Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Time just McFlies…

I am now in the midst of all that I came here to see and learn from. It feels like I have been here for months. I have met so many people and they have all been so giving of their precious time. Each meeting seems to be around 2 hours but it only seems like I am there for moments, the conversations just pass and so much information to take in.

I have been surprised how much they have been interested in us and how we do things. They look at us and think we are more progressive than themselves but then they hear about the UK using Housing First and now Rapid Rehousing, which from what I have learned here needs to be approached with care, and realize there are numerous initiatives that we have taken directly from them; not in like our adoption of McDonalds, coffee on the go and soap operas.

What I have found is that for all the differences the similarities shine out even larger and brighter. We seem to be mirroring them with our politics and concerns over control of our borders, but I hope we can stop our poverty and homeless reaching their levels. This is the thing, they are bigger, they have greater issues to address and although coming from a very similar recent past their history contains the roots to why they are where they are.

We both look back to the days before Thatcher and Reagan (Who's the vice president? Jerry Lewis? I suppose Jane Wyman is the First Lady) with some kind of fondness, the days before individualism. However that is because most of the people involved in this work are at the least purple in their politics. But do we need to reset the clock or can we learn from the recent past and create a better future for everyone’s children, not just the McFlys. 

Image result for the mcfly family before and after
Your Future isn't made yet. No one's is. Make it a good one.

However what we can learn is that certain things are not inevitable and that if you set yourself far enough upstream you can change the outcomes earlier and before they start to cost more. Here in Central Florida they have worked out that a person living on the streets costs the community $31,000 a year, where as to house them even with support is around $18,000. What they have done is monetarise the issue and with that they can have a war on homelessness (I looked back at my earlier post). But they do this to show potential funders that this is worth doing, not just for the individuals but for themselves and their businesses.
So what are the points that stand out at this stage in my research? Well it seems to be around people’s will to change, the individuals themselves and the organisations that provide the services, but also society in general, as homelessness is everyone’s issue. They talk of building relationships, the right leadership and everyone being in a collaborative partnership working for the same goals, but it took nearly 2 years to get everyone on board.

This patience has led Central Florida in the last 3 years to support and house 339 of the chronically homeless, which has seen a 85% decrease in criminal justice usage and 60% decrease in A&E costs for those individuals. Also it has been sustainable as 96% have remained housed and are becoming more resilient. However this is the tip of the iceberg, they like us have a population of hidden homeless. People living on the fringes of our communities in shelters and temporary accommodation, in conditions that are more Victorian than 21st Century. It appears that this is the story of homelessness, out of sight and out of mind. If we cannot see it then it is harder for organisations to appeal to government for funding. You see the problem with this thinking is that these are the future chronically homeless, so if we continue on our journey of crisis management we will never stop the flow. Orange County are doing some work around prevention that should be commended.

In my time working in homelessness I sometimes feel like we are plugging a leak but just out of sight is another pipe just about to burst. Which is why we need to think bigger and work on a system that not only supports those that make newspaper headlines at Christmas and during severe weather, but also effectively sustains people in appropriate and decent homes before crisis occurs.

I met a commissioner of services here in Florida 507 and you know what she commissions three areas of need that they believe are intrinsically linked; mental health provision, substance misuse services and homelessness? Do you think they might have a point?

You will never get to 88 miles per hour on the I-4.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Florida Calling...

I started out to Central Florida and my journey included a short layover in Amsterdam. Basically travelling east to go West, unlike Columbus who went West hoping to find the East, not that my American discovery is likely to be such a big, but here's hoping. Schiphol is a large and confusing airport, but I have done this sort of thing before, the last time it was Heathrow and they seem very similar. Full of people transferring from all over the World, lots of shops, selling the usual duty free fair, the only real difference is substitute models of Big Ben, black cabs, guardsmen and red phone boxes for lots of clogs, tulips, windmills and cheese. This made my journey longer than usual and whilst sitting in the airport for 2 hours I was regretting my choice. This was later compounded by a 10 hour flight to Florida which again would have been shorter if I had flown from Manchester or Heathrow but once again this was my choice. If my local airport had direct flights this might have been different but it doesn't so it wasn't a choice I could make, although I did choose to return home after my years away.

I am mindful of the fact that I am heading to America to see how funding of homelessness is tackled in an area that used to have one of the largest homeless populations in the US, but they chose to work together. This again made me think about choice and the choices we make in our life, some are positive and some impact negatively but we still make them, because we can. So does it mean that people who find themselves homeless have always made a succession of bad choices or is it that they never really had the choices anyway. Lack of opportunity and lack of choice which are diminished even further by becoming, if becoming is the right term, homeless.

I have also had a dilemma prior to my flight about what clothes to bring? The last time I was in Florida I worn shorts and an Epcot t-shirt, possibly not the right attire to meet a Civic dignitary. At this point I am aware my 15 year old son would say this was a very "First World problem". Of course he is right, however if does highlight the old adage that one person's problems are the biggest to them, but still I am lucky as mine is one of what to wear in 35 degrees in the Sunshine State.

