse outreach services to work with survivors facing homelessness.

    A new programme of investment in homelessness services is also badly needed. As part of this, we need women-only homelessness accommodation in every part of the country as a safe route away from the streets.

    And of course, automatic priority need should be extended to all survivors, so that anyone fleeing domestic abuse in England is guaranteed a safe home.

    Tokio Marine sponsor Ben Nevis

    Image: Team Mungo's climb Scafell Pike

    After conquering Scafell Pike last year, Team Mungo’s are back for another challenge. This year, staff, clients, volunteers, supporters and our sponsor Tokio Marine take on Ben Nevis. We caught up with Alice from Tokio Marine to tell us why they decided to join this year’s hike.

    Image: Alice Palmer, Tokio Marine

    Hello, Alice. Tell us a bit about yourself

    I’ve been working for Tokio Marine HCC (TMHCC) since March 2017 where I joined as an Underwriting Assistant. I live in Kent with my family and two cocker spaniels, Sonny and Ralph.

    Whilst at school I was actively involved in fundraising and charity work, working closely with local charity MCCH and as member of Rotary.

     


    Why did TMHCC decide to partner up with St Mungo’s?

    We have a long-standing partnership with St Mungo’s and we wanted to maintain this relationship because our employees believe homelessness is a worthwhile cause. Homelessness is sadly something we all see commuting into London and it is particularly unavoidable in the city.

    St Mungo’s not only educates our staff about the ways in which we can help prevent and support homelessness, but also assists us with planning exciting fundraising initiatives to maximise our company’s support.

    Why did you decide to sponsor our Ben Nevis challenge this year?

    We saw the challenge as a great opportunity to allow employees to hear about the work of St Mungo’s first hand from their clients. It’s also a great way of boosting physical and mental health by escaping from the busy corporate world.

    It is important for TMHCC that staff engage with our partner charities and we think this challenge is the perfect opportunity for some of our employees to really understand the impact that St Mungo’s can have on those in need.

    Why did you personally decide to join the challenge?

    I wanted to take part in the challenge to meet people who have experienced homeless and hear about how St Mungo’s has influenced their lives. There is also the added bonus of the beautiful backdrop of Ben Nevis!

    Have you done much training?

    Zilch! I’m hoping that miles of dog walking will hold me in good stead, although I have begun planning some routes in and around Kent. I’m going to attempt to do a 10 mile walk every fortnight to push myself physically and mentally, while also breaking in my new walking boots. We’re also doing some team training walks in August and can’t wait to see everyone come together.

    What are you hoping to get out of the trip?

    I’m really looking forward to meeting some of the St Mungo’s clients and hearing their personal stories, while finding out more about the impact St Mungo’s has had on their lives.


    Find out more about our Ben Nevis challenge and how you can support it.

    New homelessness boards

    Administrative tinkering or an opportunity to end rough sleeping for good?

    Photo of Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer
    Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer

    Last week the Government finished its first stage of consultation on a shake up to local authority structures for tackling homelessness. Changes to statutory structures may not be something that gets the heart racing, but when it comes to delivering the changes and funding needed to end rough sleeping for good, they could have a key role to play, writes Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer for St Mungo’s.

    Rough sleeping – the most dangerous form of homelessness – has risen by 165% since 2010. This is the result of spiralling housing costs, increasing insecurity for private renters and cuts to services that prevent homelessness – all problems that require national Government to act.

    And yet, it is actually local authorities who are charged with the primary day-to-day responsibility for tackling homelessness. Since the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) came into force last year, this responsibility has expanded to include providing advice and support to anyone at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness.

    What are Homelessness Reduction Boards?

    The latest government proposal – to create Homelessness Reduction Boards in local authorities – builds on the positive momentum achieved by the HRA, and the Rough Sleeping Strategy, to get a grip on the growing homelessness crisis in England. The proposal is an attempt to ensure all relevant public services and agencies step up as members of these new boards, and they are held to account for their part in preventing and reducing homelessness and rough sleeping.

    So far so good. But as many of us know, central Government hasn’t made this job easy for local authorities of late.

    A challenging backdrop

    Recent research from St Mungo’s and Homeless Link, published last month, shows that local authority spending on services for single homeless people fell by 53% between 2008-09 to 2017-18. This drop is the result of cuts in funding from central government, particularly impacting ‘Supporting People’ services, which focus on helping people to avoid and escape homelessness. Add to this the wider issues of a lack of social rented housing, unaffordability and instability in the private rented sector, and welfare reforms, and we see a dangerous combination of factors which have increased individuals’ vulnerability to homelessness.

