St Mungo’s project worker, Shayeena, explains how the Street Impact project enabled her to provide innovative, holistic support for our client June when she really needed it
Working at St Mungo’s you sometimes receive some difficult phone calls. But last week I got a call that really made me smile.
I received a voicemail from a man who had recently been bereaved. He said he was a relative of June, and was sorting out her affairs. While he was doing this he came across her old phone, and by looking at the messages she had saved, he came to understand more about June’s story, and the part St Mungo’s had played in helping her rebuild her life after experiencing homelessness. He had called to thank me for all our support for her.
I met and supported June. She told me she had come to the UK from Ghana in 2002, fleeing domestic violence, on a three-month tourist visa. She overstayed her visa and worked informally, before borrowing a friend’s document to get official work in a supermarket.
However, in 2010 she was diagnosed with a serious illness and her accommodation and social networks started to break down. She ended up rough sleeping in central London and eventually was picked up and placed into a detention centre.
At this time St Mungo’s had just established our Street Impact project, which was designed to develop innovative ways to tackle rough sleeping in London. It was the first such project to be funded by a Social Impact Bond (SIB). This meant the running costs were funded by social investors, who were reimbursed by the Greater London Authority on a ‘payments-by-results’ basis.
This meant we only received payment if it achieved certain agreed outcomes, including reducing rough sleeping and helping people into tenancies, while working with a group of 415 rough sleepers.
Payment by results meant we were free to innovate in the ways we supported people, and take a much more holistic model in helping them rebuild their lives. June was among those 415 people.
When we contacted the detention centre about June they told us she had been released but gave us no other information. We eventually tracked her down in north London. We sent her a letter with our phone number and she called us straight away.
At that point June was 69, depressed, withdrawn, clearly isolated and in need of assistance. While in detention, she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer but was still living on £35 vouchers per week and sharing a room with a lady suffering from post-traumatic stress who would wail throughout the night, meaning that June was getting very little sleep.
The Home Office eventually granted June exceptional Leave to Remain on medical grounds. Alongside her solicitor, I was able to support June through this stressful experience, and then help June to get a home in a sheltered housing scheme. This was an incredibly complicated process, involving her council’s homelessness team, supported housing team and social services.
Because of the innovative way we were able to work within Street Impact, however, I could support June with everything from taxi fares to hospital visits, gathering evidence for an appeal and securing donations of furniture. Eventually we were able to establish a support network for June that included medical staff, social workers, the local hospice, a minister from her local church and a St Mungo’s palliative care volunteer.
We also helped her to stay in contact with her family in Ghana, which had become harder for her as her speech deteriorated. She was 70 by then, not used to computers, and found it hard to speak on the phone. With her consent, I started emailing her family and asked her daughter to send photos of her young granddaughter (who June had never seen) and printed these all out for her and framed a couple so she could keep them in her living room. She was so happy to have these… I remember her laughing with joy and looking at the prints over and over again. In her final years she was treated with dignity and respect that she deserved.
Much of this would have been impossible under a more conventional outreach model. Despite everything she had been through, I think June managed to trust me and my colleagues and this allowed us to help her.