The number of people rough sleeping in Bristol on any one night has increased from under ten in 2012, to almost 100 in 2017. St Mungo’s is a leading charity supporting the homeless with safe overnight shelter and expertise helping homeless people access housing, health and support services. The heart of St Mungo’s are the volunteers who give up their free nights to help.
The night shelters rely heavily on the goodwill of volunteers to stay open. As summer ends and the inevitable cold weather returns, St Mungo’s are looking for more volunteers.
We talked to Richard Drake and Heather Lister to find out about volunteering and what it means to them.
Where do you volunteer?
At the community night shelter in St Judes.
What time to do you start and finish?
We arrive between 9:30 pm and 10:00 pm and finish by 8:00 am in the morning.
What is the first thing you do at the shelter?
First, we collect the keys and then go to the night shelter venue to open up and get things ready for our clients to arrive. This involves setting up the camp beds as the night shelter is in a community space that is well used during the day.
Could you walk us through a ‘typical’ evening?
Clients of St Mungo’s and other homeless services are invited to stay. They have been assessed with a support plan in place to help them get off the streets. We greet people as they arrive, help them sort out their bedding and offer them tea or coffee.
We chat with everyone to introduce ourselves and listen to any concerns they have about being here.
What support do they need?
Needs vary. Most people are reasonably self-sufficient with case workers to meet their needs outside of the shelter. Our night shelters provide a warm and safe place to stay. Volunteers are there to listen and direct them to the right services the next day.
Why do you volunteer?
Because it’s a very straightforward and practical way to help make a difference to people who are currently homeless. We also share the charity’s vision that everyone should have a safe place to stay and the shelters provide just that.
Will I get training and support?
St Mungo’s provides initial training and group supervision sessions where we can share our experience and concerns with other volunteers.
Will I get expenses?
It has not cost us anything to do this, but out of pocket expenses can be reimbursed.
What skills do I need to be a night shelter volunteer or indeed a volunteer within any of your services?
An ability to work within clear boundaries and guidelines and an ability to treat people with fairness and compassion.
How much time do I need to give?
We give one night per fortnight, but the commitment to the rota is as important as frequency.
Will I be safe?
We have never felt unsafe. You work in pairs as volunteers and there are clear procedures in place for dealing with unsafe situations – all this is handled in the training.
Could you share a story of one of the clients?
Bob came to the Compass Centre, rough sleeping after losing his job and struggling after a bereavement. He began volunteering for St Mungo’s and got two jobs. After six weeks Bob moved into supported housing. He said that the night shelter was so important because it kept him safe while he was waiting for housing.
Without the Night Shelter, Bob would have been rough sleeping for the duration. His mental health was fragile due to a bereavement and the trauma of finding himself on the streets. The security of having somewhere to stay meant that he could piece his life back together quickly. This is why we need volunteers to keep the shelter open. The impact on each person can’t be measured.
I would like to become a volunteer – who do I contact?
Contact the volunteer coordinator on 07736 887052, or send an email referenced Bristol Night Shelter
For more info visit the St Mungo’s website.