Sunday 27 February 2011

More Pointless Pieces of Paper part 1

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.


Rinzler said...

Winston, as supported housing worker myself, I have to ask whether theses ABC's are ever properly enforced at your organisation? Our own equivalent 'sanction' of this kind has become such a joke, I feel that putting one in place does more harm than good.

WinstonSmith33 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WinstonSmith33 said...

Hi Rinzler,

ABCs are utterly useless. They are usually issued after you have already verbally requested and perhaps have written several official warnings to the person concerned.

It is just another useless piece of paper repeating things you have already stated to the lout on other pieces of paper and verbally. What is more a contract by its nature involves two parties willingly signing up to something that they both get something from. In the case of an ABC these contracts involve the imposition of conditions upon the resident by the housing association with which the resident would rather not comply.

How is that a contract? It should be called an Acceptable Behaviour Order in my opinion but maybe someone somewhere felt that the word 'order' was too authoritarian.

the fly in the web said...

Management will probably seek an ASBO to deal with the old lady...

Rinzler said...

Yes, they do sound the same as our own equivalent at my organisation. I think the principle behind them is fine (although whether anybody is stupid enough to need their infringements spelling out after several warnings is debatable) what I take issue with is the fact that a resident can be issued with one, fail it miserably, and then have no consequence.

To be fair to the organisation, the law is not on our side when it comes to eviction, licences are easily challenged and I think that more than anything is something people in this sector need to lobby for change on. Of course there are still plenty of do-gooder organisations that would rally round to prevent that sort of "tyranny". Makes you wonder who these people are and what exactly they think they are doing.

Defence Brief said...

Rinzler, I think you may be wrong about the law not being on your side when considering evictions. I'm not a housing lawyer but so far as I understand the position, if a tenant has breached the terms of the lease then the landlord can evict. I have heard somewhere that in these supporting living homes the residents do not have tenancy agreements in any place and instead live on the site under the terms of a contractual licence, which is basically the same thing as if you pay to enter a night club or Alton Towers etc. A contractual licence can be easily withdrawn and the resident evicted.

The problem is often not the law but people not having the inclination to do what the law allows for whatever reason.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Defence brief,

Yes, the residents in Supported Housing have less rights than a normal tenancy as they live under a licence agreement. It is easy to evict them for violence or threats of violence. However, for repeated non payment of rents and persistent anti-social beahviour towards other residents and staff they will usually be given numerous verbal warnings, three written warnings then perhaps an ABC and then finally an eviction.

However, if they dont agree with being evicted (why would they?) they have the right to appeal to the Area Manager (above the head of the Project Manager who issued the eviction) and then above him/her to another layer of management. Its because of their human rights to behave as feral brutes and then contest that they behaved in such a manner. I feel sorry for the decent residents that have to live with these kind of people.

Rinzler said...

Yes supported housing "licencee's" have an excluded licence agreement (something the hippies at shelter would love to see the end of) and in theory this document makes evictions a piece of cake.

Unless of course the licencee decides to stay put on the day their licence ends. Then things get very tricky indeed. I know of one ongoing case where the licence ended 8 months. The "evicted" resident still resides at the project.

Times are changing and supported housing has been around a while, we are now seeing the emergence of "2nd generation" residents, those whos parents have been through the system and are schooling their children in how to exploit these loopholes, just as they were once schooled by the good folks at shelter.

Winston, I would be interested to know if you have come across any situations like these?

jaljen said...

Like the Behaviour Contracts we have in schools. Meaningless! Waste of a good tree.

My bugbear is the use of the word 'acceptable' in these contexts. If yob A does something vile and all we do is yak their ears off then we have bloomin' accepted it no matter how much we label it 'unacceptable'. Duh.

David C said...

Winston - your blog is great. How does someone like you who sees all the stupidity in the system manage to stay sane working within it? Why haven't you given it up and become a computer programmer or something?

Cerberus said...

The simple fact is that all of the existing systems merely prolong the suffering of the victims, whoever, or wherever, they may be. Endless letters and verbal warnings are useless in most cases. Whoever dreams up these dysfunctional systems to deal with dysfunctional problems should have the toe-rags living in THEIR neighbourhood and live the nightmare of ASB and death threats and damage to property if you dared speak to them. Many police are NOT interested in taking meaningful action, even against what they quaintly refer to as 'low-level ASB', because they are too busy worrying about their statistics. The powers are already in place to deal with these things, what is missing is the will to implement them.
You have an excessively noisy neighbour? This is a civil matter, nothing to do with the police. However, go to court and take out a court injunction against the neighbour and if it is breached it then becomes a policing issue. More and more of what once would have fallen within the police's remit has been handed over to weak and ineffectual local government to deal with, but deal with it they don't.

Zenobia said...

Rinzler (oh dear, I thought you fought for the users :P), Winston - I am a lawyer in that sort of area and as such am probably one of the "hippies" that you fulminate about. However, just because of public law and human rights considerations doesn't mean it's impossible or super hard to evict people like this. You can be as strict as you want as long as you are fair about it.

Here's how I would go about it:

1. A resident who does something antisocial gets a verbal, then written, then final written warning (like if they did so at work). In severe cases (get a list of what those could be and publish it), the project can jump one or more of these steps.

2. A resident who continues in this vein gets their Notice to Quit accompanied by a full statement of the reasons why this is served.

3. Any resident who believes that this is incorrectly served or denies what they've done can put in written representations during the notice period. ONLY if they put in written representations in that time will such be considered. You snooze, you lose. Representations considered by a housing officer unconnected with any incidents. What the reviewing officer will look at should be published in advance.

4. If no representations made by day 28, on day 29 Court proceedings are issued for possession (unless they have live in landlords this will be needed). A lot of delay in getting out bad tenants/licensees/occupiers is down to the folks running the place being slack, to be honest.

5. In advance of the hearing have the housing officer put in a FULL witness statement detailing the reasons why eviction was considered, what the resident said, exhibit a copy of the policy document, full notes from all meetings, etc.

6. Don't forget to have all your policy and procedure documents available beforehand for free consultation by all residents.

This method should work. The idea is to show that you, as a public body, are acting strictly but fairly in accordance with that of which they had fair warning. I know it seems cumbersome but you must imagine that the resident has the legal nous of a very clever public lawyer - and to be fair they probably will have access to same.

Then again, the idea of being strict but fair is probably "judgemental" and "oppressive." Gnagh.

Anonymous said...

Bring back old-fashioned army national service for these people...
no paperwork, just common sense!

Anonymous said...

Do you really want those sorts of people in the Army? Think about the decent people who would have to live and work with them.

Just drop them on an island where they can survive (or not) on their own work.