Tackling homelessness: how can we help?

Being homeless – how far are any one of us from being in that situation? Losing a job, relationship problems, and poor physical and mental health, are a few of many factors that could lead to a friend, family member, or even you trying to survive on the streets.

We all have busy lives. If you’re like me, you probably want to help, but you’re not sure where to start.

At RBS, we’re working with Mustard Tree – a Manchester-based charity – to support them in getting more people off the streets, and back into a job with a roof over their head. It sounds simple but involves a great deal of work and support.

Alice Jedrzejewski, a Business Delivery Manager in HR, was the driving force behind this partnership and is promoting the different ways we can get involved to support Mustard Tree through volunteer days, comedy nights and much more. I spoke to her to find out how the support will help Mustard Tree change peoples’ lives.

Getting involved

For a long time Alice has been interested in helping a homeless charity, as she sees people sat asking for spare change every day on the streets of Manchester. “I’ve had conversations with people on the streets, bought them food and drink, and supplied clothes, sleeping bags and toiletries for rough sleepers. Last winter I arranged a building wide collection in Hardman Boulevard but it still didn’t feel like I was doing enough.” She wanted to offer her skills to a homeless charity, to help as a mentor or with CV writing, as despite donating clothes and food, she felt she could still do more.

A few months ago Alice visited Mustard Tree to learn about the charity, what it does and what it aims to do to help the homeless population of Manchester. “I came away feeling absolutely blown away by the work the charity does. The way it works is quite different to other homeless charities – rather than just giving them a hot meal and some clothes, they help them get back on their feet.”

Not only do Mustard Tree help homeless people, but those at risk of being made homeless, asylum seekers, people struggling to find food, and people dealing with all types of challenging situations. A large part of this is done through the Freedom Project, a 20 week course, where participants are provided weekly guidance and advice from life mentors and skills mentors, including help creating a CV and with job applications. They rotate across the many aspects of Mustard Tree to gain valuable experience to help them get a job, including in the retail store building customer service skills, and gaining experience and qualifications working in a kitchen.

“Sometimes it’s just getting into a routine. They have to be at Mustard Tree for 10am and they leave at 4pm, but they’re given a cooked meal. There are also activities to get involved with in the evening as well, such as the gym, an art club and somewhere they can repair bikes.”

How can you volunteer?

Alice invited Mustard Tree to host some talks back in November, and asked people to donate not only their unwanted clothes, sleeping bags and shoes, but also their time. This led to community days being organised throughout the year, where our colleagues help in different areas of Mustard Tree and spend their lunch talking to people who volunteer there to listen to their stories.

I spoke to Rob Mitchell, a Copywriter within HR, to find out what he experienced on the day. Along with several other volunteers, he was able to use one of his Corporate Social Responsibility days, which enabled him to help out during his usual working day.

“I spent the morning on reception, dealing with basic queries and talking to Mustard Tree clients and volunteers, and the afternoon helping sort through donations with a few other colleagues. We came across a few curious items amidst it all.”

The team was involved in a range of activities from helping out with sales on the shop floor, to taking phone calls and helping make and distribute food packages to Mustard Tree clients. During the day, Rob spent time speaking to people who benefited from Mustard Tree’s services, including a husband and wife with a young daughter who were asylum seekers. “Despite having a degree in computer science, she was struggling to get work – it was sobering. There was people in danger of being made homeless, who were isolated or dealing with all kinds of issues. But it was good to see the positive and essential work that Mustard Tree is involved in.”

The day has had a more lasting effect, as it’s opened up our eyes to the reality of being homeless, and what it means, and what we can all do to help. It was also a good bonding experience for the different people across team.

“Talking to a range of people with radically different experiences, from all over the world, was really valuable. It was also valuable spending time working with people across our teams, who I’d not really had the chance to get to know before. It’s definitely made me want to do more work with Mustard Tree in the future.”

What next?

With the success of the community days, Alice has been championing support for Mustard Tree across HR and set up a team to help her organise events. From a comedy night – which quickly sold 200 tickets – to a sleepout and a musical event being planned later in the year.

She’s also committed more of her own time to become a mentor, where she’ll be partnered with a participant on the Freedom Project. But ultimately it’s about continuing that work between RBS and Mustard Tree. “My vision is to build an ongoing partnership between Mustard Tree and the RBS Manchester Campus providing volunteers, food and clothing donations, fundraising and financial support.”

How can you help?

If you want to do your bit to help the homeless and find out how you can contribute to getting rough sleepers off the streets, check out the Mustard Tree website to find out how you can get involved.