The St Mary-le-Bow Young Homeless project is an independent charitable trust
(registration number 1103578).
We began this work with young homeless people in 1990, helped by the Council of St Mary-le-Bow, as we still are. The young people are aged from 19 to about 25, and we can take any except those with severe Class A drug, alcohol or mental problems – because we are only two staff, and cannot give the intense support they need.
We began with some fourteen young people, and now have up to six at a time in flats near Elephant and Castle, rented cheaply from The Peabody Trust. They learn to live in flats with each other – something they’ve never done before. This prepares them for independent living in the most practical way. When they are ready, we help them to their own flats. If they fail, they may come back.
We also work with some thirty young ex-prisoners each year, to prevent them from going back to gaol – the rate of recidivism is 75% with young people.
One of the few ways of preventing this is a job – a more enjoyable or less risky alternative to crime.
It takes time for them to repair the damage of early years – lack of discipline, great anger and frustration, which often means that at the beginning, they can’t cope with regular hours and work.
But they, and we, keep at it.
The most successful work is done with Pret à Manger and its Foundation. Pret gives three-month apprenticeships and if the young people behave, they get permanent jobs. This scheme has been working for three years and because we are a small charity, Pret introduced others to increase the numbers of young homeless people and young ex-prisoners working with them. Now there are seventy.
This work has an 88% success rate. ‘Success’ rates can be vague things: by ours, we mean that 83%
of the young people are still in their jobs after six months, and many for two to three years so far. The reason for this success is that they enjoy the atmosphere, the people and the work of a sympathetic but tough and profitable business.
We work with other employers, but they are reluctant to take young homeless people because they have no experience, or young ex-prisoners because they have a criminal record. As well, many must be rigid in their rules and can’t adapt to the initial tolerances needed to maintain the young people. So not many companies are prepared to give jobs, and Pret’s success, leading to the expansion of the scheme beyond London, stands almost alone. So far.
The aims of this charity, and its results, are that the young people develop confidence and find they can budget, live with others, get a job and keep it, take part in society without depending on the State – you and me. None reverts to being homeless. Ever.