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The value of lived experience in our mission to make homelessness history

The value of lived experience in our mission to make homelessness history

This week we’re sharing more about the importance of lived experience and how it’s helping us in our fight to eradicate homelessness for good.

At Concrete, we’re on a mission to make homelessness history, but we can’t do this without the help of our incredible volunteers with lived experience.

That includes our peer mentors. They’re a powerful eight-person team who have overcome challenges including homelessness, addiction and complex needs and now use their experiences to help others. They know first-hand what our customers are going through and can offer unique and valuable insight when it comes to support.

In the last year, our dedicated team of peer mentors provided invaluable guidance to over 40 of our current customers. This involves one-to-one support, such as over the phone or through regular in-person catch up’s, as well as group sessions, such as arts and crafts at one of our 24/7 accommodation schemes.

One of our mentors is Sterling (pictured above), who joined the Concrete army four years ago.

He first experienced homelessness when he was 16 and again when he was 40. He was supported by different local services and decided that he wanted to do something to give back and fill his time in a positive way.

He’d been volunteering for a number of years with other organisations but knew that he wanted to support a homelessness service where he could use his lived experience and really give back.

Sterling has supported us in a number of different ways, such as on the Destination:Home Gateway service, taking referrals from people in a housing crisis. He currently works within our new LGBTQ+ support hub, Phoenix.

He’s shared his story, and why he loves being a peer mentor.

“I’ve been homeless for a long time. Luckily I only slept on the streets for a few nights, but I’ve still been there.

“I know how it feels to be on that side and I know how people treat you. This means that I can see things from the customer’s point of view.

“The whole system can be difficult for people facing homelessness. I don’t have a magic wand so I can’t change it, but what I can do is help people navigate it and advocate for them.

“Having lived experience does put me in a unique position to help customers. I have life experience, as well as experience of homelessness, so I know where they’re coming from.

“I don’t like when people say ‘oh you’re such a good person’ because you’re a volunteer. Volunteering isn’t about making yourself look good.

“You should do it for completely selfless reasons. You should do it because you have time, experience and skills that could really make a difference to someone’s life. If that makes you feel good, that’s just a bonus.”

Peer Mentor Co-ordinator Lisa

Peer Mentor Co-ordinator Lisa oversees our peer mentor programme.

“The value of lived experience is just indescribable,” explained Lisa.

“A lot of us working in the sector are professionals with lots of knowledge and on-the-job learning behind us, but we don’t have that direct lived experience. We can’t look at our customers and say, ‘I understand what you’re going through,’ because we simply don’t.

“That’s where our mentors come in. They all have that amazing ‘been there and got the T-shirt’ insight, which means they can say those words with absolute sincerity. That means a lot to our customers.”

Peer mentors give up their time to support Concrete, but for many of them, the personal value and growth they get from the role has a massive impact on them too.

Lisa continued: “We are so grateful for our mentors and we really try to give them as much as they give to us. Many have told us how much mentoring has brought to their lives. They have built up skills and experience to move forward into a career within the sector.

“They have also had huge personal gains through mentoring. They’ve developed their confidence, built up a support network of friends and realised their own value and self-worth, which I think is brilliant.

“At Concrete, we appreciate our mentors for a number of reasons – their time, dedication, passion and understanding. But most of all we’re grateful for their vulnerability, generosity and honesty.

“They’ve all been through a lot in their lives, whether that’s homelessness, addiction or personal loss, but they worked hard and came out the other side. To choose to take those experiences and use them to help others is just absolutely incredible. We simply can’t thank them enough.”

Click here to find out more about our peer mentor service.

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