TRUST has been active in a front line capacity providing health and social services for people who are homeless on the streets of Dublin for the last 30 years.
The philosophy of TRUST is based on two central principles:
The recognition of every individual’s right to be treated as an autonomous and unique human being.
The need to restore the dignity of individuals whom society has labelled deviant and undesirable.
TRUST was founded with the aim of seeking to ensure that one day we would be put out of business when we helped the State to find a way of accommodating those who cannot fit it and are forced to eke out an existence on our streets as outsiders.
However, TRUST was forced to intensify its campaigning activities 6 years ago and began an Education/Awareness Programme to create greater understanding about what it means to be homeless on the streets. This decision was motivated by real concern about the way in which official policy was tending to create outsiders rather than helping people to find a welcome and a place in society. (SEE APPENDIX 1 for a list of recent Education/Awareness Initiatives).
At present there is a major campaign underway to “professionalise” the voluntary sector with the provision of large grants to independent organisations, once staffed almost exclusively by volunteers, to undertake services that were previously provided exclusively by the State. While this looks like a form of privatisation and partnership, it is probably more correctly described as a form of “nationalisation” of the voluntary sector because it effectively silences once prophetic voices in defence of the most vulnerable in Irish society. We believe that this must be challenged because these bodies are being forced to adopt a management philosophy which is often contrary to the original ethos that informed the establishment of these organisations.
In short, the implications of the Government’s current strategy is the effective obliteration of the once prophetic voices in defence of the outsiders on our streets instead of reforming and expanding the State’s own social and welfare services. In other words, when the organisations that once offered support and understanding become part of the bureaucracy, and must operate according to the performance indicators and management philosophy of the State’s social and welfare services, where does that leave the outsiders in our midst – those who cannot cope and find great difficulty dealing with that system in the first place?
We have only one main recommendation in this document and it is aimed at helping to create fundamental reform, especially in the management philosophy that currently prevails in the running of the homeless services, but is equally pervasive across all of our health and social services.
We recognise that there are many people working long hours, under pressure, doing their best against the odds in an atmosphere where those who advocate reform and change tend to be seen as the problem instead of part of the solution. We have had so many reports and consultative documents without meaningful reform that a catalyst to facilitate change in a constructive and realistic way we believe is the best approach now, especially when the resources are available to effect real reform.
Homelessness as experienced by those living rough on our streets is a complex problem and is not the same as “houseless ness” or a lack of accommodation. In tackling this problem it is very easy to forget that the people involved have rights and deserve to be treated first and foremost as human beings who have as much right to determine their way they live as anyone else. At present, we are heading, especially through the “nationalisation” of the voluntary sector, towards a situation like that which applies in the UK and is very succinctly summarised in the following brief quotation from the Economist (14 August 2004)
“Rough sleeping becomes rarer and tougher”
“Waterloo’s Cardboard City” which blighted London in the 1980-90s have been harried out of existence an outreach worker Mr Barquinha on spotting a man sprawled drunkenly near the back of the Savoy Hotel said “He won’t sleep for long”. There’s always going to be someone in their face, whether it’s us (outreach workers) or the police. Local Authorities are undeterred; they even blame church groups who distribute soup and kind words for sustaining chaotic lifestyles.
For a decade, the objective has been the same; ending rough sleeping in Britain. It’s a brave campaign that has stabilised thousands of lives. But as the homeless become fewer and more intransigent, eradication seems less realistic. It’s hard to see how it could be done without sending many of them to jail; and even this Government may not want to be that tough”.
Dramatic solutions that ignore people’s rights, apart from being morally wrong, will not “solve” the problem it will only serve to move people on.
People do not decide to become outsiders – they are made to feel excluded. Something radical is certainly needed, not to make them feel more isolated or put under pressure, but a mechanism or a facilitator that will make them feel welcome and part of society.
An “Advocate” should be appointed to represent the interests of people who are homeless to cover every institution and service provider both in the State and voluntary sector working with people who are homeless.
The “Advocate” would have to be proactive and constantly test the quality of the service being provided by challenging procedures and practices if they appear onerous or insensitive – he or she would not wait to receive complaints.
—This approach would formally recognise that many of the people who are homeless do not or feel they often cannot complain.
The “Advocate” must be completely independent of the management structure of each organisation or service provider.
—Ideally each “Advocate” should be appointed independently and not paid out of the budget of the organisation he or she serves. In terms of ensuring cost effectiveness a single “Advocate” could easily cover a number of organisations e.g. specialising perhaps in a single service category such as hostel accommodation.
