At Concrete, our mission is to make homelessness history, but we can’t do that alone.
This Volunteers Week, we’re celebrating our amazing Concrete volunteers who help us work towards achieving that mission.
Today we’re introducing you to Sterling, who has been volunteering with us for three years.
Sterling first started volunteering when he was nine years old with St John’s Ambulance. Since then, he’s volunteered with a number of different services in Staffordshire and the surrounding areas.
He’s held roles such as SWEP and hostel rep, providing important services to those facing homelessness. He’s even a qualified Coordinator with Changes Health & Wellbeing, one of our Destination:Home partners!
Sterling first experienced homelessness when he was 16 and became homeless again when he was 40. He was supported by different local services and wanted to do something to give back and fill his time in a positive way. He spoke to his support worker who put him in touch with Lisa, our Peer Mentor Coordinator here at Concrete.
Now Sterling volunteers twice a week for our Gateway Service, the entry point to our services for anyone who has lost, or is at risk of losing, their home.
The Gateway Team provides support to customers when they first get in touch and signposts them to the right support. Sterling takes enquiries from new customers over the phone and through email. He uses his own lived experience to support those facing homelessness because knows what it’s like to be in their shoes.
We sat down with Sterling to find out more about his volunteering journey and how he’s helping us make homelessness history!
Sterling said: “I used to work in customer service, so I’ve done a lot of work with customers over the phone.
“I would rather talk to a customer directly and get the referral, rather than just looking at forms. I can tell them that I’ve been homeless and lived in hostels, so I know how they might be feeling.”
The main reason why Sterling wanted to volunteer was to use his experience to give back to others in tough situations.
“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.”
Sterling currently works within our Gateway Team, but he’s keen to support customers even further as a Peer Mentor very soon. Peer Mentors use their lived experience to provide practical and emotional support and advice to customers.
“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.”