Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Intentionally Homeless?

When I first heard the phrase intentionally homeless I assumed it referred to that tiny minority of homeless people who are impossible to house due to their substance misuse, criminal behaviour or inability to engage with services. Recently a story closer to home made me rethink.

Paul (not his actual name) was the first young person to lodge with me and was a fairly gentle introduction to my role as a Supported Living Carer. He had no complex needs, he had never been in trouble with the law and he was in full-time education. He was no more than vaguely acquainted with soap and his bedroom bordered on an environmental health risk but they are fairly typical teenage issues and things went fairly smoothly during his two years placed here.

His story prior to placement was a lot less eventful than many; he had been in a long-term foster placement most of his life and at 18 he needed a bit more freedom. Two and a half years after his arrival he had outgrown my home too, he wanted to bring girlfriends back to stay and come in whenever he wanted at night and at 20 that doesn't sound unreasonable so he progressed to semi-supported hostel accommodation for young people. So far, so good.

At this point things wobbled a bit, Paul didn't really stay in regular contact so I'm unsure of the details but about a year later he was asked to leave the hostel and he moved in with a newly discovered family member. He lived with her for about another year and then they argued and he was asked to leave there too. Then there was a homeless hostel, a bit of help from the council and fortunately, due to his un-troublesome background, he was found a room in a shared house. Successful end to the story.

Well it should have been except he's 23 at this point and still young enough to make a bad decision. He and his girlfriend were getting quite serious, she lived out of the area and encouraged him to move in with her. After living at his new address for about 3 months he left without giving the required notice because 28 days may as well be a year when you have to wait that long for the promise of regular sex. He moved in with the girlfriend and then they broke up eight months later. It was her flat so he was back to square one. Except this time the council won't help him as much as before because apparently he has made himself intentionally homeless

Now many young people of his age still live at home because rent costs so much but Paul doesn't have family to fall back on. He has sofa-surfed at a few friends' houses but even the best friend gets tired of that arrangement fairly quickly. He has spent a night or two in the homeless shelter and a couple more in the doorway of a local department store. Through very little fault of his own, due to being young and a bit too impulsive, he has become street homeless. It can happen far more easily than I imagined.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Moments to be Treasured

Youngster returned from custody to live back with me two weeks ago and the adjustment has been challenging for us both at times. For starters his room doesn't look much like the picture here right now and the bed hasn't been slept in as often as I would have liked.

However there have been modest successes: a first bank account opened, Job Centre appointments attended, a place on a training scheme secured and most significantly no arrests.

Best of all there have been treasured moments, like this day spent together at a local bike museum. Next time I am pulling my hair out in despair please remind me to look again at this post, good memories last a lifetime when the stresses are long forgotten.

Saturday, 5 March 2016


5 letters

I had a letter from Lad the other day, a care-leaver who has lived with me on and off for the last three years. His news is that he moved recently. He is sharing accommodation with an old friend and they are getting on well with each other and have a good social life from the sound of things. He is enrolled on a course to improve his Maths and English and has a part-time job as a catering assistant; he has also earned a place on the local football team. I really couldn't wish for better news, except that Lad and his mate share a prison cell rather than a flat and he has another 7 months to serve.

The letter saddened me because reading between the lines he sounds content, it sounds like he has returned home rather than been deprived of one. From age 14 to 21 he has mostly lived behind bars and he knows the routine, the rules, how to make friends and keep on the right side of people; skills which overwhelm him in the outside world. When in prison he engages with education, work and sport; in the community he leads a life of chaos.

Discussing these matters with his Probation Officer we were both at a loss to know what else could have been done to support him when he was last released. He had a supportive home, help to organise himself, a college interview and medical appointments arranged. These advantages alone gave him better odds of success than most released prisoners but ultimately the end result was still a return to custody. We both agreed that at some point something would just have to click and he would have to want to turn things around for himself; alternatively we could see an outcome where a more serious crime is committed and he finds himself "back home" for years rather than months.

I hope for the first option but suspect I could be his penpal for a while yet.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Everybody Leaves

Supporting young care leavers who have become trapped in the revolving door of the criminal justice system has meant saying more than an average number of goodbyes. Occasionally they have been long, drawn-out, difficult goodbyes which the young person hasn't chosen to make, to a different placement that has been selected by a panel of people they don't know. Sometimes they have been dramatic, fast goodbyes made by the young person based on their feelings at that moment, to be regretted later. Frequently there isn't even time for a goodbye and the last moments of a placement are signalled by the knock of police officers at the door or a phone call from the custody suite. I am usually left with a nagging feeling of leaving the work I had started unfinished and never having the chance to help that young person close the door on a season of their life properly, before moving on to the next thing. I suddenly have an empty nest and a diary full of appointments arranged for someone who won't be needing them after all and the house feels very large and quiet. It is the nature of this job. Everybody leaves.

Of course it is much harder for the young people themselves, their lives are full of goodbyes. There are so many of them that they resist getting to know the new social worker, probation officer, teacher or neighbour - it's only a matter of time before they will move on. By the time they reach adulthood they have already seen countless family members, carers and professionals come and go so they resist trusting anyone; it seems easier that way. Consequently it is far more difficult to encourage them to engage with the support that they need. "Lad" who, between periods in prison, has been in and out of my life for the last three years is just like this. He trusts no one, he struggles to form a healthy relationship and he will not engage with any of the services which could help make his life better. Too many people have left, he has said too many goodbyes already, it is safer not to let anybody else in. Everybody leaves.

"Youngster", who I supported for a year but who has stayed in touch ever since, has been affected very differently by his experiences. He doesn't really ever do goodbyes because he is so sure he will manage to keep that person around somehow. He is confident that each person he is attached to loves him and he has somehow remained resilient despite the long line of people who have walked out of his life; myself included. Our goodbye happened suddenly and dramatically. The process of moving him on to a different placement had begun and he was very unhappy about the move; so unhappy that absconding from home became frequent and having a spectacular meltdown was an almost daily occurrence. In the midst of one of these, when he was angry, tired and upset, his social worker called him and he said a lot of things that he could not take back, things which he regretted just ten minutes later but which forced an early move and enforced lack of contact for some time. 

However he never lost that confidence that he was loved and wanted and as soon as he was allowed he re-entered my life; dropping in for a cuppa, staying for dinner, texting at all hours. Then yesterday, two years after he was rapidly moved out, I was approached and asked if I would house him again. His last couple of years have mostly been spent in custody or approved premises and accommodating him would be a challenge. I had taken a break from supporting young people; I was enjoying the rest and space and wasn't sure I was going to do it again but now that I have been asked I find myself thinking about it. Yes, everybody leaves; but sometimes they come back.