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St Mungo’s Westminster SOS Outreach Service won £10,000 in this year’s London Homelessness Awards. We asked Zakariya Cochrane, a member of the team, to tell us more about his work.

I started in March 2020 – so I had a rapid induction as the pandemic hit and we needed to get people off the streets and into emergency hotels. Once they were in – a huge task in itself – we were then focused on making sure people were able to stay safe, self-isolate and have enough food to eat. It was tough but rewarding.

In July we then started to move on clients from emergency accommodation and managed to get 42 people into the private rented sector and temporary accommodation.

St Mungo’s also introduced the Through-Care team. We kept in contact with people – either still in hotels or in their new accommodation – to help them maintain their accommodation. We helped with benefits, ID, whatever they needed support with. This was also a great opportunity for the team as our clients were all over London so we had to research support and resources in boroughs that we were not yet experts in.

Lockdown was very tough for some of our clients. We spent time going out with them where the rules allowed. With restrictions and closures, it was important for them to have some kind of activity and socialisation. And to be honest it was good for us too. We wanted to get out and this gave us a strong purpose to do so.

I like my job and consider myself privileged to be a part of the team. Put simply, we have a great opportunity to change people’s lives for the better. If we can keep people inside rather than on the streets that is a big benefit to them and society. And we are encouraged to use our initiative and try new things: contacting MPs for support, being involved in advocacy for clients, campaigning for positive change.

The award has been a real boost for us. It is not only the feeling of being recognised and the added status it brings, but also the prize money can be used to expand our provision of tenancy support packs for people settling into their move-on accommodation.

Everyone has a role to play. Members of the public can volunteer with St Mungo’s and many other support organisations such as food banks in a whole variety of ways. And if you are worried about someone who is sleeping on the streets, you can contact the rough sleeping referral service Streetlink.

This has been a challenging time for Westminster SOS and all outreach teams. But we have worked together to achieve a lot, and we know that we have made a difference.

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To find out more about St Mungo’s, watch a short film about the team and find out more about the London Homelessness Awards please go to www.lhawards.org.uk

GP practice helping hundreds of rough sleepers shortlisted for the London Homelessness Awards