meet a volunteer Liv

We depend on our wonderful volunteers to deliver a holistic wrap around service to our guests. Our volunteers enable our staff to concentrate on case work and helping our guests move on and up and achieve great outcomes.

I’ve been volunteering here for 6-7 years now. I come most Mondays for a few hours and it’s been an easy way to feel like I’m starting the week on a good note and I find it fits easily into my regular routine.  

Recently I went on a six-month sabbatical and it was lovely to come back to the shelter, I feel like part of the family here.

I do a mix of things when I’m at the shelter. Sitting on the desk and greeting guests when they come in, washing and folding laundry – I can be a decent souz-chef or get on the washing up. A couple of times a year, I’ve organised creative evenings with my work colleagues. We’ve done screen-printing, painting Christmas baubles or still-life drawing.  It’s not for everybody but we’ll normally get a few really enthusiastic people and some others that are surprised how much they enjoy it.  I also love games so I’ve been taught new card games by the guests here and lost at chess too many times. 

A lot of people are tired after work and happy to watch TV but I like to chat with a few guests each evening and learn about their hobbies and interests. There are so many interesting people at the shelter with different passions and backgrounds, I’ve learnt a lot! 

Guest Story

I am 26 years old, I am from Darfur in Sudan. I came to the UK 2021. I was looking for a safe place. In 2002 there was a war in my country. The Janjaweed came to my village and killed many people. Me and my family escaped and stayed in many different villages. Each new place we arrived at, the Janjaweed came again to kill the villagers. Finally, we came to Al Fashir, a big city in Darfur and we started a new life in Abu Shouk refugee camp, at least we all survived. We were four, Mum, Dad, my big sister and me. I did up to third grade in primary school so I can read and write in Arabic. My dad worked in a vegetable shop and my mum looked after the children, eight children in all eventually.

I was working as a water carrier with a donkey cart, the work was very hard. My cousin was a shepherd and he said I could come to work with him. My cousin worked for another man. At first, we thought this man was OK. The deal was that we worked, he didn’t pay us but he gave us sheep to sell. After eight or nine months my cousin had lots of sheep and he says to the man that he now wants to sell them.  But the man had lied to us, he said “you have nothing, you are my slaves.” They fought and he stabbed my cousin three times. I was really young and I didn’t know how to act, it was very scary the man killed my cousin, I was so frightened. I stayed to work for another week but he sent someone to watch me in case I escaped – maybe his son, I don’t know, so now I am his slave. After one month I was herding the sheep and I saw a car, I asked the diver to take me to the refugee camp where my family lived. I went to tell my uncle that his son had been murdered but they already knew, I don’t know how. I slept that one night but my uncle told me I needed to escape, the guy who killed my cousin would come after me. My uncle sent me to Libya. To this day I don’t know how I got to Libya, so many people in the Land Cruiser, people fell off into the desert, it was very frightening they changed cars so many times it took about a week. I guess my uncle paid lots of money for this. I arrived in Libya at a place called Marj there I also worked as a shepherd and I lived in a little room and the man fed me. After six months I asked for my wages, he put a gun at my head and said “you can go now or I can shoot you either way I’m not going to give you money”, of course I left. I went to the town centre where I met some other Sudanese guys and I got some work in a car wash. This guy I worked for was very good guy, he paid me I saved my money and I went to the capital. I was staying in a big block of flats and I worked with the Libyan men making aluminium doors and windows, this boss was also a good man. Some sort of gang or militia attacked us in the middle of the night, they had guns. They caught many of us and put them in jail. I managed to escape, I came back in the morning, there were seven of my flatmates left, we cooked and ate. I went to the supermarket to get some water, when I returned I could see the police or the militia taking my friends so I didn’t go back, I was the only one to escape – very lucky. I had been in Libya for three years, I wanted to leave – this life is too scary. I looked for someone to help me escape. The first time I was not lucky they put me in the jungle and a gang came to attack us. I managed to escape, but I lost all my money. I had to go back to work. After six months I’d saved enough for a second try. I went to the jungle and we got a dinghy to Europe. After three hours at sea the police came and took us back to Tripoli and put us in prison, 200 or more people in a tiny prison. It was hell you couldn’t even sit down. We smashed the windows and escaped – very bad day – we ran without shoes in the mountains, I got spikes in my feet but I was so frightened I didn’t feel anything. I went to work again and after two months I tried again. This third time I managed to get to Malta. The man who murdered my cousin came to my father and said your son is my slave, get him back for me or I will take another one of your sons. My father stood up to him and told him to go away.