The “Advocate” would also have responsibility to help enhance the culture of service in each organisation by focusing all energies on the people for whom it was established.
The “Advocate” must also be charged with encouraging a climate where people working in each service provider are encouraged to speak out and not be afraid of making suggestions to reform or alter procedures and practices to make each organisation work more effectively.
—At present the tendency is that those who speak out are perceived as part of the problem which is not unusual in any bureaucracy.
The Advocate – Further rationale
1. Undervaluing Personal Contact and Frontline Caring
At present, the “professionalisation” of services with the emphasis on status and higher remuneration for those in management i.e. those further away from frontline caring and interpersonal contact with those who are homeless inevitably leads to a downgrading of the very functions that actually can transform the lives of the people who the organisation is meant to serve.
In TRUST the value of even talking to people as people, while providing services
to those who maybe afraid in some instances to go elsewhere is invaluable in helping
to bring them back into society – often a very slow process.
However, through a proactive “Advocate”, independent of the management structure,
it is inevitable that more value and status will be invested in frontline care and
interpersonal contact because these are the points of contact where the person
who is homeless on the streets interfaces with any organisation.
In summary, the role of the “Advocate” will act as an institutional reminder to
everyone about what any service provider should be about – making life better for the
people it was set up to serve.
2. Unsuitability of B&B compared to hostel accommodation
Bed and Breakfast accommodation while generally unsuitable is sometimes the only
accommodation available to people perceived as the most difficult and vulnerable.
Privately run B & Bs while unsuitable are now more flexible, non-intrusive and
accepting than most hostels, where admission procedures and requirements, often
imposed on them to comply with grant aid requirements, have become onerous
and difficult for the most vulnerable to avail of.
3. Overemphasis on highly intrusive research and large form filling
This can deter many people from seeking help. For most of us, surveys may be an
irritation but even one badly executed survey on a person with a serious mental
health problem rooted in a traumatic experience e.g.child abuse etc. can have painful
and serious consequences.
4. Use of technology such as voice mail services.
The increased use of technology in statutory and voluntary agencies, e.g. voicemail,
together with strict appointment rules for consultations are tending to create greater
distance between the service providers and the vulnerable users of these services.
5. “Medicalisation” of social problems
It is increasingly common when someone seeks emergency, or any kind
accommodation, that a medical pretext is created to assist them. This only serves
to underline how the current system is failing.
6. Too much emphasis on changing people and too little on altering services to meet people’s needs.
In a business context no one has any difficulty in saying the customer must come first and everything in the business must constantly turn on its head to ensure the customer is king. People who are homeless have no resources and often do not even have the ability or the will to speak for themselves. Hence, the “we know what is best” attitude quite naturally is pervasive – almost unwittingly so on the part of many well meaning people in the services.
The “Advocate” or a similar concept offers a real opportunity to improve the quality of the services for people who are homeless on the street – perhaps the most vulnerable group in Irish society. However, its ultimate value is that it offers a mechanism to help change attitudes and keep all of us alert to the needs of the people we are seeking to help on a daily basis and where possible help them back into society.
We also recognise given the radical shift implied in the current management philosophy of the homeless services, without which this idea will not work, there are a number of ways in which the concept of the “Advocate” could be implemented. In that context, we would be very happy to discuss this idea with you in the light of your on-going consultations.
Director & Co-Founder
11 February, 2005
The TRUST Education & Awareness Programme:
The TRUST Education & Awareness Programme is aimed at changing attitudes and making people more sensitive to the needs of those who feel themselves outsiders around them.
All projects are on the theme of “The Outsider”:
The Homeless experience, a Trust initiative, is a one day resource programme
for service providers in statutory and voluntary organisations at national or local level. Financial assistance was given by Dublin Corporation (now DCC). This programme aims to raise awareness on the issue of homelessness and to help focus individuals and organisations on their responses and possible interventions;
A video “A Fragile City” made by Esperanza Productions;
National Essay Competition for Transition Year Students;
National Art Competition for all second level students;
Our book – “With Trust in Place”, with 40 contributors including Judge Michael Moriarty, Christy Moore and Tony Gill, a man who was homeless, published at the end of 2003 by Townhouse;
A seminar in RCSI in October 2004 entitled “Is the management philosophy of benchmarks and performance indicators incompatible with a philosophy of caring?”
Our website www.trust-ireland.ie which as well as being a vehicle to advance understanding of the outsider also provides information about all of our projects and activities.