Thursday, 20 November 2008

New concepts inform the dialogue

Tonight thirty Street Care volunteers met with Mike Freil and Paul Whittingham of the City's Homelessness and Neighbourhood Renewal Team in County Hall, to continue the dialogue which was initiated at the meeting held at City Church back on 7th October.

Mike gave a useful, informative presentation of the professional social workers analysis of the situation of those who are vulnerable and needy in the City. Relatively few sleep rough, on a regular basis, perhaps as few as a dozen, but many more, would be categorised as 'insecurely housed' - occupying a hostel bed, sleeping on a friend's sofa, or in what's generally described as being in accommodation over which they have no control. This concept, new to many, shed valuable light on the people at the centre of concern for both volunteers and professionals.

The perception of some experienced volunteers was that there were greater numbers 'out there', some of whom were so fearful of contact with either the authorities or others in similarly precarious situations, that they managed to avoid official homeless audits. This perception was viewed as a matter for concern and future investigation.

The discussion mapped out some of the key areas of interest where volunteers thought there could be a need for training and support. Mike issued a contact information sheet with all the necessary details of every public service available to people 'insecurely housed' or sleeping rough around the clock. This was a resource requested by volunteers at the previous meeting, and was greatly welcomed by all present.

It was agreed that the next meeting to take place should involved just volunteers, affording them to speak frankly and openly about their practices and their motivations, and the concerns arising for them from the fact that the Christian roots of most involved in Street Caring, although not an issue for those in need, and on the receiving end can be called into question by some in authority. The realm of partnership between faith groups and statutory bodies can be fraught with difficulties which arise from the meeting of different cultures and approaches to addressing the problems of need. Volunteers need an opportunity to affirm their confidence in the value of the contribution they are able to make, as well as acknowledging scope for improvement.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Constructive encounters

A meeting at City United Reformed Church this evening, bringing together thirty volunteers from several networks of people involved in soup runs and street caring activities, together with five Council officials concerned with homelesness and housing. They were following through the initiative made by Mike Friel six weeks ago, when there had been a meeting of half a dozen volunteers, four staff and me.

On this occasion, I had the task of welcoming everyone explaining the purpose of the event - to consider how together we could raise the standard of care to people on the streets. The rest was then facilitated superbly by Paul Hocking, Pastor of Thornhill Community Church.

A meeting that began with a slight air of uncertainty unfolded with great warmth, enthusiasm and a good degree of frankness about some problem areas. We finished in decent time and set another date to meet and hopefully start developing a programme of empowerment. Many people lingered and chatted in a relaxed way for ages afterwards.

I felt pleased and grateful to be able to play a small part in making something like this happen. This kind of dialogue been needed for years.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Care in the city

At the area Deanery clergy Chapter meeting, I received some news about coming city centre activities from a couple of colleagues present. Several years ago a group of evangelical activists mooted the idea of having teams of Street Pastors out and about, ministering to consumers in the night time economy. It wasn't exactly clear at the time whether this was simply directed at ministering to the needs of the soul, or the body - as soup runs do. Now after a long period of quiet, it seems that a training programme is to start running next month, and it seems as if this will focus principally on pastoral listening, rather than material problem solving.

Sister Wendy's work over the past five years has shown how much need there is for listening people to be there in clubland for people with many life problems un-addressed in the normal run of daily existence. I wonder if it will be possible to interest its leadership in contributing to the soup run personnel discussion about empowering volunteers on the practicalities of caring? We would benefit from as much input as possible to create a suitable Street Carers' scheme. One of these days we might even find an effective way to enable those who are stuck at the bottom of the social heap to move on.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

An unexpected, needed breakthrough

An invitation to a meeting this afternoon convened by Mike Friel, the head of the Council's new Housing and Neighbourhood Renewal team, tucked away anonymously in a corner of a business park down the Bay, in what I think used to be NTL's call centre building. It came via Jeff Rees, the outreach worker of the city centre homelessness team.

The idea was to get people together who are involved in the soup runs that operate in the city centre, and try to engage in a dialogue that stalled eighteen months ago when all the changes in the city centre social services set-up were first mooted. We'd got to the stage of outlining a proposal for a 'Street Carers' Accreditation Scheme' to offer basic training and skills development for those who might feel encouraged and supported by this. And naturally I was interested to see if this might be possible to re-start.

Members of the Paradise Soup Run were present, and Paul Hocking the wise and influential chair of the Evangelical Alliance's Cardiff Gweini. Paradise networks forty odd church groups across the city for soup runs. There are other groups besides, from student voluntary services, and churches not involved with the network, and individuals as well. Trying to get them all together, even to make or discuss anything to do with organisation is a bit like herding cats. But, as we sat around table I was gratified to think there'd been this much response to the Council's overture. We weren't going for long before I felt compelled to bring up the past. The idea of an Accreditation scheme, as far as it had got, was received with interest, and to my delight all those representing volunteer teams around the table welcomed the idea.

As a result, we agreed to meet again in a month's time, to make an effort to invite as many representatives of church soup runs as we can find out about, to a gathering at City URC in the evning of 7th October. I managed to contact Joel, the City Church administrator and secure a booking while the meeting was concluding, so everyone went away with the date in their diaries. I have been charged with making a presentation about the idea of Accreditation and its content, to lead to a brainstorming session on the desirability of particular kinds of content, the amount of it, and the level at which various kinds of volunteers might be expected to engage. Volunteers are invariably a mixed group in terms of ability, confidence and experience. There needs to be someting for different kinds of learning needs, so that everyone grows and feels affirmed by their involvement in the scheme.

I'm just so delighted that something I thought we'd lost has come within sight again, with more than just a few enthused ideas people driving it. In all this, the success of the occasion was down to Ian, my city centre 'eyes and ears' having met and networked with key people in the world of soup runs and social services outreach. He had the important phone numbers to enable himself and me to invite these few important others to be involved. It's a great service towards making things happen that need to happen.