Meanwhile, back at the Refuge Day Centre for layabouts, things are not looking hopeful, in terms of me staying here for long, or in relation to any of the sloths that use here doing anything constructive.
The Refuge has a very nice brochure that outlines our service to potential clients. They usually pick it up in some of the other advice or layabout centres around the city for young people. All the different agencies and advice centres distribute each other’s brochures and recycle each other’s clients. Our service users are well versed in the different services they can avail of throughout the city.
After we close our doors at 17.00, should they need an evening meal after a full day of gorging on luxury donations, our clients can get one in another day centre that gives them a hot meal at 50p. And from what the clients tell me its top-notch grub.
Anyway, if you read one of our brochures you would think that we are offering a very valuable service to the youth of the town. In fact our aims are quite laudable:
“we aim to empower socially excluded and disadvantaged young people aged 16-25…we are committed to doing this in accordance with our equal opportunities policy…we believe in empowering young people to take responsibility for themselves and believe we can achieve this through offering them support to live fulfilled productive lives”
Who could argue with that? It all sounds very reasonable to me. However, to the more discerning eye the brochure reveals another aspect of our service. Whilst there may be clear and laudable aims the brochure fails to highlight how exactly these aims are to be achieved. We are big on ends, but short on means.
The brochure makes some reference to advice and signposting, a fancy word for telling someone the location of state agencies from which they can receive benefits or accommodation. However, there already exists several services doing just this throughout the city, most of them funded by the taxpayer (more on this later) so we are not offering anything innovative.
In order to assess if we are achieving our aims one needs to assess the quality of advice and who is delivering it.
The advice itself must be sought, we are strongly discouraged from stating our opinions of what we feel they should be doing. If we were to do that we would be accused of having an agenda and trying to impose our values on the clients i.e being "judgemental", the cardinal sin in the various social services in the UK. Under no circumstances are we to say things like:
“Jesus, are you bloody well stoned again at 11 in the morning? You should be out seeking work! That’s why you get JOBSEEKER’S ALLOWANCE not stoned at the day centre allowance.” or “For feck’s sake, are you pregnant again? Do you realise it’s the rest of society that will have to pay and cater for this your third child, would you not think of going on the pill or perhaps sleeping with someone with a job?”
This type of advice, i.e good advice, the kind your Granny or Granddad would give isn’t valued at the Refuge. It is definitely not “client centred” as Agnes emphasises. If you were bold and brazen enough to adopt such a blunt and common sense based approach then you may well get to use some of the techniques you were taught on the course for defusing aggressive and potentially violent situations, either that or a Wayne or Waynetta would leave the imprint of a few sovereign rings in your forehead at the very least.
We are instructed to give advice solely pertaining to accommodation, benefits, substance misuse services, educational programmes and other young people’s services unless asked otherwise by the client. In other words, the only unsolicited advice we can give pertains to what else they can get for free and from where. This is an apt definition of the “client centred” ethos promulgated by Agnes and the nice old lady brigade. Basically, we only advise them on any other issues if and when they seek it. They rarely do and if they were to ask me I doubt they would value my counsel.
The advice dispensers, sages, volunteers, keyworkers call them what you will, may be broken down into several different categories:
1. The Unemployed and disillusioned.
These volunteers have been without work for some time mostly out of choice or because they have become completely disillusioned with the rat race i.e they cant handle the real world either. That’s why they have time to volunteer on a weekday when most people are at work. Some of them just look like older ex service users who were allowed back to visit for a day. Several of them also have drug or alcohol abuse problems, so they could probably give good advice on where to score or the cheapest types of strong lager available from particular off licences. But to be fair they don’t. The type of advice they could potentially offer is definitely “client centred” and would probably be the most sought after. They are also experts on “entitlements” as they themselves are living off the state. I will give them some credit, in that they initially volunteered to do something to try and help others and that is a noble motive. On the other hand before they can help anyone else they need to get their own lives together. They are hiding from reality in the same way as the residents. They are the blind leading the clueless, a recipe for disaster.
2. Nice old Christian ladies
A part of me feels very bad for having a laugh at the expense of this cohort. They are a well-intentioned lot, full of kindness and warmth and extreme naivety, which prevents them becoming the slightest bit cynical or critical of the service users. They live their lives according to the moral code of their faith and can be found most Sundays at their local churches. A few of them are on the committee that oversee the running of the project. Although they want to help people what invariably happens is that they do the exact opposite. They often mistake help with giving people what they want. As a result crafty drug addicts often manipulate them (see next week's blog post). They feel the young people should have a say in decision making despite the fact that the collective outcome of all past decisions by the clients has led to them sitting around stoned all day in a decrepit disused church. Decision-making isn’t their forte. (Involvement in decision-making is even more pronounced in the government-funded sector. All will be revealed later)
Anyway, I'm off on holidays for a week so I will fill you in on more lunacy when I get back. I'm going to be doing a few shifts at a Supported Housing unit for 16-25 year olds. As you the taxpayer are funding the waste in this sector, to the tune of hundreds of milllions annually, I am sure you will be interested in the multitude of ways your money is being flushed down the toilet on pandering to feckless and idle young people.