The pandemic – and the cold weather – have created a renewed focus on homelessness. Absolutely meets Scott Darling, a London outreach worker at St Mungo’s, to discuss how Londoners can help
Over the past year, we have all been told countless times to ‘stay at home’. But what if you have no home?
Pre-pandemic figures show that in the first three months of 2020 there were 3,692 people seen sleeping rough in London, and as the effects of each progressive lockdown bite, more and more people are at risk of losing their home.
In March 2020, the government announced ‘Everyone In’ and called on local councils to accommodate anyone who was sleeping rough or at risk of doing so. The initiative saw empty hotel rooms across the country utilised allowing people to self-isolate safely.
However despite unprecedented efforts by all involved, the latest statistics show that the number of people sleeping on the streets of London for the first time has started to increase again.
St Mungo’s is a charity that provides accommodation and support for people rough sleeping as well as campaigning for an end to homelessness – and their work has never been needed more than it is now.
People can become homeless for countless different reasons, and lockdowns resulted in what London outreach worker Scott Darling describes as ‘people who traditionally would not have ended up on the streets’ joining the numbers of homeless people.
Scott has worked for St Mungo’s for two years, attracted by the organisation’s long-term vision, its influencing agenda and its real results. He says: ‘We’ve seen that every time we go into a lockdown there’s a surge in rough sleeping. Largely it’s people who were sofa surfing and asked to leave, which shifts them from “hidden homeless” to visible rough sleeping. There are also releases from prisons and hospitals and people in temporary accommodation adding to the numbers.’
He estimates that if an average day brings 10-20 referrals, then a day in lockdown brings this number to between 50 and 60.
And the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health has been high; particularly, Scott says, on the newly homeless. Working to Covid safety standards puts additional pressure on the team, and night shelters which have been used in the past are not an option this year due to the pandemic.
Winter is always the most difficult time for St Mungo’s and this year severe weather protocols have been activated several times. ‘When this happens, our teams work quickly to help as many people as possible into warm, Covid-secure accommodation,’ explains Scott.
So how can we help? Compassion and understanding is key, says Scott. ‘There’s a lot of stigma around mental health and substance abuse, but people need to recognise that there are different reasons why people are on the streets. The biggest thing is challenging perceptions. Getting out and volunteering is great if you’re able, and we are always looking for financial support too.’
St Mungo’s provides beds and support to more than 2,850 people every night and despite significant government funding allocated to help councils cope with the pressure on their services, the charity’s workload is increasing.
Help is urgently needed in the form of donations: a single gift of just £25 could keep someone off the streets for good, while £50 can run a course in basic skills or literacy and £100 can buy resources for a Recovery College.
A lot can be achieved with even the smallest donation – and this is a time of crisis for lots of Londoners, so it’s never been more important to get involved. Visit mungos.org/absolutely to see how you can help.