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Highlights from a visit to Cyrenians

Highlights from a visit to Cyrenians

Highlights from a visit to Cyrenians

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A little while back, I had the privilege to make the most of the St. Martin’s Frontline Network shadowing budget to visit Cyrenians in Edinburgh.

Here are some of the key highlights from an insightful trip.

Meeting with Ewan Aitken, Cyrenians CEO

Ewan and I had a great chat over a wide range of topics - especially around the importance of creating systems that value compassion and trusted relationships for both organisation staff and service users alike. Emerging questions were: How do we put trusted relationships at the core of everything we do? - and - How do we encourage funders to see the value in this way of working which is necessarily defined by extremely clear ‘outcomes’? These are all questions that I have brought back to Justlife for our team to explore.

Ewan also showed me their plans for their purpose built village (in conjunction with Social Bite - a local social enterprise) in Granton which aims to empower each individual with the skills required to maintain an independent and meaningful life away from homelessness and the issues which may have contributed to their homeless experience, e.g. unemployment, relationship breakdown, debt, addiction, mental health. This really got me wondering where and with whom we could create a similar set up in Sussex.

Ewan will be coming to visit Justlife as a result of our meeting to learn more about our health engagement work in particular (he’ll also be visiting our colleagues at Arch Healthcare) and the other work we do to support people living in Unsupported Temporary Accommodation.

I’m really grateful to Lesley - my Frontline Network colleague - who helped set up my meeting with Ewan and I’m looking forward to seeing him later this year.

Engaging with Scottish Government officials

At the Cyrenians’ Scottish Government Frontline Network event it was so encouraging to have actual government officials at our tables, listening and taking notes on our thoughts, ideas, hopes and aspirations for a Scotland with a better plan for improving the situation for the country’s homeless people.

At the event we asked ourselves questions such as: What is the long term solution to ‘but I need a bed tonight’? - and - How can temporary accommodation return to being the stop-gap it’s supposed to be?

I really felt that my contributions to the conversation were going to be taken into account and considered by the Scottish government in their ongoing homelessness prevention strategy. The presence of the officials added an extra level of meaning to the whole event - it felt like our conversations that day were going to go somewhere.

My experience at Cyrenians’ event has motivated me to reach out to those groups I might have previously considered out of reach and has inspired a Brighton & Hove Frontline Workers Network event happening in September this year (more below).

Personal budgets

A presentation by Cyrenians’ Oscar del Rio on personal budgets raised lots of questions for me and how this system could be implemented within Justlife.

We are currently quite flexible and creative in how we allocate money to different service users for different bits and pieces but we don’t have a formal ‘personal budget’ system which places services users at the helm of spending their own budget.

I was really inspired by Oscar’s description of Cyrenians’ personal budgets as self directed support - really putting the power in the hands of the service user to choose where their money is spent.

In terms of how we might be able to trial such a system at Justlife, what initially came to my mind was the idea of co-creating with service users a working document ‘menu’ of ideas of how and on what they could spend their budget. Ideas could perhaps include purchasing: a set number of private counselling sessions, a passport, a secure deposit, a pricier pair of glasses, dental work, an evening course etc. etc.

If implemented wisely, I feel personal budgets could lead to service users being more empowered, uplifted and having greater ownership of their lives at a time where quite often they aren’t afforded the opportunity to make their own decisions.

The wisdom in the room presented some good reminders: personal budgets are not a substitute for good support. There could also be potential issues with money undermining the relationship, people having different perceptions of what is ‘fair’ and letting people down if the money were to run out.

Engaging with decision makers - our next steps

As alluded to earlier, I left my time with Cyrenians charged to improve our engagement with decision makers. I have since made contact with our local DWP partnership manager and a housing official at Westminster about future local Frontline Network events.

In September, we will be co-running an event with the DWP on Universal Credit with the calling question: ‘Could Universal Credit improve the lives of homeless people in Brighton & Hove?’ At our event there will be several members of the local DWP team present who - similar to the officials at Cyrenians’ Edinburgh event - will be acting in a listening capacity, harvesting the struggles and aspirations of local frontline workers and feeding this back to the DWP.

Following the event, the plan is a mini report will be produced that will show some ways forward that have come from our generative discussion with the DWP.

Those were some thoughts on a very much enjoyed shadowing trip.

I’d like to say a special thanks to Lesley and her team at Cyrenians for making me feel so welcome up in Edinburgh and to St Martin’s for making the opportunity happen!

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