“I’ve locked myself out!” What is an asset based, strength based approach in this situation? How can housing teams really start to deliver on promoting independence, leading to a ‘positive and sustained move on’? Mayday Chief Executive Pat McArdle discusses.
If only it was as simple as learning a new way of working, getting stuck into a new delivery model but as this very common example demonstrates, to get people out of homelessness demands a significant change in how we all think and act, individually, as teams, as organisations, and as commissioners. Strength based and personalised approaches require a complete change of mindset.
From Mayday’s Director of Operations:
I was involved in a discussion with a housing team who were setting up a new service and trying to solve the problem of people loosing their keys at night and what the answer was to avert this common problem.
The discussion very much focused on things like maybe having an ‘on call’ service but what if there was no one local to go out to the resident. The option of 24hr cover was not an option due to budget. The old service had a hostel nearby which held a ‘master’ key so they had a solution. It was expensive if the fire brigade had to be called! The point was made that many schemes do not offer a solution and the person usually finds somewhere else to go or waits until the staff arrive in the morning.
So the solution was either to ‘fix’ the problem or abandon responsibility. A very real illustration of how deficit approaches focus on trying to ‘fix’ problems without consideration of how this ‘fixing’ takes power, responsibility and control away from individuals and takes them further away from living independently.
The question, if you are working from a strength-based approach moves from, is “how will I, or we as an organisation, will we solve the problem?” to “how can we assist you in solving this issue for yourself, if it arises for you?” We need to retrain our mind to think:
Normalise the situation Our first thought needs to be how would I cope if I locked myself out. I might have a spare key somewhere, I might call out a locksmith ( so it might be good to give people numbers and costs as they move in) I might break a small window and block it up. I might stay with a friend. Ok so maybe none of these solutions will work with the person I am working with but normalising the situation removes us from the temptation of defaulting to our old, traditional, ‘fixing’ ways. It reminds us to treat people as people and not ‘clients’.
Personalise it People come up with really creative things to do, if they get locked out. All you have to do is ask them. It is an important discussion to have, before it happens. There was a man, who would pin his key to a chain inside his jacket when he was going out on a bender as it stopped the keys dropping out of his pocket; a woman, who had a spare under a plant pot as her hands were shaky and she couldn’t use the key safe outside; a woman, who had organised a sleeping bag in his mums shed; and a man who could not find a way and had a volunteer who would come out to help once a week. Lots of ways that people found for themselves.
Empower not disempower By having a chat with someone when they move in, you are giving responsibility to them, not abandoning them in what could be a difficult and distressing situation. The person has time to think themselves about what they would do and they are also clear that this is THEIR responsibility because it would be when they live independently. So your ‘not helping’ is intentional and is about still supporting them.
Mayday’s Personal Transitions Service (PTS) is a strength-based and personalised approach. It requires recruiting people who aren’t afraid to challenge much of what they have learnt before and sometimes their own beliefs and thinking. It is always about balancing a duty of care with allowing someone to take their own risks and learn positively from their failures. This is why delivering strength based work is not for everyone.
Traditional deficit-based approaches try to solve too many problems for people and even when there is good forward thinking person-centred staff, organisational systems can have generic policies that disempower and restrict staff from personalising approaches. Ultimately, commissioners can have generic service specifications that require things like 24hr cover or set requirements that mean organisations can’t deliver personalised work.
So let’s all be reflective and honest with ourselves and while many say we deliver strength based or personalised work, let’s recognise that to really do this, we need to change the system. A system that at all levels is still focused on needs and risks.
As individuals, frontline staff and teams, let’s recognise that we all need to start to unlearn the ways of a deficit and risk-averse approach, challenge ourselves each day and truly embed strength based, empowering and personalised ways of working that might just let more people escape this broken system.