On July 2nd, 2018, we welcomed our first resident into our ground-breaking new project tackling homelessness; the Social Bite Village. From wasteland, to thriving community, our CEO Ewan Aitken reflects on the journey through the past three years.
One of the great myths about homelessness and its solutions is the idea it all about having, or not having, a house. The truth is, the journey out of homelessness is rarely just about being able to access a house though being able to do so is very much part of it. We know one of the primary drivers to homelessness is trauma, which can lead to or be caused by poverty, social isolation and mental health challenges. As a consequence of these very difficult circumstances people can often experience relationship breakdown often being the which contributes further to the risk of homelessness. If the trauma which was at the root of the journey into homelessness is not dealt with a set of keys themselves are not enough to start the journey out of homelessness.
Too many statutory homelessness services have neither the capacity nor the opportunity to “see the person” who presents as homeless because they are called to account for the resources they are told to provide, not the resources the person standing before them might actually need. Those resources are almost entirely materia,l not emotional or social, even though more often than not it is a lack of, or loss of, these emotional and social support structures which has driven the individual to becoming homeless.
The vision of the Social Bite Village was to provide a very different type of accommodation while bringing to its heart a very person-centred approach. Its ambition was to show how temporary accommodation, with the right, person centred support could be much more than a response to a crisis and instead be the start of a journey of change.
At the heart of the project it had dignity, community, compassion and creativity. It challenged the assumption that “anything will do” for someone who is homeless and it drew people, not just within the sector but the general public, toward the idea there are solutions to the apparently intractable challenge of homelessness if we were willing to think differently and take new risks. It was a roller coaster ride to get it built, and without the support and commitment of a great many people who gave up their time and talents for free it would simply not have been possible. Thanks to every one of them, we were ready in July 2018, from a standing start 15 months previously, to welcome our first residents.
Three years on, much has changed about how the village operates; we have live-in volunteers to complement the contribution of staff, we have a different approach to the programme of support from what we initially envisaged, and the way the community is built (and indeed rebuilt) changes as our members grow, change and move on. This state of constantchange has been driven by the residents who make the village their own, it is their wisdom which has brought the improvements we have been able to make and without it we would have failed to achieve the radically different approach to homelessness we were keen to develop in the first instance. Innovations work when the innovation continues.
We have been proud to partner with Social Bite from the word go to help make the Village happen. But the thing we are most proud of is not anything we have done but the way the residents of the village community themselves have taken the opportunity and made it work for themselves. Their stories, their success, their sense of being in charge of the change in their lives is the real story of the Village and why it’s worth celebrating our 3rd birthday. And why it’s now worth takingthe learnings we’ve gained over the past three years forward to build more village communities so more folk can make the journey from exclusion to inclusion on their terms and in their own way.