Over the past few years working on this project I’ve listened to one of the reporters talk consistently about a systemic failure to share ideas and particularly the failure to share the things that work at a single particular service so they can be copied and advanced by other services, initially at a local level and then nationally.
Charlie, the reporter I’m referring to, is an experienced volunteer, working on the front line of homelessness, so he really knows what he’s talking about. And I agree with him. There are many, many small services in the homelessness sector in this country that work in a progressive way, engaging people with experience of homelessness in innovative ways that break the cycle of mental health problems, addiction, trauma, homelessness and on and on it goes, a wheel, powered by the lack of foresight and planning on a national level.
It is like so much in the charity sector. So much is lost because of a failure to observe and communicate. Hopefully this is one of the things that this project can begin to address. As we increasingly realise that people are listening the more we will be encouraged to share the positives we come across at a local level.
I remember the first time I came across a homeless service I actually wanted to be at, you know rather than just being there for what the service could do and getting the hell out of there as rapidly as humanly possible, was the Recovery College in Rushworth Street, south London.
I used to call it the X factor, the whatever it was that made me want to stay there, because I didn’t know exactly what it was. The second time I had that feeling, the feeling that I didn’t want to run away from a place that worked for people experiencing homelessness was when I found myself at the Groundswell office in Brixton as a volunteer on the From the Ground Up project. That project was in many way the grandparent to Listen Up. It was the first time that Groundswell had worked on a project that encouraged people with lived experience of homelessness to share their experiences through stories that were then shared with others.
With From the Ground up, the stories were shared through the Pavement Magazine to be read primarily by other people experiencing homelessness to encourage readers and empower the writer but we knew that some service providers would also be learning from these stories and we hoped that service provision would improve as a result. By the time the project became the Covid Monitoring Project stories were shared through a public facing hub and shared directly with the NHS and through regular newsletters to other service providers.
Now, in it’s current form, the project known as Listen Up! is primarily concerned with improving the provision of services by sharing reporters’ stories through the Listen Up! website. In addition the project is trying to change the way that the media reports on homelessness so that the public views those with experience of homelessness with humanity and understanding rather than judgement and pity. The one element that has been there since the beginning is the catharsis that the project offers reporters. On a personal level from writing for the Pavement, through from the Ground Up, the Covid Monitoring project and now Listen Up! sharing stories has given me everything – well, put it this way, without sharing my stories, I don’t think I would have made my recovery stick, I would still be bogged down with self pity and I wouldn’t have a job that I love getting out of bed for.
It is my hope that as reporters gain more confidence that we’ll start to increasingly report on the positives that we come across and that services will increasingly look at the Listen Up! hub for sign posts to the services out there, and there are many, who are doing the right thing. Beyond this though, we need a national body with some oversight to try and collect and disseminate the positives so that good local practice in the short term becomes great sustainable long-term practice at a national level.