I’m in Malta in an internment camp for six months until we were put into a refugee camp. There were so many people lots of fighting and police came all the time. I was always very afraid. One night when I was away, the police took a lot of people, they took my friend and put him to prison. After 45 days they took him to court they asked him admit he was a perpetrator of the disturbance and fighting – if he says yes, he could have his freedom, if he says no they will put him back in prison.  I was very afraid of the police  in Malta. I did the same job making windows in Malta, the Maltese people were nice, my real problem was that I was terrified of the police everywhere. So, I left for Belgium, my friend from the jungle was also in Belgium and we decided to try to come to UK. We managed to get on a lorry and got to UK where we made an asylum claim. It took two and half years but my claim was finally approved this October.  Life in UK is very safe. When we first arrived, the police were so kind, it was wonderful they took us to our hotel, it was very nice and I was very happy

When my claim was granted I had to leave home office accommodation almost immediately. This was a nightmare for me I had no idea where to go. I slept on the streets until my friend told me about the shelter and I got a referral to SFTS. I thought my life ladder was going to the top but after I received my residency I was made homeless again and the ladder went down. But I have determination and persistence and I will succeed. Now I’m at the shelter everyone is friendly and kind, I love the place so much because it is clean and warm and comfortable and they have really delicious food. They have a teacher who is teaching me English. I hope to get permanent housing soon so I can work and help my parents. At the moment housing is taken up all my thoughts, it has affected my mental health. I have become distracted and can’t concentrate as I used to.

The shelter is lovely but I need to start the next chapter of my life I want to train and work, maybe in construction, and help my parents. I also need a moment or two to take some proper rest and then move on with my next with the next phase of my life.

Meet Tigggy our wonderful ESOL teacher

We offer one – one English classes to all our guests who need them.

Guests have a mixed experience of education in their home countries; some are university educated, others have never been to school and have no literacy skills in their first language.

English classes improve the wellbeing of guests in a number of ways. They combat isolation and provide a distraction from what guests are going through. They provide a sense of achievement and purpose. Improved English helps guests to function better and to rebuild their lives. With a decent level of English guests can communicate more effectively with services and take a more active part in decision making that affects them. They can find a greater level of independence, both financially and socially. They can find work, make friends and engage with community more easily.

With cuts to the provision of adult education, we provide one of the few services our guests can access. We believe that by supporting guests to improve their communication skills we will not only enhance their wellbeing but:

  • Maximise their chances of finding meaningful employment 
  • Improve access to volunteering opportunities for those not yet ready for or able to work
  • Create meaningful relationships, prevent isolation and help them integrate into society

Guest Story

I’ve just turned 30. I used to have a place in Bristol, but I got an offer of work in Canary Wharf. It was an admin position in a marketing company and it seemed like a pretty good opportunity. I started work and paid for a hotel for the first 7 nights. The pay wasn’t too bad but I couldn’t find anywhere I could afford to rent and just surviving in London was incredibly expensive. I very quickly used up all my savings. I knew the British Red Cross from Bristol, so I phoned them up and they made a referral to the shelter – I was just really lucky that they happened to have a space. Because a got a bed at SFTS, I was able to keep my job which I’m still doing part time. I’ve also got a side hustle being an extra in the movies – crowd scenes, that sort of thing. It varies how much work I get, but it’s quite good fun. Eventually I want to run my own business.

I’m desperately looking for somewhere to rent – I pay an extra fee to to try to get to see rooms first but I’m not having much luck. London is so expensive that I’m looking in Southampton or anywhere a bit cheaper outside of London.

