Amy Blackburn is a Volunteer working on StreetLink's referral line. She writes about how volunteering helps her feel like she's making a difference.
Working and living in London, I unfortunately became accustomed to seeing people sleeping on street corners or in shop doorways. Walking by people clearly in distress, I would feel helpless, there’s only so much you can do in that moment but walking away from someone who was visibly suffering started to really affect me.
I already supported St Mungo’s work with a monthly donation, so had a look on their website for opportunities to get more involved. I’d never heard of StreetLink before, but helping people access support for the first time sounded like a really impactful thing to do.
I went for my induction just before the first lockdown, then the next week we weren’t able to come in. But thankfully StreetLink set up online sessions for new volunteers, so there were a few of us training together. The training I received was really thorough and the support from the Shift Leaders was great.
However, I have to admit, I was really nervous for my first shift, going into the unknown is always a bit scary and I was worried about doing something wrong. But I had experienced staff around me and found my feet really quickly. I actually found it really nice to be around new people and have something else going on in my life, especially during the monotony of the pandemic.
Now I actively look forward to my shifts. Sometimes, when working through the dashboard of alerts that come in, I feel like a detective, putting together all the pieces – location, appearance, clothing – to create an alert that gives an outreach service all the tools they need to find someone and hopefully support them to get off the streets.
While it’s hard to know the long-term impact of the alerts I put through, a friend of mine was homeless and received support from St Mungo’s. He’s now graduated to working for them. It’s amazing how far he’s come and I like to think others have gone on similar journeys due to the alerts I’ve sent out.
I’ve seen reports of rough sleeping potentially rising again as the pandemic restrictions come to an end and, with the winter months approaching, StreetLink will undoubtedly need to grow its team to deal with the rising demand.
So, if you’re like me, and feel the need to do more to help those experiencing homelessness, I would implore you to sign up. You only need to dedicate two hours a week or four every two weeks.
Through volunteering with StreetLink, I feel empowered, not helpless.