Do you mind if I ask a question?

23 August 2019
mark diver outreach

This blog comes from Mark Diver, a Homeless Navigator with our Outreach Team.

 When I first tell people what I do for a living I have become used to being asked one or more of these four questions:

  • How many people are homeless in Edinburgh?
  • How many people sleep rough in Edinburgh?
  • Are those people begging actually homeless?
  • People usually choose to be homeless though, don't they?

You can probably tell that one of these things is not like the others; the first three are requesting information whilst the fourth is requesting validation.

Despite this problematic intent, the discussion around the fourth question is the one I welcome the most – it is full of opportunity to really get into the nitty-gritty of why some people stay homeless in Edinburgh.

On the very surface, there is a speck of truth to the notion behind the fourth question: if you speak to some people who are sleeping rough in Edinburgh, they will tell you that they “prefer it.”

For me though, that only opens up another question:

Why would do some people say that they would rather live an uncomfortable life on the streets when they have the option of what most would consider a more comfortable and stress-free life in a tenancy?

And the answer is superficially straightforward: trauma.

However, this begs yet another question:

What is trauma?

And that's what's really being asked in the fourth question in my view, and is where the conversation always ends up when I'm asked it.

So what's the answer?

Sadly, that's not such an easy one.

What I can say with confidence is that trust is one of the first things to be lost when we experience trauma, and once trust is gone then it is almost impossible for us to form or maintain positive relationships.

If we hope to co-exist successfully in society, we all have to trust others, sometimes people we don't know, and form relationships with them. Some of these relationships will last for under a minute, long enough to buy a coffee, others will last the rest of our lives. What they share is that they are all, in their own way, crucial to helping us navigate society and if we are unable to form these relationships then we will be much more likely to experience severe social and economic disadvantage as a result.

This is why I am proud to be part of an organisation which is so acutely aware that patiently forming and maintaining trusting and positive relationships has to be the main goal of everybody's work, especially when so many of the amazing people with whom we have the pleasure of working, both as clients and as colleagues, have directly or indirectly experienced trauma at some point in their lives.

I know that I have done my job properly when my client has done all the real work themselves and I get to watch and cheer them on. It's not that I’m lazy: it's what happens when the trusting relationship is allowed to be the focus and the measurable work comes as a result of that first tiny bit of trust growing and taking firm root.