When I first came to the shelter I had no idea what to expect but the staff and volunteers made me feel so comfortable and at home. They gave me a laptop so I could keep working. I use the gym and I’ve done the Yoga classes. I’ve just enrolled in Portuguese classes.

I feel optimistic for my future, staying at the shelter has enabled me to save up for a rent deposit and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to move into my own place soon.

SFTS have offered me everything they could – great food, showers, laundry a nice bed, but most of all they’ve provided me with safety and the chance to start the next chapter in my life.

Guest Story

I’m 19 years old, I turned 19 while I was at the shelter. I’d been living with my ex-partner for two and half years. They came home one day and without any notice told me to pack my bags and leave. It was such a shock, I didn’t have time to process it. I chucked some clothes in a bag and left within half an hour.

I’m a student and work part time for a hotel chain, so I booked myself into one of their hotels. Even with staff discount, I spent all my money, £300, on 4 nights. I was desperate and broke. Someone at college suggested I went to New Horizon Youth Centre who made a referral to the shelter – at the time I didn’t realise how lucky I was that they had a bed.

It took me a couple of weeks to comprehend what had happened to me. I was homeless, my relationship, even though it had been abusive was over and I wasn’t at all sure what the future held.

I’m luckier than some. I’m studying Biomedical Science at college, I’ve got a part time job and I’ve got a dream – I want to become a nurse.

I feel fortunate to be in the shelter, I can wash my clothes, have a shower, I get nice meals, but more than anything…I don’t have to panic about where I’m going to spend the night.

I used to think people experiencing homelessness were different in some way. I understand now it’s you and me – it can happen to any of us.

meet a guest Stella

My name is Stella and I’m 18. I was the Primary Carer for a family member, but I suffered abuse and it became impossible for me to stay in my home. I slept on the streets for a few weeks until I got a place at SFTS. I actually coped OK – Buses are warmer than you’d think! I’m studying independently for my A’ levels – I love learning, I want to do Philosophy, Politics and Economics at University and I’ve applied in the USA and in UK.

I’m estranged from my family, but I still see my younger siblings. It’s been a life saver staying at the shelter, it’s given me the chance to continue my studies. I also have apart time job tutoring to year 6 and 7s in Maths and volunteer a charity for the elderly.

I like it at the shelter and I feel safe and happy here. Life feels at last as if there are some possibilities.

meet a guest

There is no ‘normal’ person experiencing homelessness – read our guest story here:

I’m 19 and it was quite a shock to find myself homeless and at Shelter from the Storm. I was studying at Central Saint Martins and living in Halls. I needed to take time out from my studies. I am estranged from my family in the North of England and I was suffering emotional distress and found it difficult to concentrate on my degree. Because of this my Student Loan was suspended. I couldn’t pay my rent and had to leave my room. I managed to use the remains of my Bursary to fund hostels but that only lasted a couple of weeks. I went to New Horizon Youth Centre and they referred me to SFTS.

When I arrived at the shelter I felt very emotional and I cried all that first night, but I soon began to see that the people were really kind and supportive – they made me feel comfortable and tried to put me at ease. There is a stereotype of what a homeless shelter is, but I soon realised that this place wasn’t at all how I imagined a shelter would be – it’s homely and cosy. I like how there is autonomy here, you don’t feel dehumanised and I still have the freedom to be myself but in a supportive environment.

I’m looking at finding a nice job now so I can move into my own place as soon as I’m settled in my employment and have saved up enough for a deposit. I’m feeling more hopeful for the future and I want to resume my studies next year.

meet a guest Michael

My name is Michael, and this is my story. ‘Shelter from the Storm’ (SFTS) saved my life. That seems quite a dramatic opener but it is so true it is for me a mandatory prerequisite to any narrative that I give in support of this brilliant, worthwhile and much needed charitable organisation. I am so pleased add that this is a story with a really good outcome.

