Recovering from homelessness in the heart of St George
Bristol has one of the highest rough sleeper counts outside of London. Homeless charity St Mungo's works hard with the local authority to help people recover from homelessness and return to living independently in their own home. We spoke to some of the staff at St Mungo’s to find out about their work at its two St George projects: Kensington House and Longhills.
From left to right: Paul Bradshaw-Price with Kensington House residents James and Ray.
NESTLED on Kensington Road – a quiet leafy street, is a 10-bed housing scheme in a beautiful converted chapel that is run by St Mungo’s.
Its location in a quiet residential area reflects its purpose: to help those that have formerly been homeless to reintegrate with the community.
Paul Bradshaw-Price, Project Worker at St Mungo’s explained that most of the residents at Kensington House will have come to them through one of the big hostels in the centre of town.
“Because these hostels are not in residential areas a lot of our clients don’t have a sense of ownership over their local area, so that is something that we try and encourage – I always try to emphasise that the people living here are part of the community, even though they might only be here for a short while.”
Paul explained that the first thing that he does when new clients arrive is to get them to sign up to a local GP surgery, join the library and visit St George Park. This makes it clear to them that they have as much right to use these facilities as anyone else.
Another important provision at Kensington House is linking with other services. Some clients need work and skills support, while others could require mental health services, therapy or drug and alcohol services.
“Sometimes we do activities such as breakfast groups and gardening,” explained Emma Wallace, Project Worker at Kensington House.
“On top of that we provide emotional or practical support – for example budgeting. We try to get people thinking about moving on and what they might need to be independent.”
However, there are challenges to running a scheme like this in a residential area.
“Anti-social behaviour sometimes gets pinned on here and maybe unfairly,” said Paul.
“It would be helpful for people to understand that our residents have often come from particularly difficult situations and that the whole point of them being here is to reintegrate them.”
Kensington House is a ‘move on’ project where people need less support and is a first step into less supported accommodation. This designation is given under the Bristol Pathway that aims to provide strong, consistent support services for homeless people.
The partnership sees four organisations in Bristol, including St Mungo’s, working together with the local authority to provide four pathways to recovery. These services are divided into levels of support, ranging from level one – high support with 24-hour staffing, seven days per week to level four – low support for people preparing to live independently.
Clients enter the pathway through outreach at places like the Compass Centre on Jamaica Street. They will begin at a level one service before being moved on to the next level if they are assessed to be ready. The target of all services in the pathway is to get people back living independently within two years.
Kensington House is a level two project and is staffed 9:00am–5:00pm Monday to Friday. Just up the road in Speedwell is Longhills – a level one residential project for 26 people with complex needs, including poor mental health, and drug and alcohol use.
“It’s a humbling experience to work here, supporting people in mental distress, calling ambulances, when needed, doing hourly checks on people at risk or simply keeping on top of paperwork,” said Lauren Morgan, Project Worker at Longhills.
“You go through so much intensity with people and the relationships are unlike anything else I have experienced.”
She explained that she had been shouted and screamed at and there had been some threats, but that was only because people had been frustrated and that people usually apologise afterwards.
Lauren Morgan, Project Worker at Longhills
Paul Bradshaw-Price explained why the current homelessness crisis is so frightening:
“You have the stereotypical homeless person story: I drank too much I took too many drugs, I lost my job I lost my home. That’s a story that most of us can get our heads around – there is an action and a consequence.”
“What horrifies people are the stories where one day their landlord puts up their rent or they are moved from benefits to universal credit and there is a massive delay in the money they get. A lot of people who see themselves as ordinary find themselves at the mercy of the system and need to ask for help.”
He explained that St Mungo’s has a really strong ethos that goes beyond practical help, appreciating that everyone has a story and recognising that they should be treated with dignity and respect.
“Knowing what people have been through to get here in the first place, it is important that we demonstrate to clients that we care and that we listen.”
“It’s about trying to provide a home that is decent for them – not just good enough but as good as we can make it. It’s about showing people that they are worth it and it’s a small part of how we try to make people feel valued.”
The Bristol homelessness picture
IN December 2017, Bristol City Council released its latest rough sleeping count. It found that 86 people were on the streets – an increase of 14 percent over a year, with more thought to be sofa surfing and sleeping in unsafe buildings. This is compared to 2010 when Bristol had less than 10 people sleeping rough in the city.
During the last count, Councillor Paul Smith, Cabinet Member for Homes and Communities, explained that the increase in people rough sleeping is largely driven by changes to national welfare benefits, particularly housing benefit. Lack of social housing is also a major issue across the country.
An overview of St Mungo’s
Started: 1969 when a group of volunteers went round with a pram full of food for the homeless
Where? Provides services in cities across the South of England including London, Bristol, Oxford, Reading, Brighton and Bournemouth
How many services? St Mungo’s run 22 projects in Bristol; from outreach, nightshelter, mental health projects, Recovery College and hostels.
Vision: That everyone has a place to call home and can fulfil their hopes and ambitions
Ambition: To reverse the rise in rough sleeping in the country and to at least halve the number of people who sleep rough in the areas we work by 2021.
What can we do as a community?
If you are concerned about someone who is rough sleeping ANYONE can make a street referral via Streetlink.org.uk giving the following information:
• The rough sleeper’s name (if known)
• Physical description
• Any distinguishing characteristics (e.g. colour of distinctive clothing/possessions/sleeping bag or distinctive accent)
• Specific location where the person is sleeping
• Time they were seen
If you have time to spare and would like to make a direct difference to someone’s life please look at St Mungo’s’ latest volunteering opportunities: www.mungos.org/get-involved/volunteer/current-volunteering-opportunities/
Further information about the help available for anyone who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless at www.bristol.gov.uk/homeless and the recently launched Homeless Connect website www.bristolhomelessconnect.com/