Nikki Aitchison is the Head of Employment Development Projects, at Aspire – an award winning Charity and Social Enterprise. Aspire works on the ground across the Thames Valley with people experiencing significant disadvantage in their lives such as homelessness, providing personalised support to build on their aspirations and strengths to overcome barriers and move on with their lives. Over half of the team have lived experience of overcoming adversity, and Aspire works to innovate, break the mould and get upstream to prevent problems spiralling in the first place. In this guest blog Nikki shares a spoken word piece, and writes about how we need to use this pandemic to shake up the system and create change in the homelessness sector.
8 Weeks in
It’s pretty strange that week eight of isolation is somehow becoming a little more normal. Finding a sort of routine, trying to adjust to life during a pandemic, albeit clearly going through it and feeling slightly on edge when I do venture outdoors. More time at home, plenty of family time and somehow less ‘me time’, no contact with friends and wider family, more baking than normal and a hell of a lot of Zoom meetings. It’s also given me the opportunity to write and deliver a spoken word poem, to try to articulate the thoughts swirling around my head. It’s been an opportunity to be creative, think differently, and find new ways of working, exercising and trying to find a new balance. But my reality definitely isn’t the reality for everyone!
I hope this poem resonates with you in some way. This blog explains just a few of the key points from the spoken word piece.
Solutions to homelessness aren’t a temporary thing
Many people who had been experiencing homelessness are now in temporary accommodation in hotels and B&B’s. I wonder how individuals feel about all the sudden changes. From sleeping at friends’ houses, or sleeping in the street, or not having rent money due to losing jobs within the last eight weeks and finding themselves nowhere to go, to then being in temporary accommodation with the click of a finger. It’s a lot to take in and I can only imagine how strange a time it must be for people. Surely finding solutions to homelessness isn’t just for pandemics, right? With the urgency to protect and provide a safer, isolated environment for people experiencing homelessness, it showed that it’s possible for people to be brought off the streets, if it’s a high enough priority. The energy and collaboration between services needs to continue. There has been a huge amount of great will, bending of the systemic processes that have inevitably failed in areas previously, and for the third sector, a true chance to change the system. A lot of people know that there needs to be an adapted more strength-based approach that listens, but REALLY LISTENS, to the voices living and breathing in the system 24/7. So if ever there was a time to really change what we do, it’s now!
For a long time it feels like we have been chipping away at a system. Now is the time to bring something different. A big part of the change will come from key workers and professionals adapting their way of thinking, and being willing to listen to possible changes, and areas of weakness. In my own life, one thing recovery has taught me in the last seven years is acceptance. To accept things that I may not like, but to be willing to have a look at it anyway – but to also accept that I make mistakes, and it’s OK, I’ll learn and that’s where the growth lies.
Look for solutions, see potential, not just stats and problems
People often look at the statistics regarding people who use drugs, people with an offending background or may be involved in gangs in some way, and view them as the problem, and think how do WE fix it? They may have developed new models, used top psychologists, new approaches, to try to achieve this ‘fix’. Yet, we still see ourselves in the situation we are in. In my opinion, the missing link is trust, relationships and bespoke opportunities. There needs to be a shift in approach, for charities and organisations to see the potential in people, and facilitate opportunities – based on what people like. I am a great believer that the biggest boundaries are the ones you set upon yourself, in your head. Organisational norms, processes, bureaucracy etc. are obvious barriers towards changing what we do, but the pandemic has also shown us we can pull together to do what’s needed, not what the normalised rigid process is. So as the pandemic continues and many organisations are frantically discussing and developing plans, please start by thinking how you are involving the people you work with in these discussions and how we can do better, together.
Optimism, collaboration & the future
Building on the momentum and great work done during this period, it would be great to see this being bottled, and continued as we go forward to improve our ways of working. Putting the people as the priority and not the outcome. Listening, collaborating and really recognising the opportunity in front of us. From volunteers, to working with a charity, Directors and CEOs, Councils and Frontline workers. If you work for a charity or organisation, it would be good to consider your process for including people with lived experience, thinking of the opportunities and changes you could make to work closer together. There are some great examples of Best Practise out there to learn from. It would be great to see more collaborative funding bids, relying on each other’s strengths, working alongside the people we work with. The tumultuous events of 2020 may have hit us with a bang, but there is definitely an opportunity to reimagine a ‘new normal’ together.
About the author:
Nikki Aitchison is the Head of Employment Development Projects, at Aspire Oxford – an award winning Employment Charity and Social Enterprise who work across the Thames Valley. Aspire simply cannot accept the stark inequalities in our society. It is insistently working to innovate, break the mould and get upstream to prevent problems spiralling in the first place. This thread runs through Aspire’s wide range of employment development and homelessness prevention projects.