July 16, 2016 3rd Space


Published 16 July 2016

I heard an interesting perspective on the aspects of our work here that centre around the support we give people to complete their activities of daily living. So I am talking about the “drop in” aspect of our service where people can spend their day here, take a shower, do some washing, have a meal and just “be”. The perspective was that as a service, if you are not working with someone to get them accommodation, you are an enabler of homelessness. From a philosophical point of view, I get it. My lived experience tells me something a little different.

I was chatting to a man recently who I haven’t seen for at least six months. I barely recognised him, hiding underneath layers of clothes, disheveled, unshaven and unshowered. I went over to connect with him and there was a very strong smell of alcohol coming from him. He was in bad shape. Last year he had made a decision about where he was going to live. A decision that members of our team thought would see him re-entering homelessness at some point. He is an adult. He self-determines the course of his life. He didn’t want us to be involved in his decision. We don’t judge. It was as it was.

I asked him how he was and he told me he was in a very dark place. He had been sleeping rough for a while but this was the first time he had come back to our place. We talked about what was going on and he told me he felt very unwell and felt there was something very wrong with his health. He also told me he was a bloody idiot. I disagreed with him and organised for him to see our visiting doctor, get a shower and a cup of tea. First things first. I asked him whether he wanted to sit with anyone from our team to talk about accommodation but he said he wasn’t ready. He is an adult. He self-determines the course of his life. We don’t judge. It is as it is.

Another visitor came up to us and said “Oh you have decided to stay – that’s awesome mate.” “Yeah I am going to the doc a bit later.” said my companion. “Oh good stuff mate…..that’s the start.” I realised that for this man to even walk through our doors and tell us that he was suffering was an enormous step. For him to take the next step of seeing the doctor to get his health on track was huge. To then go on and talk to me about his plans for detoxification was monumental.

We operate from a housing first approach. So this means that we work on the premise that we try to get someone’s accommodation sorted first and with a stable place to live the other issues can then be tackled. The grey cloudy bits of our world are that human nature doesn’t necessarily follow theory, paradigms or systems. Human nature is that each person is the expert on their own life. Human nature is that we need to take people as we find them.

I talked to a couple of our team members about this man and my chat with him, with a view to them keeping a watchful eye, engaging with him, supporting him and being there for him when he needed it. Showing unconditional care might take us to a place where he might allow us to be a part of his decision making process. Softly, softly. A gentle nudge here and there….not hard enough to affect a growing trust. We are not enabling his homelessness. We are buying him time. We are making our place his place so that he can “be” in a way where his physical needs and needs for love and belonging are in some way met, so that he might clear a space in his mind to think about what’s next. We hope that he might include us in his thinking processes around “what’s next.” We position ourselves so that he might. That’s not enabling homelessness. That’s doing what we know works for a person who trusts no one and believes he is a bloody idiot who should work it out on his own. I guess you could take the view that we are actually working to get him to a place where he has a home, through an unconventional route that takes time and patience.

You might have recently seen our winter appeal, where I talked about how we believe in us and asked you to believe in us too. We would be delighted for you to keep sharing the lived experience of our community. If something in our sharing moves you, we would gratefully accept any donation you might feel appropriate. We are a small group doing big things. If we joined together our belief with yours, imagine what we could do.