Meet a Volunteer: Thomas


It was when the shelter was in Essex Road. I wanted to pay back a bit what homeless shelters had done for me. I worked for the railways for 18 years but in 2007 I became homeless. I had a lot of problems with money; I was sofa surfing, spent a couple of weeks sleeping in the park and eventually lost my job. I nearly reached rock bottom but I got a place in a winter night shelter. I got advice from the Manna Society in Southwark and they helped me get a place of my own. Once I was settled I started doing Construction courses and getting better-paid work in the industry. This year I got a great job at Euston, back on the Railways!

I like the atmosphere at SFTS, I can use my practical skills to help and the other volunteers are great. I’ve been in the same situation as the guests and I can understand what they’re going through. Oh! And we always have a laugh!

Catch up with Mohamed

mohamed kamaraMohamed recently moved into a place all of his own. He’s just popped back this evening to say hi and thanks to all our volunteers. He’s now working hard for a qualification in Health & Social care. Yay! He did it!

Guest stories: Mable

mableMable fled persecution in Uganda losing all contact with her family due to her sexuality. It’s very scary in Uganda if people discover you’re gay and I was an activist as well. In Uganda, the sentence for being homosexual is Life Imprisonment, but you also risk being attacked and badly hurt. Now I’ve been granted refugee status I would love to find a job in IT but I’d be happy working at anything. I just want my life back.

Guest stories: Dean

DeanDean is only 22 but he’s already qualified as an actor, fitness instructor and personal trainer. He moved to London from the South East after leaving a difficult family situation.

When he was forced to give up the room he’d been staying in he found himself on the streets. To make matters worse he had his bag, laptop and passport stolen while sleeping rough. However none of this stopped him from completing his training course at a gym – and being inventive: “One time, I tried to sleep at the gym and decided to hide in a cupboard until they closed”, he recalls, “but I suddenly realised the room was being used for a meeting and at the end someone opened the cupboard and discovered me and found out I was homeless.” He was expelled and kicked off the course. “But”, he smiles, “the next day I was allowed back and even got an apology!”

Dean began acting when he was 17. He misses the atmosphere of the theatre and would love to go back to it. Who does he admire as an actor? “Tom Hardy because he avoids being stereotyped and recreates himself all the time and Johnny Depp.”

Dean says that since arriving at the Shelter he has grown up a great deal and been able to take more responsibility for himself. “If I hadn’t come here, I don’t know where I’d be”, he reflects. He says it’s also changed his view of homeless people, and he believes many of his fellow guests have great potential. He’s even acted as a personal trainer for some of them. However Dean is determined to leave; “I want to take my life back”, he says. He’s hugely passionate about fitness, training and nutrition, and he spends his days looking for work. One day, he’d love to own his very own gym. While being a successful actor, of course.

Guest stories: John

JohnJohn is a Cold War veteran.  He served with the British army in divided  Berlin in the early 1970s, which he still remembers as a great experience for a young man of 18.  He was born in Guyana and came to Britain when his mother sent for him, his brother and his two sisters when he was just 12.  “I didn’t know whether it would be a good move”, he says, “but it definitely broadened my horizon.”  John also did a tour of Northern Ireland, where he remembers being “slagged off as a black man.” He says he joined the forces as a way of staying out of trouble, having fallen in with what he describes as “some bad boys”. “Otherwise”, he reflects “I would have been in and out of prison”.

He’s proud of all the jobs he had after leaving the army: “I worked on the buses, at the Ford motor company in Dagenham, helped build fire extinguishers and prams”.  Just over 20 years ago, however, John fell on hard times after he was caught drink driving. He lost his job, got mixed up in drugs, was evicted from his home and ended up having to stay with friends.  “You can only do that for so long”, he says, which finally led to him being referred to SFTS.  John has only been at the Shelter for a short while. He describes it as “a good place, with friendly people”, and he appreciates the food that’s served up.  One thing he finds hard, however, is having to spend the day outside, as the Shelter only opens for the night.

John hopes to find some shared accommodation soon, then a place of his own.  Once he gets back on his feet, he would love to visit Guyana again.  He was last there in 1990 and, he muses, much will have changed.

Guest Stories: Euphemia

EuphemiaBorn in Jamaica and brought up in Birmingham, former beauty pageant winner Euphemia, 63, spent much of her adult life in Italy, only returning to the UK in 2012 after a family trauma. She wanted to be closer to her relatives and was looking forward to finding work, having previously run her own beauty store and held jobs in a toothpaste factory and at a travel agency.

“It turned out things had changed since I was last here and it was so hard to find a proper job,” she says.

“For a while I worked in a shop from 8am until midnight for just a hundred pounds a week. I also got offered a job working on a street stall but as I have health troubles it was not good to be outside all day”.

Euphemia has experienced problems with her kidneys since she was punched in a racist attack in 2006.

“I haven’t had an easy time but I try to smile and be there for others because we all have problems,” she says.

Some of the other women guests at the shelter call her ‘Auntie’ or ‘Mother’.

