Earlier this week I spend two hours out with Nick from the Outreach team, out listening to and speaking with some of the folk he and the rest of the team engage with and support. Although it wasn’t the first time I’d been out with outreach team members there was lots in the two hours that made me think hard about what we do and how we do it.
The first person we meet is someone the team have been supporting quite intensively for several months. They have been making good progress, though as ever, the benefits system seems designed to limit claims by sheer harassment of the system! We talked for a good while about their hopes and aspirations, and suddenly in the middle of the conversation it became apparent we had attended the same school. I was both challenged and bemused. Even more than ever it shattered the “homelessness happens to other people myth” – this was someone who had walked a common path with me in their early years. It reminded me how connected we all are no matter our circumstances at any given moment.
The myth busting theme continued. I spent time with some who was managing their habit, which was rooted in a bereavement based trauma that would have sent the most resilient of people over the edge. When they had sought help it wasn’t accessible and now the journey back to hopefulness is a long one. But it can happen and the teams’ task is not to try to fix things immediately, but be as present as they can as often as they can so when there is a willingness to begin the journey from tough reality to a place of hope, we are there to share it.
I met several others whose circumstances were very similar, but whose story was in truth very different. It re-emphasised for me the truth we hold that each journey into homelessness begins in a different place and follows a different path even if the manifestation of rough sleeping seems very similar. The difference lies not simply in the triggers and traumas, but in the inner reaction of each individual. I was reminded in very stark terms how the need might seem to be material – a house, food, money and friends – but the healing, the first steps to those material things begin deep within each of those I spent time with that evening. It is a place only they can reach and only when they are ready and we can only be ready to respond when they do.
This is a tough ask for the team. It means being willing to work hard and never know the final destination. It means being part of a journey which is slow, ill-defined with lots of missteps and stumbles. It means seeing the tiniest of movements has huge successes that many will never understand. But with persistence, stickability and a huge amount of empathy and patience, some extraordinary journeys can be shared and seeds of hope and transformation can be planted.
7th Septmeber 2018