What the cleaner said

A while back, recovering from an op, I booked a cleaner to help me blitz my house. 3 hours of graft.  She was marvellous, worked hard, had a laugh, put the world to rights.  I didn’t want to sit around while she worked, I wanted to be part of the effort but I knew I wouldn’t do it on my own. One thing she said has stuck with me – ‘some things are just easier done as a team’.  I don’t like cleaning particularly, I do it but get easily distracted and make do with a lick and a promise.  With her doing it with me, it stopped me sloping off, we got on with it ‘cos we kept each other going.  On that day she was my peer support.

The push for volunteers at Shelter is for peer support workers.  I’m helping a Sheltershelter client with job search.  He could do it on his own, but having a buddy nudges the task along.  I’m there to encourage/cajole him to get on with the task, to have the confidence to apply, to believe in himself again.  He’s been homeless,  he’s moved into a flat with little in the way of possessions, he doesn’t have a full time job at the moment.

Sometimes, you will hear a homeless person refuse a flat because it means moving away from people they share their lives with on the street.  A home can be a very isolated place.  So the more community support we can provide, the less daunting the change.

We’ve had a couple of sessions searching online for jobs and put in several applications.  He could have done this on his own, but with the frankly devastating personal challenges he has had, a buddy to help him might be just enough to get him above the line to where he can support himself.

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A bed every night

And we’re off.  A Bed, Every. Night.

A-Bed-Every-Night-Logo

There’s been a surge of interest (press, tv, radio, social media), and the usual smattering of pointless bickering and whinging online.   The professionals at the sharp end are selling it big time on the news.  Donations are up too, (though, frustratingly, I contacted the site owner to ask about donating with Paypal and didn’t get an answer.)

The request from charities for donations for people on the street continues, looking strangely incongruous amongst the #bedeverynight stories, though I’d be naive to expect an overnight transformation.  You will still see people sleeping in doorways.  Some will be helped, some won’t want to be.  Any charity’s first thought is to help people; there 2nd thought is how to sustain their organisation.  What will be their raison d’etre if we do turn the tide of rough sleeping?

I’ve completed my Shelter induction, giving me a little more confidence to be a peer mentor, and I’m out again next week shadowing a case worker.

This is a video of the first person I visited, with his Shelter case worker in Ashton.  Go Anthony!  I was with him when he got a first look at his flat.

I’m at the local hostel run by The Brick on Sunday mornings.  Safe space, managed, onsite support, food and facilities.  Despite being a far cry from one’s own home, it is a place with a good vibe and a sociable feel.  It’s cosy, maybe too cosy.

The plan is that the #bedeverynight hostels are a stepping stone to independent living.  But for some people, I imagine that it could be a long term solution for them.  Maybe you don’t want to move on.  Maybe you like the order imposed on you and the company and support always there.  We all need boundaries sometimes.

I don’t think long term sheltered accommodation is in the plan.  Perhaps it should be.  Society steps in at various points to make sure we help both ourselves and the greater good – school, health, taxation, democracy, benefits and prison.  A long term, shared and supported living space would be a lot cheaper than health care and prison – services that many will need if they return to living on the streets.

We will now sing hymn number …

‘Singing from the same hymn sheet’ is an expression that might be on your list of worst office cliches.  Not as bad as ‘blue sky thinking’ or “I have a window…’.

A few days ago I read 3 social media posts that seemed to illustrate a struggle for cohesion in our campaign to tackle homelessness in Manchester.

One charity had sleeping bags they needed to store, another is desperate for sleeping bags, and the Mayor re-iterated our (supposedly) mutual target to get a bed every night for rough sleepers throughout the winter (so why should we donate items for rough sleepers?).  I’m retiscent about any criticism of the hugely valuable and difficult work that the charities are doing, but I felt it was valid to point out some confusion that these public statements might create.  We are trying to get the power of the crowd behind us, and the crowd (me included) likes to know what we’re being asked to support.

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I posted that image on my FB feed.  I wasn’t prepared for the vitriol that came to the surface. Aren’t we all trying to achieve the same thing? To help people get OFF the streets?  It was like witnessing the factional bickering of tribes in some far off war torn land, satirised so well in Life Of Brian.

The only comment that was a rational explanation came from someone pointing out that the sleeping bags could well be used for a #bedeverynight indoor provision, not necessarily for rough sleepers.  Good point.  The rest of the comments were along the lines of ‘nothing’s being done’.

These were people who can’t have been at the recent Greater Manchester Homeless Action Network (I hate that name) meeting.  https://news.streetsupport.net/2018/10/17/working-towards-a-bed-every-night/

We will make history this winter in Manchester.  For goodness sake, let’s all sing from the same frikkin hymn sheet.

The power of the crowd

This week, Vincent Kompany came on board with Andy B’s push for a bed every night.  Even if you’re not into football (or worse, a Red), that is a big deal.

Vincent Kompany has nearly 3 million twitter followers and he commands respect.  He is eloquent, passionate and devoted to Manchester.  The reaction on social media looked like it might trigger the unstoppable wave that is the power of the crowd, as people who hadn’t previously got behind the effort, took notice.

There are 3 fundraising events planned over the coming year http://tackle4mcr.co.uk/  No idea what sort of money that will raise, but equally important is the profile and the people he will bring with him.  Including, I hope, that elusive ‘crowd’.

We’ve seen the power of the crowd in Manchester, after the arena bombing, but we haven’t reached terminal velocity yet with our homelessness campaign.

Vincent Kompany’s campaign is called Tackle4Mcr.  Great, another twitter handle, another hashtag.  After a couple of days the Twitter account has less followers than me unfortunately, but football is a game of 2 halves etc etc.  Be patient, Pete, be patient.