    So with such a challenging backdrop, how can an administrative change really be expected to deliver the impact required to end rough sleeping? The short answer is that on its own, it can’t.

    But there are a couple of reasons why this is a more than worthwhile exercise:

    • Firstly, because at the local level there is a huge variation in the way any strategic response to homelessness is developed, implemented and monitored. Sometimes this means that elements of the ‘system’, such as health services, are failing to play their part.
    • Secondly, because we believe these new structures could be the vehicles for central Government to deliver the resources councils need to tackle the problem.

    Investing the funding that’s needed

    We believe Homelessness Reduction Boards – or a similar set-up where good oversight and accountability is assured – should provide Government with the confidence to invest the extra £1 billion in homelessness services that we know is needed. Having mandatory structures closely scrutinising what services deliver, key partners such as the NHS, prisons and children’s services working to prevent homelessness, and collecting data to demonstrate and respond to this, should satisfy Government that each pound will be spent effectively.

    The jury is still out on the impact this could have. As always the devil will be in the detail. The principles of these new Boards, however, seem sound and provide an opportunity to secure the funding desperately needed for homelessness services.

    This shouldn’t avert our focus from the other vital changes required – including building more social homes and improving private renting. Only when these solutions come together will we see everyone have a home for good, and a country in which no one faces the injustice of sleeping rough.

    Read our full response to the consultation.

    Should we talk about death?

    Palliative Care

    Our Palliative Care Coordinator Andy Knee poses this important question and highlights the innovative ways our Palliative Care Service is supporting clients who are at risk of death or in need of bereavement support.

    Should we talk about death? In St Mungo’s Palliative Care team, we think the simple answer to this question is yes.

    Death is something that affects us all, that does not discriminate against gender, race, sexuality, culture, or religion. Many of us are fortunate to talk about death and our wishes with loved ones. But what if you don’t have a home? And what if you don’t have family or loved ones to have these conversations with?

    This is a sad reality for lots of people who experience homelessness. A reality where many of their deaths will be preventable, undignified and untimely, with no planning for their wishes, and sadly many will be forgotten.

    In 2017 there were an estimated 597 deaths of homeless people in England and Wales, which represents a 24% increase since 2013. The NHS has recently reported a rise in homeless patients returning to the streets with many observing a surge in serious illnesses in the past decade such as respiratory conditions, liver disease, and cancer. Without someone to be their voice and their advocate, many individuals will be trapped in a harmful cycle of being admitted to hospital and discharged to the streets. This is something we can change.

    Dying Matters Week 2019

    ‘Are we ready?’ is the poignant theme of this year’s Dying Matters Week, which helps to raise awareness around this issue. At the end of 2018 we responded to the increase in homeless deaths and continue to pave the way in making change for people experiencing homelessness. We know the importance of providing end of life care and support to our clients, and we are using creative and innovative new ways to provide this service.

    Our Palliative Care Service

    To mark Dying Matters Week, we’re shining a light on our Palliative Care Service. This service is the only one of its kind in the homelessness sector and has benefited from dedicated funders over the last five years.

    The purpose of the Palliative Care Service is to coordinate a flexible and responsive care pathway to support clients who have a terminal prognosis or acute and potentially fatal health conditions, and to provide them with options that protect their quality of life. The service works to ensure that our clients can access healthcare and that we provide appropriate support to help them approach the end of their life with dignity and respect.

    We meet with local health services, lead change with research, and continue to develop tools and support structures for St Mungo’s. We’re also here to support staff across St Mungo’s to feel empowered and discuss death as openly as possible.

    Our aim is to ensure that everyone experiences a ‘good death’. We are also working to destigmatise this term, which holds so much power and importance.

    New Befriending Service

    This year the service has expanded to include our Palliative Care Volunteer Coordinator, and in June 2019, St Mungo’s will launch a new Befriending Service.

    The Befriending Service will serve to support clients that are at risk of death, or clients who need bereavement support for a recent or historical loss. In addition, the Befriending Service will support colleagues and teams around loss and bereavement, reinforcing our message: “you are not alone”.

    In response to the theme of Dying Matters Week – “Are we ready?” – St Mungo’s can proudly say “We are, and will continue to be.”

    Find our more about our Palliative Care Service.

    Meet our youngest fundraisers

    Image: Nicholas and Alex on a walk

    The annual London Marathon is the UK’s biggest fundraising event of the year. Ahead of the 2019 race, we caught up with two of the smallest fundraisers of the year, Alex (6) and Nicholas (8), who are taking on the London Marathon course by walking it with their dad the day before the official race.

