Helping people inside from extreme weather

    Dan Olney, St Mungo’s Assistant Director of Pan London Street Homeless and Outreach Services, tells us about Severe Emergency Weather Protocol (SWEP), the emergency response to prevent homeless people from dying or developing serious health conditions in extreme weather.

    Sleeping rough is harmful and dangerous any time of year. Our outreach teams, and others across the country, go out early morning and late at night throughout the year to find people who are sleeping rough and to support them away from the streets.

    However, when there’s a “Beast from the East” or Storm Emma, it really can mean life-threatening temperatures for anyone who is street homeless.

    The Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) is an emergency response to prevent deaths of people sleeping rough during winter.

    SWEP is activated by local authorities across the country when temperatures are forecast to be lower than zero degrees for three nights, or in London for one night.

    St Mungo’s supports SWEP actions across London and the south and south west of England where our 17 outreach teams are based, working alongside other organisations and with a range of local authorities in Oxford, Bournemouth, Brighton, Reading, and Bristol for example.

    ‘An additional safety net’

    In London, we are also commissioned by the Greater London Authority to operate the ‘pan London SWEP’ provision. This essentially provides additional capacity emergency beds for people, when local borough provision is full. This acts as an additional safety net, if the temperatures drop for a sustained period – which they have over the last week. This is the longest period of sustained SWEP in seven years.

    We’ve not had a winter like this in many years and I’ve been overwhelmed by the support and response from the public, volunteers, partners and St Mungo’s staff. Across London, we currently have around 100 people in emergency shelters who would otherwise have been sleeping out in freezing temperatures. We’ve made around 150 bedspaces available – and yes, welcomed in dogs as well as people as much as possible, and worked in partnership with dogs’ homes and other charities to offer kennelling or other options so that having a dog wasn’t a barrier to the person coming in. We’ve even had a cat in as well!

    When people come in, it’s not luxury but it is warm, there are hot drinks, the chance for a wash and a chat with people. We also use the opportunity to talk to people about their situation and see how we could help people to move away from the streets for good, not just while the weather is extreme. The extreme cold has meant some people have been persuaded to come inside and have those conversations when perhaps they were reluctant previously.

    We are continuing to run SWEP shelters over this weekend, and outreach workers continue to check and follow up referrals for anyone still out, for whatever reason. And rest assured, our outreach work won’t end when the weather improves. Teams will still be out, night and day, helping people with the first steps to rebuilding their lives.

    What can you do to help?

    • Refer someone you are concerned about to local support through the StreetLink website or app
    • Contact your local homelessness organisation and see what kind of practical help they need.
    • Give – either your time, or your donations. For example, in London, the London Homeless Charities Group has set up a coalition of 18 charities, and a No One Needs to Sleep Rough campaign, supported by the Mayor which is coordinating donations.

    Recovery College helped me re-find my identity

    Jaq (not her real name) tells us in her own words how St Mungo’s Recovery College helped to transform her life and find her passion for art. She also found the courage to leave a life of alcohol and drug dependency behind her.

    My way of hurting them back

    My addiction started in school. I was 10 years old when I started drinking. I drank because I was bullied at home and at school. There were a lot of problems at home. My dad was an alcoholic and I guess I copied him. It was what I knew. I used to steal from him and my family. It was my way of hurting them back.

    I drank alcohol for three years. Then I met some dealers and was introduced to cannabis, amphetamines and any party drug going.

    I have been homeless four times in my life. The first time was when I was 16. I was living in a hostel because my mum couldn’t handle me. My dad didn’t want to know. I had some trouble with one of the other residents and I ended up sleeping rough for a couple of weeks.

    I had my own flat after that, but I was burgled. I was petrified. They took everything. I didn’t feel safe. I took to the streets again for a number of months and lost the tenancy.

    I was offered a place in a women’s hostel, and after some time I was offered another flat. I stayed there for eight years and it was a really lovely place. My own home. But I started mixing with the wrong people and my drink and drug taking increased, my mental health deteriorated.I ended up back on the streets. This time for nearly nine months.

    By the time I was rehoused in the women’s hostel again, my mental and physical health was on the floor. Throughout this cycle, I had always managed to work, but this time I couldn’t.

    I found Myself

    Through the support at the hostel, I met Maddy. She introduced me to the  St Mungo’s Recovery College and I have never left. I came back every day. I just wanted to learn and stop using. It didn’t take me long once I found Martin’s Café Art. I found myself.