Much of the debate round solving homelessness revolves around funding, or lack of it.  Today, I spent my first day shadowing a Shelter case worker, and was reminded that throwing money at the problem is not the be all and end all – homelessness is a community responsibility.  We spent time with 2 men.  The case worker has just enabled them to move into their own flats and we helped with the paperwork and organisation around utilities, Universal Credit, rent, furnishings and the like.  I hope we also shared some simple humanity with people who bloody well need it.  The attention to detail and the the simple love the case worker showed were so heartening.  I was apprehensive about my day, but came away buzzing about what can be done.  Relationships are just as important as funding.

We were in Ashton-under-Lyne and used The Station pub as a makeshift office and meeting point.  Read this to know what a community response is, and weep. https://www.politicalprovocateur.uk/single-post/2018/02/07/We-Shall-Overcome-2018

What’s in a name?

When it comes to finding an inspiring model for tackling homelessness, I’m a one trick pony. Social Bite.  I watch their progress with a mixture of admiration and envy.  I’m sure it doesn’t all run smoothly.  In this TED talk  co-founder (and daughter of my mate!) Alice Thompson fesses up to the hard graft, but as far as the general public of Scotland is concerned they are on a mission, they are succeeding and they make it ’look’ easy.   

Look at the front page of their website.  Tweet-sized definitions.  Not only is it easy to understand, but they seem to be doing the whole bloody thing in the homelessness challenge, from feeding to housing to rehabilitating to employing.  And they have the best PR.

I’d be the first to say PR is shallow. You need substance behind the facade.  If you’ve got that, then the PR is beautiful.  Celebrity endorsement and frikkin’ awesome initiatives = huge public support.  In their last fundraising event (Sleep Out 2017) they raised 4 million quid!  And worse than that, one of the performers on the night was our own Liam Gallagher.  Hang on, what about us in your home town mate?

And then there’s the name.  Social Bite.  It sounds like a band that is going to save the world.   In the public’s perception, it is a good cause they understand and will get behind, in an era when we are battered by organisations vying for attention.

There is great work going on in Manchester and has been for years, given extra impetus by the tireless efforts of Andy Burham and the many organisations at the sharp end of homelessness.  There is a huge amount of goodwill.  But (I feel) we have yet to get the power of the crowd behind us.

Street Support is Manchester’s online hub for organisations.  An amazing aggregator that lists 403 services, covering many different aspects of homelessness, but do I (a typical Manc bloke) know the main organisation leading the task?  No, I don’t.  Is it Coalition of Relief? Is it Greater Manchester Homeless Action Network?  I understand that different organisations tackle different aspects and areas, but are we too many?  Would we be more successful (in garnering public support at least) if one name stood out?  You might have seen ads round town for Big Change Manchester.  Great, a movement. Google it.  It takes you back to the Street Support website. Drill deeper and it is essentially a fundraiser.  And the hashtag #BigChangeMcr it’s getting a handful of tweets a week.  Give us your money and we will do stuff with it.  I refer you back to Social Bite.  When we give money we want to see the connection between us and them, it helps us believe we are part of the movement.

That sounds like a lot of criticism. It is not. I recognise and respect the fantastic work to end homelessness in our city. It is merely an observation (from a punter) of the public face of our homelessness challenge.

Resilience

First couple of shifts done for The Brick, training in the diary for Shelter.  Both of these organisations are slick, despite the challenges, despite the new target of a bed every night  , processes and procedures are in place that don’t get in the way of the big picture and getting the job done.  And I’m conscious that us amateurs (aka volunteers) are there to facilitate, not hinder.

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My own target is to help folks do things for themselves, not do things for them or give out free stuff.  Getting to know people at these 2 places is inevitably a gradual process, gaining trust, finding my place, adding value, to both the clients and the professionals. Overwhelmingly, there is a strong smell of resilience, in the professionals who plug away at addressing the problems and in the clients who (as you get to know them) face uphill battles that I can barely comprehend.  Yet there is a definite positive vibe, no hint that anyone will accept failure, no suggestion that we are banging our heads against a wall and won’t see every individual make progress.  I’ve seen some criticism that #abedeverynight is a distraction from Housing First.  The clever thing about #abedeverynight this winter is that it’s a stepping stone to Housing First, not a hindrance.

Human nature

You’re ambling along and someone in front of you falls over.  You instinctively help them up.  It’s an involuntary response.

With homelessness, we are doing a lot of involuntary response here in Manchester, but too much of it doesn’t tackle why the individual fell over in the first place, we (me included) have been too quick to make that initial, emergency help and not go any further.

We have been quick to respond to the homelessness crisis with soup runs, donations, meals and giving out free stuff.  All of that is essential and valuable.  We have to do the next bit as well; to help people to regain their independence.  You know, if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. I just thought of that, or maybe it’s been around a while.

When I hear those words “the route out of poverty is work” I think of the many folks I know who demonstrate how ludicrous and naive that policy is.  You can’t function in society until you find good health and self confidence.  An individual needs help with this, it’s frikkin’ tough to do it on your own.  Imagine all the misfortune, bereavement, ill health, relationship breakdowns and financial difficulties you have experienced in your life.  Now put them all together, at the same time, and ask yourself if you could weather that storm.

There is no blanket solution; each individual needs unique support, which is why the mentoring scheme being rolled out in Manchester now is so vital.  The official title is Entrenched Rough Sleepers Service.  That’s what I’ve signed up for.  It helps to have lived experience of homelessness and mental health problems and substance abuse. I’m going to find it tough.   Each client has a (professional) support worker, us volunteers are there as extras.  Once you’ve given out free stuff for a while, you know that the next step is about tackling social isolation, befriending, encouraging, building confidence, and bringing folks back into our community.