Tackling homelessness in the City

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Tackling homelessness in the City
Laura Shovlin

Angela Sharda interviews Laura Shovlin, Regional Head for East London, on the work that St Mungo’s are doing, challenges faced in accommodating people and her vision to help the Barbican shelter grow.

Q. Talk us through St Mungo’s and the services they provide to the homeless.

A. St Mungo’s is a leading homelessness charity which supports thousands of people each year across London and the south of England.

The causes and consequences of homelessness are complex. In order to meet the challenges that arise, we have a range of projects and services to help people become housed, healthier and more hopeful. Our services focus on the different stages of a person’s journey of homelessness or sleeping rough: before, during and after.

We work to prevent people becoming homeless, support people who are sleeping on the streets into secure accommodation through outreach and then provide them with the services they need to rebuild their lives. These include support with health, skills and employment, and criminal justice.”

Q. What is the organisation’s main impact to date?

A. On any given night, St Mungo’s provides accommodation and support to more than 2,700 people. In 2022/23 we supported more than 28,300 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness across the London and the south of England.

Q. Talk us through a standard workday for yourself.

I’m the Regional Head for East London, covering all services in City of London, Hackney and Tower Hamlets. The region includes outreach services, supported accommodation, Navigators (through care) and Housing First. My days consist of supporting teams to make sure they’re running at their best, supporting our clients to thrive, no matter what stage of their rough sleeping journey they’re at. This means I get to move around a lot and flex to the needs of my manager’s and services.

Q. What do you see as the prime reason for homelessness in the City and how can this be changed?

A. As we do not currently run the outreach team in the City of London, it’s difficult to have much up to date information. But from experience of working in the City of London, a lot of people who are sleeping rough there have significant mental health needs. Paired with the proximity to centre of the capital, people can often be drawn into more chaotic lifestyles. Due to the business footfall Monday-Friday, it’s a very attractive place for people to be there.”

Q. How would you describe the state of the housing crisis in the City of London?

A. The City of London doesn’t have a large residential base, therefore lots of people rough sleeping there do not have a local connection. Therefore, this makes it difficult to support people into local authority accommodation. Things have improved over the last few years and there are now several supported accommodation options we can provide for people rough sleeping in the City.”

Q. What are the main challenges faced in accommodating people and how are they overcome?

A. People have to have a local connection, as defined by the Housing Reduction Act and Housing Act, to be housed in an area. As most do not, the outreach team will assess them to see where their local connection is. Often people do not want to return to their home area, for a multitude of reasons. The new St Mungo’s high need support hostel is based in Southwark. Unfortunately, quite often people will refuse this as an option as it’s too far from where they spend their days.

We work tirelessly and in partnership with other organisations to address these issues. We also work very creatively to encourage people to access what’s on offer for them. This isn’t always achieved, but the motivation of staff to never give up is one of our proudest outputs.

Q. What is your vision to help the Barbican shelter grow?

A. This is the City Lodge. It’s a new project supporting older clients with long rough sleeping histories. This is for people who do not suit or wish to live in bigger more chaotic supported accommodation. It’s a unique project that works really well for its guests. We would love to see the service replicated across all London boroughs as there is definitely a need for this cohort.

Q. How can the public help?

A. People can support St Mungo’s in a variety of ways from volunteering, making a regular donation, to signing up to take part in our fundraising activities like Take the Lead 2023.

For more information, please see here: Help someone else – St Mungo’s (mungos.org)

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