For every action there is a corresponding form seems to be the premise upon which many aspects of the public sector are founded. In the world of Supported Housing we deal with anti-social behaviour not by means of any real immediate consequences, but in the written form where as well as threatening you with future consequences we also advise you of your right to object, contest and appeal to the written warning or eviction notice you have received. Needless to say our residents of a problematic disposition are quick to exercise their rights rather than reflect on the nature of the behaviour that led to them being officially reprimanded.
I’m being a little bit disingenuous in stating that there are never any real consequences in Supported Housing. In the case of actual violent outbursts most people are evicted within twenty four hours notice to one week depending on the severity of the violence. The residents are aware of this and have seen evictions take place for those that have transgressed in such a manner. Needless to say the knowledge of an immediate consequence for this kind of behaviour acts as a deterrent, well it does so with most residents. That is why I advocate actual consequences for other forms of anti-social behaviour as opposed to pieces of paper. Negative consequences that directly and immediately affect the residents work, pieces of paper do not.
I’ve been working away from my usual Project for a couple of weeks in one of our Housing Association’s sister projects where the residents tend to be even more challenging than those in my usual base. Currently in this project there are two residents on Acceptable Behaviour Contracts. They have received the maximum number of written warnings they can receive and the ABC is a last attempt at reforming their behaviour. Besides written warnings these residents have also had countless unofficial verbal warnings for various infringements such as drug use on the premises, loud and disruptive conduct, physical violence, vandalism and being abusive to neighbours in the community, as well as being rude and threatening to the staff and other residents.
Their ABCs state quite clearly that should they be in breach of any one aspect of the contract they shall be asked to vacate the premises. With this in mind let’s turn to an incident involving Jim several days after receiving his ABC, the conditions of which were discussed at length with him by a manager and his keyworker.
Jim, an 18 year old prolific offender, was seen by a member of staff standing on the front door step of the project adorned in the usual garb of the male underclass; tracksuit and trainers complimented with an averse attitude towards meaningful activity and a menacing hostile glare reserved for those weaker than himself. He often stands here beneath his bedroom window which he smashed, spitting, throwing litter and making noise. A few days ago a little old lady was walking up the street minding her own business. Affronted by her presence on the other side of the street Jim sought her attention by means of invective.
“Hey you! You four eyed git what the fuck are you looking at?” he bellowed at the elderly woman. He then picked something up off the ground either a small stone or piece of wood and hurled it at the lady as she passed by. I could hear him being sternly reprimanded by one of the staff who witnessed his actions. Jim’s justification for his actions were that the old woman had looked at him. In his world view an unwanted glance justifies an aggressive response, but only from those he doesn’t view as a threat.
Terry, the Support Worker who witnessed Jim’s display of barbarity, told me about it and we watched it back on the cctv system in the office. All I could think about was how Jim deserved a good thump for his behaviour. At the very least we can now evict him due to the terms of his ABC and even the conditions of his residency mean that for violence and anti-social beahviour we can evict him immediately. However, I shouldn’t underestimate the pervasive power of both rights and excuse making that are rife in this sector. I will just have to wait and see what the management’s decision is.
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