Thursday 12 February 2009

So far I'm not impressed

Anyway, perhaps I should tell you a little bit about the Refuge and my own responsibilities. The centre was initially set up in the late nineties after a retired military officer decided he wanted to do something to help rough sleepers in the city. However, it is becoming clear to me that the Captain’s vision has morphed into something he never envisaged. He will be visiting me in a few weeks to enquire how I find the charity and I’m afraid he wont like to hear what I’ve got to say judging by what I’ve seen in my first few days.

Anyway my main duties are:

1. To interview new service users
2. To signpost service users to various agencies and organisations that can help them deal with their housing and/or other issues e.g. the council and/or local housing trust/association/benefit office (if you cant even find the place that will give you free money without help what hope is there for you in life)
3. To implement the centres behavioural policies and issue warnings and enforce the barring procedures when applicable
4. Update records of service users
5. Write a monthly report and present it to the Charity’s executive committee.
6. Standing around bored and interacting with stoned service users and cleaning up after them. (This makes up quite a bit of the day; the bulk actually)

The most shocking thing that I learned this week is that almost none of our service users are actually homeless. At least in the sense that you might understand homelessness, our charity views them so due to how the term is defined within the industry. In fact the majority of them are living extremely comfortably for people who contribute nothing to society.

During my first week, the only real bit of work I have done is one interview with a new service user. After which I realise that I only have his word for it that he meets our loose criteria of homelessness. In order to use here you have to be street homeless (I’ve met only two in this cohort), in supported housing (the majority) or living in a hostel.

In my naivety, I think no one would fake being homeless just to get access to free food, free Internet, free phone calls and somewhere to hang out for the day. However, yesterday, I discovered several cases of just that amongst several long term service users, who have their own flats, courtesy of the taxpayer of course.

For most of this week I’ve just bantered with the service users and the volunteers. Anytime I ask Agnes, the manager, what should I do she tells me just to mingle. She tells me this as she surfs the Internet and chain smokes in her office.

I notice that many of our residents come in shortly after we open at 11.00am, and spend the first few hours gorging themselves on free food donations from M&S, Pret a Manger sandwiches and donations from the local bakery as well as drinking vast quantities of tea. There is usually an hour or so after the first feeding frenzy of the day when they head out to smoke dope in the park outside and then come back in to lay about around the centre and eat some more.

None of them are prompted or actively encouraged by the manager or the volunteer staff to do anything to change their dissolute lifestyles. When I suggested that perhaps we need to find ways to help them change I was told that I was being "judgemental." So much for the brochure claiming to want to "empower" these young people. Before they can be empowered surely they first have to see the error of their ways. And how will they come to do this without a degree of judgment between what is the right and wrong course of action?

I got a call from that Social Care Agency today. They have some work for me with teenage children in care for the weekend. It should be interesting. I hope its more effective than the 'work' that this charity do. Let's wait and see.


Jahbish said...

Interesting early impressions Winston. Doesn't bode well.

While I have never worked directly in the homeless sector my own impression is that it is a truly problematic area in terms of providing effective social supports or put simply - doing stuff that works. I know there are success stories but there is plenty off evidence to show that a lot of homeless services are really just providing a place for people to kill time, get fed etc. in between getting messed up. Dealing with very dysfunctional individuals here. Is the level of support they are accessing useful; effective? What situations would they be in if they were told to get off their arses and get their s##t together? I'm not sure. One thing I am sure of is that we will always have homeless people. People who cannot stop themsleves from 'dropping out' and hence the development of homeless services will always be questioned I feel.

On a broader more universal issue, I am a firm believer that a service (regardless of what service or what sector it is in) is only as good as the person delivering it. Get a poorly resourced service with a good worker and you get a good service. Get a well resourced service with a chain-smoking net-surfing layabout and you get nada; zilch. The service becomes a pointless waste of money.

WinstonSmith33 said...

In the case of this 'service' the problem is that it seems to undermine the work of other service providers. Here's how it operates. The majority of this center's clients live in Supported Housing, paid by the taxpayer. Part of the deal with Supported Housing is that you seek work or train or study. Now if a charity opens up that will alow you to sit around all day and provide you with free food then this acts as a disincentive to be proactive. The free food also acts as a subsidy that allows you to spend a greater portion of your benefits on drugs and alcohol. At least this is what I'm viewing on a daily basis.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to have heard how you got on speaking to the retired military officer you mentioned. Perhaps he should consider resiting his charity?