    Why have you decided to walk the London Marathon? Whose idea was it?

    Nicholas wanted to fundraise for St Mungo’s so Dad suggested we walk the London Marathon course.

    Have you managed to go on many training walks?

    Lots. We started back in November.

    What are you looking forward to most about the walk?

    Seeing all the sights in London: the Cutty Sark, London Eye, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, Tower of London, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.

    Where is your favourite place to walk?

    N: By a river as it is peaceful.
    A: Near flowers so I can smell them.

    Image: Nicholas and Alex walk the London Marathon

    We have heard Alex and Nicholas like to collect objects whilst walking. What is your favourite thing you have collected so far?N: Sticks and golf balls.

    N: Sticks and golf balls.
    A: A coconut shell.

    Why did you choose to fundraise for St Mungo’s?

    We have chosen to fundraise for St Mungo’s because we have seen homeless people struggling on the streets and want to help them.

    Do you think homelessness is a big problem in the area that you live?

    There are a few homeless people where we live and we see a lot more in bigger towns like High Wycombe.

    What do you hope St Mungo’s will be able to do with the money you raise?

    Pay for shelters and food, as well as for training people so they are better able to get jobs.

    Have you got a message to our London Marathon runners who will be running the day after?

    A: Keep going especially when it is hard.
    N: Even if you are small, you can achieve great things.

    Alex and Nicholas will start the course with their dad, Tom, at 7am on Saturday 27 April and aim to complete it by 7pm the same day. They have their own Twitter page and have already exceeded their £1,000 fundraising target on their JustGiving page.

    The 2019 London Marathon is set to exceed £1 billion in donations raised for good causes during Race Week. Every year we are blown away by the commitment of our supporters to raise money whilst training for the race of a lifetime, and we wish everyone (big or small) the best of luck for this weekend!

    Get inspired, get involved

    Check out our current challenge events or get in touch with Will at events@mungos.org to receive a free fundraising pack and find out more about how you can plan your own fundraising event.

    Creating change for women facing homelessness

    St Mungo’s has published a new three year ‘Women’s Strategy’ setting out how we plan to improve our services for women and influence policy on women’s homelessness. Our Women’s Strategy Manager Cat Glew introduces our approach.

    Five years ago St Mungo’s published our ground-breaking Rebuilding Shattered Lives research into women’s homelessness. We found that homelessness services are often designed with men in mind, and were often failing to support women effectively.

    Sadly, it remains the case that women facing homelessness are still at a disproportionate risk of harm from those they love and trust, alongside the existing dangers of homelessness. Since 2014 a growing body of evidence has highlighted the connections between women’s experiences of violence and abuse, poor physical and mental health, substance use and homelessness.

    According to the latest figures, 642 women sleep rough on any one night in England, up from 509 in 2016. Many more women are likely to be experiencing hidden homelessness – seeking shelter with abusive partners, squatting or sofa surfing with friends and family – so may be missing from the statistics.

    Women’s homelessness often occurs after prolonged experiences of trauma, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse by those closest to them. Violence and abuse are both a cause and consequence of women’s homelessness, with women experiencing further abuse, exploitation and violence while homeless.

    Women-only spaces are a matter of safety for many women. Despite this, just 7% of homelessness services in England offer women-only provision, according to data from Homeless Link.

    Our greatest challenge and our most important aim is to create an environment of physical and psychological safety for women in homelessness services. We’ll be working hard to make sure that each of our female clients has a safe place to live and has every reason to feel safe in our services.

    We know that funding for women-specific work is falling, but we also understand that our female clients cannot wait for the Government to prioritise women’s homelessness.

    As a homelessness charity, it is our responsibility to make sure that we are achieving the best possible outcomes with women, as well as men. We have made the decision to make women’s safety and women’s recovery a priority. Our new Women’s Strategy sets out some ambitious aims that will help us improve our practice and influence government policy.

    Our ambitions for the next three years include:

    • Offering women-only services and spaces as an option for all female clients, at every stage of their recovery
    • Supporting and equipping St Mungo’s staff to better recognise and respond to violence and abuse
    • Improving rough sleeping services so that they are even safer and more effective for women
    • Working with specialist agencies to offer individual support to women around domestic and sexual abuse

    There’s plenty to do, but I’m really looking forward to working with all our clients, staff and partners to make our ideas a reality. Listening to the ideas and experiences of St Mungo’s women is an amazing privilege and the very best part of my job. I hope that partners, politicians and the public will read our strategy and join us as we create change with women facing homelessness.

