Home and dry
Stephen Walsh tells Islington Life how St Mungo’s is helping tackle homelessness in Islington
Rough sleeping is always dangerous, but more so during extreme cold temperatures. Charity St Mungo’s is just one service working with Islington Council to provide support for homeless people. They offer a rapid and responsive service to help rough sleepers, going out early in the morning and late at night to meet people on the streets. Stephen Walsh from St Mungo’s tells us more
How long have you worked at St Mungo’s?
I’ve worked at St Mungo’s for two and a half years, in the role of Islington outreach coordinator. During this time, I’ve seen first-hand the amazing work done on the ground to end rough sleeping and to rebuild people’s lives.
I’ve witnessed some amazing and heart-warming journeys. Along with a fantastic outreach team, I’ve supported people through some of the most difficult times in their lives, helping them to overcome a wide range of complex issues and getting them into long term accommodation. At St Mungo’s we believe everyone should have a place to call home; a place where they feel safe and can rebuild their life. Being part of a team that provides this to people is really rewarding.
What help does St Mungo’s offer homeless people?
I work with people who are or have been sleeping rough. We meet with people who have been referred to us by the public using the StreetLink website or app – which people can download and use to let us know where people are bedded down outside, so our teams can find them and offer them support – and by the council’s teams. Our role is to get to know people, build up trust, provide support with health and wellbeing and, when they are ready, help people move off the streets into safe and secure accommodation.
Outreach is an important part of what St Mungo’s does, and probably what we are best known for, but we do a lot more – from offering our clients training, such as construction skills, to end of life care for those who are terminally ill. We provide respite rooms for survivors of domestic abuse and run a gardening programme, Putting Down Roots, which provides therapy and training to help people with their recovery – and so much more.
We aren’t just in London – we also have services in Brighton, Reading, Oxford, Bournemouth, Bath, Bristol and Leicester.
When is your busiest time of the year and why?
Our outreach teams work 365 days a year. Since the Government launched the emergency response to the pandemic in March 2020, all our teams have been working flat out to get people off the streets into Covid-secure accommodation, where they can access a variety of support and get vaccinated if they want to.
We know that sleeping rough at any time is dangerous, but it can be life threatening when the temperatures drop. For many outreach teams, and indeed for us in Islington, our busiest time of the year is usually December and January. Right now we are working tirelessly to offer support to as many people sleeping rough as possible, so they can avoid the dual threat of the virus and the freezing temperatures.
What help can the public give a homeless person if they see one?
We know that people often want to help, but can feel unsure about what to do if they meet a person who is sleeping rough. Our clients often tell us that the feeling of being invisible can be really soul destroying. There are a few things people can do – it could be as simple as saying ‘hello’ and offering a hot drink or some food. If people don’t feel confident doing that, they can contact StreetLink and let us know where and when they saw the person they are concerned about.
If you can afford to, you can donate to charities such as St Mungo’s. However, if you can’t give money, consider giving some time and become one of our volunteers. But most importantly if someone needs emergency help, please call 999.
Visit the council website for more ways you can help people who are experiencing homeless.