“I like that because my mother left me when I was two so I always try to share the love that I didn’t have”, she smiles.

Euphemia enjoys sewing, cooking and chatting but says her ideal job would be running a charity shop.

“My dream is to earn my own money again and to be able to hold a set of keys in my hand and unlock the door to my own room”.

Meet a volunteer: Duncan

DuncanDuncan, 65, is semi-retired and signed up to volunteer at the shelter two years ago. He loves cooking and wanted to use the skills he developed in hotel and property management to help others. “Being in the kitchen is a hobby of mine and so it is great to be making meals here at the shelter each week. I I feel a sense of satisfaction when we put together a big meal for all the guests”, he says. “As I am no longer working I have a lot more spare time and I think it is important to help people who are not as fortunate as I am in life”. Duncan has a particular soft spot for Mediterranean food. He enjoys making pasta dishes or fish with roasted vegetables for the guests, although he is not so fond of doing the washing up!

Life on a zero hours contract

An anonymous account of life working on a zero hours contract by one of our guests

A zero hour contract is, as the name states, a contract that has no fixed hours. There is no actual contract. The way it works is very simple, you find an employment agency, most agencies offer zero hour contract work, sign up with them, and then the agency will call you to find out if you are available for a given job. The job can start at any time of day or night – 11am or 11pm or 3am – anytime. You have to be ready for the call of duty. The agency will ring, say they have work, then you have to be ready at the location whatever time is specified, that might be in the next half hour – or next few hours, the time usually depends on how far away the job might be. The work can be anywhere in or around London, any zone. Usually, I will use night busses to get there. Night busses are actually quite quick because at night there is no traffic.

An example of a recent job I did was in Barking. The agency called in the day to say there was a shift working in a warehouse, lifting etc., from 9.30pm to 2.30am. It took 3.5 to 4 hours to get there and the same to get back again. The pay is £6.19/hour. You pay for your own travel. I usually get a weekly bus pass which costs £19.60. A problem can be that you buy a bus pass for the week and then you don’t get any work from the agency – so your money is wasted.

The most regular shift I did was 3am to 7am at a warehouse. Generally shifts are 4-5hrs and they are always during ‘unfavourable’ hours, these are when nobody else wants to work. The only people who do it are doing it because they have no other choice.

However, despite it being really exhausting and regardless of how they treat you, I refuse to jump on the bandwagon of saying it’s criminal or exploitative. I’ve never signed on and would never do that. To me, that’s giving up, smooth sinking. Zero hour contracts are for the jobs that most people refuse to do, due to the unpredictability and the anti-social hours, but it at least helps you to keep up, to say working. You can use your ‘zero hour’ experience to help in applying for full-time work. It’s at least an option to keep working, while you look for more suitable things.

And it is a two-way thing. You can after all say you don’t want to take a job, though having said that, you then risk not being called again. The bottom line, however, is that you can withdraw your labour.

It’s a fact of commercial life in London. It’s not a new concept. These contracts have existed for ages – even when the economy was doing well. People want cheap goods, 24-hours day, this is how companies keep low prices and make big profits.

At the end of the day, you are an adult, you know you are doing these crap jobs so that you can exist whilst you looking for a better alternative.

I’m relieved that in the Autumn I start a normal warehouse job. I won’t say doing zero hours is a negative thing but I will say it was really hard, I was taking medication at night which would knock me out, nevertheless I knew that I just had to keep going and struggle to accept the jobs and keep working. I’d get woken up at all hours, I’d be so weak doing physical labour, but I’d just have to do it. You just have to battle on.

Farewell Stephen and Matt…

We’re sad to announce that Stephen Fixman and Matt Shefras are stepping down as Trustees.

For the last 4 years they’ve been an amazing support to the work of SFTS as both volunteers and Trustees.

When we were given 28 days notice at Elmore Street, they pulled out every stop to find us our new premises, pulled all the strings known to man to get us accepted as tenants and recently secured the extension of our lease.

Without them, we could well have joined the ranks of our homeless guests

We wish them both all the best for the future

Thank you guys, we’ll miss you!


Guest Stories: Fernando

FernandoFernando, 35, arrived at the shelter three months ago and has already been working in the kitchen at Pret a Manger for four weeks. “I have the same timetable everyday,” he said. “It is nice because I can make more plans for the future. My favourite sandwiches to make are the ones I can do fast: egg and mustard and smoked salmon.”

This Spanish football fan is looking ahead to a very important date in June – the beginning of the |World Cup in Brazil. Fernando was bitten with the football bug aged 15 and has been an avid fan ever since. He supports Barcelona but also has a favourite English team, “When I was living in Spain I liked Liverpool,” he said. “But I didn’t know if Liverpool was in or outside London. I know now!”

Fernando spoke very little English when he arrived and is so happy to practise speaking with all the other guests and volunteers. But the highlight of his week is a call from his mother and the chance to talk with his young nephews Alejandro, 5 and Cayetano, 2.