    Read our brand new women’s strategy here

    ‘A place for strong women – for 25 years’

    This July we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the opening of St Mungo’s North London’s Women’s project. Julia Jarrett MBE, project manager of the women-only service, and Olivia Smith, deputy manager, talk about how the project supports its residents to make positive changes in their lives.

    Julia: “I was working for St Mungo’s when the North London Women’s project opened 25 years ago, in July 1993. It was such a big thing to have a women-only project.”

    Olivia: “One of the things we emphasise here is about feeling safe. In an all-female hostel, our residents know that they’re safe, their ex-partner not being here, they’re not going to feel that harassment or abuse from them. We support 31 women at any one time. Our residents can be fleeing domestic violence or abusive relationships. Some women may have mental health problems or be tackling alcohol and substance use as well.”

    Julia: “Having also worked in mixed hostels, that’s one of the main difference in services. Women here might experience the same complex issues but they handle them in a different way to men. A lot of the women here have had quite traumatic experiences in their lives around men, which may go back to childhood. Sometimes the men they are trying to escape find them and try to get them back into a lifestyle that is not good for their physical and mental health. Having this women-only space, where they don’t feel harassed or get abuse from men is safer for them.”

    Re-establishing contact

    Olivia: “Also, a lot of the women have lost their children or they’re in care or with guardians. One of the things we support women with is to establish contact, whether it’s by letter, or to re-establish contact with extended family who are looking after their child, or contact with social services. It’s not always a happy ending but at least we can help.

    “We also work with women who have a history of involvement in prostitution. We work with women who have been raped and who then come to us the next day to tell us that they have been sexually assaulted by a pimp. You have to work through that trauma with them. Sometimes this can take a toll on the team, but we are not easily fazed. The amount of work our team put into supporting women with horrific complex trauma is testament to their dedication.”

    Julia: “I’ve worked with people who had been given up on completely. People said they’re never going to change or they’re going to die. Next thing you know they have a partner, a flat and kids. It can take somebody decades to change. We keep the atmosphere quite laid back, focus on building up good relationships.

    “We’ve just finished some trauma informed training. I want the service to be more trauma informed and staff to have a better understanding when women behave the way they do, that there is reason they do that. We’re also looking at PIEs (psychologically informed environments), focusing on making the hostel friendlier and more welcoming to improve people’s psychological and emotional wellbeing.”

    The small things that count

    Olivia: “Sometimes it’s the small things that count. Sometimes it’s about making their lives a little richer. Sometimes you can do that with a small amount of food and general basic items. You don’t have to do the heavy things a lot of the time; it’s just being there and having a listening ear because you don’t know what’s best for the client. The client knows what’s best. If someone doesn’t want to engage with recovery at the initial stage, I’m fine with that, as long as long as they are feeling safe. We can offer support and comfortable and safe surroundings. But if they are willing to engage in their recovery journey and willing to receive support from staff, hopefully we can move them on to a richer life.

    “Some of the highlights for me have been the two photo calendars we did with the women. We were also involved in producing the Pregnancy Toolkit for expectant mothers who are homeless. That was quite inspirational. It’s also the little moments. If the client gives you a compliment about the work we’ve done with them. That’s what’s is moving for me. That ‘thank you’. Sometimes we get external agencies especially with clients who have been referred and have very complex trauma and they thank us for our work, our patience and tolerance, and how we’re willing to work through women’s journeys with them.”

    Recovery isn’t a quick fix

    Julia: “Recovery isn’t a quick fix. People forget that and they want to move people too fast or if they’re not doing this or not doing that, they’re not going to change. People do change. You just need to give people time. We’re not on a schedule.

    “Olivia does a lot of mindfulness and yoga with clients and staff. Sometimes the issues of the women here can lead to burn out and other consequences. The women who work here are so committed to the women that live here. I think we are quite resilient women ourselves. To work here, you have to have sorted out your own issues.

    “We marked the 25th anniversary with a small party, food and music for residents and staff, to celebrate what the women themselves have achieved, and the project, over that time. The project is for strong women – and it’s still standing, still going strong.”

    Helping women who are homeless after a prison sentence

    All people returning from prison are at risk of homelessness, but women face specific complex issues. Ruth Legge from our Offender Services, explains how St Mungo’s works with women while they are in prison, and after release, to help them find long term accommodation.

    You may have seen recent news that the Government has shelved plans for five new community prisons for women. These were to be residential centres where women are given access to training and therapy to help them break out of cycles of re-offending.

    We were disappointed to see this, as we believe our work with women offenders, when they are in prison and after they are released, offers a strong model for support. St Mungo’s has been working in women’s prison for many years and we think we have a good understanding of, and insight, into their specific needs.

