Homelessness continues to be a major problem in the UK. It’s a complex issue because of multiple factors such as financial pressure, insecure work, housing availability, funding for local authorities and more. And, when problems are created by multiple factors, a multi-faceted approach is needed to address them.
As recent times have shown, there is more the country could be doing to support those who are homeless. With the right resources and political will, solutions can be found. It is wholly possible to get people off the streets.
The Connection, an organisation working to help the homeless in London, reached out to me pre-pandemic to tell me about their sustainable store that supports their work. They’re an amazing organisation with a thorough approach to tackling homelessness properly. Although they didn’t ask me to, I decided to dedicate a blog post to talk about what they’re doing. While they aren’t currently sending out orders, you can still order online and items will be shipped when lockdown lifts. Staff are still working with clients remotely, and in a few short weeks have already found accommodation for 80 clients.
After all, if you’re going to look for sustainable products anyway, why not also contribute to eradicating homelessness at the same time?
Who are The Connection?
The Connection is based at St Martin in the Fields in London. Every year they help thousands of people move away from, and stay off, the streets of London by offering practical help and addressing the root causes of rough sleeping.
They provide an array of services, helping clients cope with the physical and mental effects of homelessness, empowering them to develop their strengths and move towards a brighter future.
The Connection runs a variety of round the clock services to support their clients.
Most people’s first point of contact with The Connection is through their day services, run by the engagement & assessment team. This team offers advocacy, advice, and support, including a wide range of practical services such as showers and laundry facilities, hot meals, medical appointments, and access to telephones and computers.
When a client first visits the day services, the team offer an assessment to establish how best to work together. They then create an action plan, supported by an allocated caseworker, to improve wellbeing and help clients begin their journey out of homelessness.
At the same time, a daytime street engagement team go throughout Westminster in pairs from 7am – 7pm, guided by referrals from the local community and their knowledge of needs in the borough. During shifts, the team identify and engage with new clients and check in on people they already know. Here they put in time and effort to built dialogue and trust with clients.
The Connection then helps homeless individuals through a range of support services.
The kind socks bundle from The Connection store
They provide free, short-term accommodation to help keep people safe while working with them. Their accommodation is usually open every night of the year and provides beds for up to 75 rough sleepers, with extra space available during severe weather. Rough sleepers are referred in by the outreach team, day centre, or organisations they work with.
This accommodation gives people the security, space and resources they need to begin their journey out of rough sleeping. Beyond having somewhere safe and warm to sleep, people can have something hot to eat, wash their clothes, shower, watch films and use computers.
The Housing & Resettlement team works with clients to identify an action plan to end their homelessness. Services include:
- Referrals into accommodation, including supported housing and the private rented sector
- Advocating on behalf of the client to make sure they receive the support they are entitled to
- Linking clients to relevant support services like GP practices, drug and alcohol support, or for benefits or legal advice
- Travel support for clients to attend appointments for accommodation, jobs or training, for medical or legal help, or to reconnect with family and friends
- Supporting clients to access other services, such as Migration, Emergency Accommodation or Recovery groups
- Helping clients settle into accommodation by providing basic necessities like bedding and kitchen equipment, providing vouchers and/ or supporting them to complete grant applications.
Where possible, the team tries to help people into accommodation in their home area, helping clients preserve local connections and community to reduce the risk of isolation.
Enterprise & employment, the in-house education, training and employment service, also helps people back into training and work. Careers advisers help clients decide what they want to do and how to get there. Their help includes CV and interview skills, employability workshops, accredited IT training, work placements, clothing, equipment and travel for interviews, and supporting people post-employment if needed.
They also run a recovery programme, with activities designed to improve wellbeing, teach new skills and increase self-esteem, dealing with the mental effects of homelessness. Some examples include:
• The art room
• Digital skills
• Creative writing
• Book and film club
• Music workshops
• Women’s groups
• Talking groups to help with addressing problems like anger or gambling.
The team employs two specialist mental health leads, providing specialised support for those who need it. They work to enable people to articulate their needs, build resilience, access treatment and services, and better manage their mental health through counselling as support groups.
Finally, the team also have specialists in place to help non-UK nationals, who account for around half of people rough sleeping in London. Many have come seeking work, or protection as refugees or asylum seekers. These people are often particularly vulnerable, as they often face additional challenges, from lack of documentation to complex legal issues and complete destitution. Many are also traumatised by their experiences, which creates an additional barrier to settling in the UK.
The Migration team at The Connection supports homeless migrants in various ways, for example:
- helping them understand their entitlements and routes to legal status in the UK
- supporting them to obtain an ID
- advocating for their rights and supporting them through the immigration system
- working with them if they seek to return to their country of origin (though few do)
The Connection at St Martin’s is regulated to provide immigration advice or services by the Immigration Services Commissioner. Their team also provides training and support to other organisations, ensuring they’re aware of the specific issues facing this group and can refer them to specialist services, including immigration solicitors or modern slavery support services.
Overall, The Connection is one of the UK’s busiest homeless centres, welcoming around 140 people through their doors every day.
Last year they helped over 2,600 people access their services. Over 750 people accessed employment support, over 730 people utilised accommodation, over 370 of the most vulnerable people (many of whom were not in contact with any support services) worked with the Street Engagement Team, and 777 people received help with housing, benefits, mental health and drug and alcohol support.
What is the Show Your Connection shop?
The shop began because The Connection has its own art studio and supplies, which all clients have access to as art can be a therapeutic and important part of the journey to recovery. They’ve found that the talent that comes into the studio is incredible, and in the past clients have designed Christmas cards, wrapping paper and t-shirts that have been sold in the shop. All profits go back into The Connection’s work, helping them support more and more people out of homelessness.
All product photography for the store is also been taken in collaboration with clients, as part of a workshop teaching new skills. In future, The Connection hopes to expand the store and include clients in even more ways.
From the beginning, they had no interest in creating unnecessary waste or producing ‘on-trend’ items that soon fall out of fashion. Instead, they handpick every brand they work with, ensuring their values align. Every item in the store is made from recycled or sustainable materials and is designed for durability.
Plus, all their mailing bags are carbon-neutral, recyclable and made from sugar cane, all tissue is FSC-approved, and cups and bottles are wrapped in recycled corrugated paper.
The Connection kindly offered to send me some items (gifted – not sponsored) I was happy to see some of the pieces for myself.
The highlight has the be the discovery of the rCUP reusable coffee cup. Mere days after this cup was first recommended to me by a friend, one arrived in the post from The Connection. I am not exaggerating when I say that this cup is the best I’ve ever used.
Created by former Dyson designer Dan Dicker and a team of recycling experts, the cup is made from waste and designed to last as long as possible. In a circular model, it’s the first cup to be made from recycled takeaway coffee cups, both keeping these out of landfill and incentivising proper recycling and infrastructure to turn these cups into products.
The rCUP is also fully leakproof (like, incredibly leakproof), insulated, dishwasher safe, and designed for 360° drinking like a normal cup. It can also be opened with only one hand, as it utilises an easy push opening.
The Connection also sent me a kind socks bundle which has been getting a lot of use in recent weeks. Made from GOTS certified organic cotton and available in patterned or plain designs, these babies are incredibly soft and comfy, while also being really high quality. I’m definitely a fan.
So if you’re looking for a little way to be proactive in supporting homeless charities who are still working under unusual circumstances, or if you might be in need of some sustainable pieces for future months, then check out The Connection and tick both off your list simultaneously.