    I was around people who weren’t using for the first time. The staff allowed me to grow. I took part in the Bridge the Gap course and I had a mentor for nearly a year. Throughout our year working together I had some ups and downs, it was great to know he was there for me the whole time. Within the first few months I realised I had more control over my life than ever before. Since then my confidence and self-belief has grown and I’m now volunteering with the New Street women’s group and have attended training to start my own art group.

    Recovery College gave me trust in myself and the time to understand who I am. It has given me confidence to take a part in art exhibitions and work with new people. I have been clean for two years now. I would love to study art therapy and give people what St Mungo’s has given me.

    The St Mungo’s Recovery College is a pioneering, inclusive learning programme, based on the principle that learning can be a transformative experience. All activities at our College are underpinned by our recovery service ethos.

    The Recovery College learning experience is based on principles of co-production. Courses are designed, delivered and attended by St Mungo’s clients, staff and volunteers, and they are also open to the general public. All our courses are free and run by volunteers.

    St Mungo’s relies on the generosity of the public to run projects like The Recovery College. You can find more information on how to get involved in supporting us on our website.

     

    Why I volunteer at the 365 shelter

    The third contactless donation station in Bristol launched last week at Bristol Energy. It’s a quick and easy way for people to donate £2 direct to the four city night shelters.

    Since the original launch in May for the two stations in Broadmead Shopping Quarter they have taken approximately £3,000.

    The night shelters are free for the people who use them but St Mungo’s and the other charities we work with rely on fundraising and donations to keep them open.

    Heather Lister volunteers at the 365 night shelter. She tells us why and what it is like to offer support to some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

    ‘I really enjoy working at the 365 shelter’

    I volunteer at the 365 shelter with my husband, Richard, once a fortnight. The shelter is in a Quaker Meeting House, and can accommodate 15 homeless people overnight. Two volunteers attend each night, with experienced members of staff on call.

    Why do I volunteer? We all see daily evidence of suffering, need, misfortune and injustice – I want to do my bit to try to make things better. It’s hard to ignore; misfortune and homelessness can affect anybody. Recently one of my sons became homeless when a long-term relationship broke down. Luckily, he could rely on family support – many cannot.

    I don’t think there are any special qualities that volunteers need, other than being happy to listen to troubles and triumphs, and having a conviction that this support is worthwhile – it is appreciated and it works.

    I really enjoy working at the 365 shelter. I don’t believe hardship and poverty improve anyone’s character or mental health – people may not be responsible for their situation, but they can still feel deep shame and become angry and depressed.

    But often we see the best of people – keeping their spirits up, being kind and hopeful, showing courage. I think we as volunteers can help people sustain this by being respectful and encouraging towards them.
    I can do little to change guests’ circumstances, but maybe I can play a small part in helping them endure and respond positively to help. So it’s enough that they appear pleased to see me, enjoy talking to me, and leave the shelter after a good night’s sleep with a smile and a lighter step.

    ‘What we do’

    Richard and I arrive at about 9.45pm to get things ready before guests arrive at 10.30pm. The first thing we do is check supplies (tea, coffee and sugar) and look through the hand-over book, where everyone who attends each night is recorded. We check whether there are any likely problems or considerations – we may be asked to give a guest a message or remind them of an appointment. Guests are referred by St Mungo’s, and we are given a list of people to expect. St Mungo’s tell us of any special medical conditions or needs people might have.

    Each guest is supplied with a camp bed and a plastic box with a sheet, duvet and pillow. When the guests arrive they find their boxes, set up their beds and have a welcoming cup of tea and a chat. First-timers are asked to sign an agreement comprising a few simple rules, and we help them settle in and see how things work. Guests are asked to arrive by 11.15pm. Many are exhausted, and all seem happy to get their heads down by about midnight. We provide ear-plugs (for the snoring!) Richard and I doze off on sofas just outside the “dormitory.”

    ‘People coming to the 365 shelter are diverse’

    People usually start stirring at about 6.30am. At 6.45am gentle prompting such as drawing back curtains gets everyone else moving. There’s another cup of tea or coffee, and off they go with our good wishes. Showers are available at The Compass Centre however, Bristol Quakers plan to build showers and laundry facilities at the Meeting House, which are much needed.