    In our experience, women leaving prison face many complex issues around homelessness. Offending behaviour can be linked to poor mental health, drug and/or alcohol use, partner violence, other sexual violence, loss of child custody, childhood and adult trauma and gang affiliation, to name just a few. On top of that, there is a lack of suitable housing where women can feel safe, secure and start to rebuild their lives.

    A Catch-22 situation

    Women are often the primary care givers for their children prior to being jailed. Once a woman’s children have been removed from her care, she becomes at greater risk of homelessness. The family home might be taken away from her, as she is no longer seen as needing so many rooms. The council might also no longer consider her a ‘priority need’ to be rehoused if the children are not returned to her care upon release.

    Many women in prison find themselves in a ‘catch-22’ scenario. They are only granted custody of their children if they have suitable accommodation in place after they are released. But more often than not the local authority won’t help to provide any accommodation until they already have custody. In these cases we work alongside social services, statutory authorities and Reunite programmes to support women in finding accommodation, with or without their children.

    Domestic violence

    Domestic violence is also a big issue. Some women in custody have tenancies when they come to prison but can’t return because a violent partner is still residing in the property.

    Many women flee their homes in order to escape from domestic violence. Often they are too scared to contact the police. The council may then deem them “intentionally homeless” and isn’t under any obligation to help them find accommodation.

    We see a lot of women who were rough sleeping prior to custody, even though they still hold a tenancy. They often tell us they feel safer on the street than returning to live with a violent partner. Some women feel they have no choice but to return to violent partners. They tell us that, because they are coming from prison, they feel they won’t be believed or provided with appropriate safe accommodation.

    We work with domestic violence teams and help refer women to refuges if they cannot return to their homes. We also support them to appeal claims that they are intentionally homeless.

    Some women we work with are involved in prostitution. Because they are active at night, but sleep during the day, if they are staying in a hostel they are at risk of being evicted if the hostel says they aren’t spending enough nights there.

    These rooms are sometimes the only place a woman has to call her own and feel safe in, so we try to liaise with hostels to keep bed spaces open. There is almost always a link between involvement in prostitution and substance use. Women who are still using drugs and alcohol are at particular risk of homelessness as they are usually not able to sustain independent accommodation, nor would the local authority deem them a priority need for accommodation.

    The Government has several new and forthcoming strategies on issues such as female offending, rough sleeping and domestic abuse. St Mungo’s believes there must be clear and consistent links between them all in order to achieve a difference in the lives of the women we support.

    Dedication and commitment

    Adil and Mohammed pictured above with Horn of Africa project manager, Pippa Brown

    To mark Refugee Week, Helen Kirk, Refugee Skills Development Advisor at St Mungo’s Horn of Africa Health and Wellbeing Project, tells us about two inspirational people who volunteer on the project

    The Horn of Africa Project was set up in in 2013 to respond to the needs of people from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan who were turning to our centre in Shepherd’s Bush for support. Over half of our clients have been recognised as refugees within the last few years. We help them with advice, signposting and one-to-one holistic casework.

    Employment outcomes for refugees are well below the UK average, with over half of those employed feeling overqualified in their jobs. It’s my job to help bridge this gap, through things like one-to-one careers coaching, providing advice on education and training, co-facilitating peer-led groups and creating volunteer opportunities.

    Our project is supported by a small number of fantastic volunteers, but this Refugee Week, we would like to particularly thank Adil and Mohammed, who both sought sanctuary in the UK. Despite the many challenges they have faced, they both have shown dedication and commitment to the project. They have helped with casework, shared their ideas and their knowledge about the practical and cultural needs of the Horn of Africa community, and have given us suggestions for how the project might respond to those needs.

    Adil says: “When I came over to this country, I was very much in need of help. The only people I found to offer me this support was St Mungo’s. They taught me how the humanity look like. For this reason I strongly need to involve in this community to reduce destitution amongst the refugee and homelessness… I am very fascinated of helping the destitute people as I am one of them and born in a very poor environment, that is why I know how the person feel when he is in a trauma or suffer a loss.”

    Mohammed told us: “I … volunteer because I’m a refugee and was homeless at one point in my life. I want to give back to the people who are in need of any help.”

    Mohammed and Adil are working towards rebuilding their respective careers in law and finance, and are re-qualifying at university. They are driven to support others as they do so. They both recently won Volunteer of the Year London Awards at St Mungo’s Volunteer Awards in partnership with the Marsh Christian Trust, and we can’t think of two people who deserve it more. I feel privileged to work alongside them while they fulfil their goals.

    Find out more about the contributions refugees have made across the world.

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