Matt Conlon, Shelter From the Storm
This week we set aside magazines to meet one of the team behind Shelter from the Storm, the Islington-based emergency night shelter we’re supporting with our Christmas Cracker campaign.
Matt Conlon is General Manager at the shelter, which provides accommodation and support services to homeless people in London. The 38-bed service is open every night of the year, is completely free of charge to its guests, and entirely funded by donations. Read on and learn how you can support their work.
What are you up to this Monday morning?
My week started at 6.30am at the shelter, where I’m covering the breakfast shift with a small team of volunteers. Our guests will usually wake up between 7-7.30am and we’ll serve some breakfast (cereal, toast, teas and coffee) and clean up a bit.
I always like starting the week this way as it gets me out of bed nice and early! I’ll then be looking at the week ahead; checking that we have enough volunteers in for each shift and looking through the referrals that we’ve had for people who need a bed. If we have anyone moving out, then we’ll be able to offer the bed to someone new.
Describe your desk and your work space.
We have a small office shared between myself and our two Project Workers, so I’ll usually set up in one of our lovely sofa areas where its much more comfortable!
We moved into our new shelter in June 2019 and I absolutely love it here. Everything was designed with the needs of our guests in mind. And it works great! We have custom designed bedrooms for our guests, a large professional kitchen, a shower block and bathrooms, a dining area, two sofa areas, a space for a pool table and a small office.
We also have a meeting room for ESOL lessons and counselling, and a clothing store for all of the clothes donations that we receive and give out.
Describe Shelter From the Storm in three words.
Caring. Responsive. Independent.
What makes SFtS different from other, similar organisations?
Because we raise all of our own funds—independent of government funding—we can and do accept people entirely on need. We recognise that the needs of homeless people are much easier and better met from a place of safety.
By offering emergency accommodation first, we are able to meet one of peoples’ most primary needs: a roof over their head. Once people feel secure and know that they’re being looked after, we’re able to concentrate on the hard work of helping them move on; to find employment and meet other needs they may have such as good health or improved education.
SFtS would be nowhere without the amazing support and dedication of its volunteers. More than 100 people volunteer each week to support the daily running of the shelter. They are the lifeblood of the charity and what makes SFtS so successful.
Matt (second left) with volunteers Robin, Suzie, Hannah and Sarah
What’s the best thing about your job?
I always enjoy seeing the transformation that takes place in people during their time at Shelter From the Storm. Often, the day they arrive at our doors can be one of the lowest points in their lives. But at the shelter, they’re supported to rebuild their lives. They have somewhere safe to sleep, a dedicated caseworker, showers, laundry, English lessons and even counselling—and all of this is free of charge! So when someone moves out of the shelter into their own accommodation, they can seem like a different person!
And the most difficult thing?
We only have a limited number of bed spaces available, yet we receive so many referrals that we aren't able to help everyone who needs it. It’s so hard to read some of the referrals knowing that they have nowhere to go and we can’t help them.
Can you share the story of one resident and how SFtS helped them to rebuild their life?
We’ve helped hundreds of people over the years, many having suffered horrifically. But generally, the simpler stories are my favourite. One person that we recently supported became homeless following an argument with their parents. We were able to help set her up with a job paying London Living Wage in a sector she was interested in. She was then able to move into her own accommodation in the private rented sector. Working and paying rent is all pretty normal in London, but she was just so excited to finally be able to support herself and her self-esteem was sky high! I was so pleased for her.
Volunteer Naomi serves breakfast to a guest
You rely on donations. What do these pay for on a day-to-day basis?
We rely on donations for 100% of our work. The donations pay for everything—from all of the food that we cook each day to keep everyone well fed, to the cost of the casework we do with each guest, as well as as building costs and electricity bills!
And because we don't have a fundraising team, this means that pretty much all of the money that we raise can be spent directly on our charitable work.
What are you most looking forward to this coming week?
We are currently upgrading our bedrooms to improve the living conditions for all of our guests. We have a meeting with our builders and architects at the end of the week to finalise the design!
We’re hoping that, with enough funding, the work will begin early next year…
Help us support Shelter from the Storm this Christmas
• Buy raffle tickets for the Instagram Live draw
• Book tickets for the (very limited) in-person, London event
• Add a donation when you buy from our online shop
• Donate direct to to the charity via our Just Giving page