    People coming to the 365 shelter are diverse – in age, background and circumstances. Not all are without jobs – we’ve known some to get up well before 6.30am to travel to work. Some move on from the shelter quite quickly, being already on their way to getting their own accommodation. All are engaging with services. A camp-bed in a dormitory isn’t ideal, but it’s a warm, safe place to stay, and hopefully prevents many people in temporary difficulty from becoming stuck in a harsh, dangerous lifestyle in which it is easy to lose hope.

    Ours is a simple provision. We’ve thought of organising evening meals, but this would need more volunteers to do an evening shift, and there are other places providing free food in Bristol.

    If you would like to volunteer at any of the four city night shelters please contact the following people:

    St Mungo’s night assessment shelter: Sommer.Rouse@mungos.org

    Julian Trust night shelter: volunteers@juliantrust.org.uk

    Caring in Bristol 365 shelter: Alex.wallace@caringinbristol.org.uk

    Spring of Hope women’s night shelter: val@crisis-centre.org.uk

    You can also make an online donation via the SOSBristol fundsurfer page.

    Five ‘giant evils’ of 1940s still exist for today’s homeless

    Rough sleeper with Outreach Worker

    The welfare state was established to fight the five ‘giant evils’ Lord Beveridge identified in his 1942 report. 70 years on, is the welfare state just as spritely when it comes to vanquishing those giant evils? Denis, from St Mungo’s client representative group Outside In, doesn’t think so: “The five evils are still evils in today’s society. They still continue.” Tanya English, St Mungo’s Executive Director of Communications, examines some client perspectives and considers our response…

    Giant evil #1: Squalor

    Beveridge wanted to break the cycle of poverty, where health problems caused by inadequate housing restricted people’s ability to work. Today, thousands of people still end up sleeping on the streets each year:

    “On many occasions I woke up and I’ve been covered in snow” Mark, 37

    “When I woke up sometimes, my foot would be so frozen that I wouldn’t move it until it proper thaws out because it felt like I had frost bites and my hands were hurting because it was so cold” Michael, 31

    Giant evil #2: Ignorance

    Beveridge thought that higher social classes were ignorant of the problems affecting communities. Our clients still experience this prejudice:

    “[Homeless people are] treated bad. Low life, dirty junkie, prostitutes, worthless dogs, but we’re not. We haven’t committed a crime; we’ve just had a bit of bad luck and made a terrible mistake, you know?” Linda, 52

    “I think people who have problems with the homeless…whatever problems they’ve had, however they end up that way; I personally think [people] should consider them a bit more. Whether you’re homeless or not you’re still human beings at the end of the day. We are all still human beings.” Leon, 36

    Giant evil #3: Want

    Beveridge was concerned with ensuring everyone in society had what they needed to survive. Unfortunately, many people who are homeless feel they have to resort to crime just to be able to eat:

    “[Homelessness] actually turned me to crime and…I’m a bit ashamed because I’ve caused a lot of damage to properties having to steal lead and that was just to survive… when you get your dole money if it doesn’t last or you get robbed, you’re going to find it very, very, very hard. I found that very, very difficult to, you know, to get a meal most days.” Stuart, 44

    Giant evil #4: Idleness

    Beveridge called for training and work centres to be set up across the country to help everyone find a job. Although many people who are homeless would prefer to work, many still struggle with overcoming bureaucratic hurdles:

    “[When] you do go for a new job you say, ‘I’ve been homeless; this is why I’ve been out of work’, they just say, ‘What have you been doing?’” Michael, 30

    “I was at the job centre. Loads and loads of work, but it was the same answer every time I picked the phone up, ‘We need proof of your address in London’” Jason, 39

    Giant evil #5: Disease

    Beveridge believed that tackling health issues was central to helping people out of poverty. Health is a significant barrier to work for a number of people who we help:

    “I’ve nearly been killed three times doing [prostitution]. I’ve been raped doing it. I’ve… as a result of that I got HIV doing it.” Angela, 38

    “Some people don’t understand [depression]… A lot of the time I have kept myself to myself. It’s only recently I’ve started to push myself out there a bit more. But even still there’s stigma. Any hint that you’ve got this, especially when I’ve been in the mental hospital, people think straight away strait jackets; nutjob.” Michael, 30

    At a time of great financial uncertainty, Britain’s welfare system was set up to direct limited resources towards those who needed them most. Now in the middle of another financial crisis 70 years later, those who are most vulnerable are still tumbling through the gaps in the safety net to the streets below. Our response must be to strengthen the net, not cut more holes.

    (more…)

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