Not so long ago I was living a very comfortable life. Approaching my mid-60s, in good health, and using my skills in corporate research and project management, I was able to pick and choose my contracts, travel extensively and enjoy life fully. I lived in a small studio in a very affluent part of North London, on a peppercorn rent that I had negotiated a long time ago. Life was good, and having recently come out of a long-term relationship, I was certainly lulled into thinking things would remain the same for some time to come.

Here’s a thing – you often hear it said that many of us are one pay cheque from difficulty and two pay cheques from disaster. Believe me – it’s very true! A perfect storm of difficulties and disasters were about to enter my life. My landlord passed away and very quickly the property went on the market and was sold. Simultaneously my contractual work slowed, and then stopped as part of reorganisations and cutbacks – too many eggs in too few baskets were bring the chickens home to roost, as it were.

What followed for me was a sadly well-trodden path travelled by so many who become homeless. Moving from rented properties, to rooms, to hostels – then using friends places – and then finding empty places to bed down in – and along the way shedding possessions, but above all losing feelings of security and not seeing a future.

By a stroke of luck, the Salvation Army referred me to SFTS. It was the most warm and friendly welcome by a team of dedicated professionals and volunteers. A clean and safe place to sleep, shower and eat – and I mean eat well. Really well-cooked meals taken with all the guests in the dining room – a great sense of community which I really valued.

But wait a minute, Michael, I hear you ask. You said at the outset that SFTS saved your life. How did that happen?

Well, one of the major milestones in my life was about to pop up. SFTS offer more than just a bed, a meal and a shower. There is a range of support to help guests including looking for and finding work, encouraging study, searching for more permanent accommodation, and also giving emotional and phycological support to those that request it.

I took the opportunity after a month or so of having a check-up with my GP. Why not I thought – after all I was nearly 65 and here was the time to examine my health. To cut a long story short, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The process of GP referral to a hospital, a whole set of blood tests, MRI scans, PET Scan, diagnostics, consultations, took about a month during which time I was able to discuss my progress every week with the shelter Psychotherapist who gave of their time generously and with much understanding. The SFTS staff were very supportive, and through the process I had learnt that I had been lucky – very lucky. My cancer was localised and treatable. It was caught early!

That is why I owe my life to SFTS. Had I not been a guest there I would not have bothered with a full check-up. It would not have been something that I would have considered with the way I had been living before. I certainly would not have had the free facility of a private professional psychotherapeutic perspective! Can you imagine the cost of that on Harley Street!

So how does the story end. SFTS referred me to a supported housing association, and that is where I am now. I started my treatment there with the enormous help of a cancer support charity, and SFTS gave an open invitation to join them for evening meals as a former guest. Four years on and through a programme of radiotherapy and hormone treatment, I am clear of prostate cancer. Of course, the NHS check me over every six months and will do for the next four years. I am fit, healthy, and now looking to move onwards. Most importantly I am here to tell the story. A story that ends well.

Thanks Shelter from the Storm.

Trapped in a violent and controlling marriage for 20 years, our guest found sanctuary at Shelter from the Storm

I was married for 20 years – it was quite a violent relationship and for the last 7 years my partner suffered from mental health issues. It wasn’t till I ended up in hospital with a broken jaw and fractured ribs that I realised it didn’t have to be like this. The hospital put me up in a hotel, but when that closed down, I was placed near to where my ex-partner lived. Wherever I managed to find a bed, it didn’t take long for him to find me.

People wonder why someone in my position doesn’t just leave, but they don’t understand how strong the emotional control is. He told me I couldn’t exist without him and I believed him – it seems extraordinary now! I’ve been away for a year now and it still feels unreal.

I had been sofa surfing all over the place till I got a referral to the Shelter and they offered me a bed.

Now I’m safe, I feel I can breathe again. I’m getting a lot of support from the staff and the other guests. The team are helping me to get permanent housing somewhere away from my ex.

I feel like I’ve been living under a rock for so many years and I’ve finally come up for air. I’m looking at going back to my studies in Health and Social Care Management. My dream is to be a Social Worker – I think I have a better understanding of the issues people suffer and I believe I can really make a difference.