Also as I complain internally about having spent all day Thursday travelling alone, with no company and no-one to talk to, I now fully realise that I am used to my supportive network of family, friends and colleagues to rely on. Once again a "luxury" most of the individuals I hope to help by doing this trip don't have. It brings to mind the question of how Housing First, as a solution to homelessness, can possibly increase isolation and loneliness. So how do we answer that consequence of what is a very effective solution to housing the chronically homeless. Furthermore as we in the UK start to look at other US solutions can we be sure we are not just changing one kind of issue for another. In particular Rapid Housing, which is sometimes confused with Housing First, is being looked at in many areas of the country. In my mind this has to be directed at the right people and monitored, as it could without the proper fail safes leave individuals more lonely, more isolated and  more vulnerable in a house not a home. Rapid Housing is only for the most resilient and less prone to re-presentation to services. There is no miracle silver bullet in defeating homelessness.

Loneliness is a killer, it is just as harmful to an individual's wellbeing as homelessness. In 1959 the phenomena that was the Twilight Zone started and its first ever episode was called 'Where is Everybody'. The great reveal at the end is that of a man who has spent over 2 weeks in a box as part of an Air Force experiment during the space race. Mike Ferris the protagonist finally succumbs to a mental breakdown and as he is released from his agreed isolation the officer says:

"We can feed the stomach with concentrates. We can supply microfilm for reading, recreation -even movies of a sort. We can pump oxygen in and waste material out. But there's one thing we cannot stimulate that's a very basic need. Man's hunger for companionship. the barrier of loneliness..."

Image result for twilight zone episode 1 where is everyone
"Hey...Where is everyone?"

I feel so fortunate to be granted this opportunity by Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and I know it will change my thoughts and certainly impact on my working practices. It was my choice to fly via Amsterdam, as it was my choice to work in homelessness (Goodness do I live in a World that has a working sector called homelessness) and therefore my choice to try and find new ways of commissioning and funding the services that are vital and essential.

I guess I have made a lot of decisions with the opportunities I have been given, not just this year but through a very varied life. I guess missing my family in a place that I have usually had wonderful memories of meeting a person dressed up as a large mouse, we love the mouse, is based on the fact that I have one to miss and who will miss me.

So although there are many differences between my trip, me and those lives of the people I hope to affect by this, the biggest difference is they rarely get a choice, they rarely get a say in what they want or need. I guess we don't realise that choice is a fundamental part of our lives and how would we cope if was taken ever taken away. Also although I travelled for nearly a whole day to get here on Thursday I always knew were I was going to sleep. Knowledge gives us courage.

Also for those who were worried about Mike Ferris, he does end up going into space and he did make a friend....

Image result for forbidden planet robot and earl holliman
"Please to meet you Earl my name is Robby"

Monday, 6 May 2019

This is the first time I have really fully been part of Social Media. I guess it is an acceptable evil in a World where we want or need to share. I am not convinced I will be any good at it, however I am hopeful it will be an aid to remembering and correlating what I learn. I also hope it will allow people to add anything they feel is useful. 

I have been given an amazing opportunity from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and I am hopeful that my fellowship will certainly make a difference in the way we look at commissioning of services.

My idea is based on travelling to Central Florida and seeing how we can work better together to fund the solutions to end homelessness in the UK. I plan to travel at the end of May 2019 and with the assistance of those I meet to learn how joint commissioning can effectively support innovation and sustain services over a longer period. That services remain and don't just disappear every 12 months or 2 years leaving people looking for support, but not knowing where to find it.

This will hopefully encourage long term commissioning for services that develop and grow over geographical, political and local authority borders. That imaginary lines drawn on maps do not stop people receiving what they need, equity not equality of wellbeing.

I know big aspirations for a few months of work but it is important for individuals to try and make a difference and continue to improve on what is there and not throwing the baby out with the bath water every recommissioning cycle.

As I start out on my adventure I am reminded of a quote by George Carlin, who also played Rufus the mentor for Bill and Ted:

"Have you ever noticed that the only metaphor we have in our public discourse for solving problems is to declare war on it? We have the war on crime, the war on cancer, the war on drugs. But did you ever notice that we have no war on homelessness? You know why? Because there's no money in that problem. No money to be made off of the homeless. If you can find a solution to homelessness where the corporations and politicians can make a few million dollars each, you will see the streets of America begin to clear up pretty damn quick!"

I am not convinced we have to monetarise homelessness but we need to know how to fund it properly and sustainably. I am hoping my excellent adventure will end with some lessons for the future of commissioning services people need and can rely on. I am hoping we can build a better future where the right to a roof is a given and hopefully one day my occupation will become obsolete, I know big pretensions.

Image result for bill and ted excellent adventure
The meeting of great minds.

As I set off for Florida I hope we don't have to wait until 2688 for it to be great, for the air to be  clean, the water to be clean, even the dirt to be clean.  That bowling averages are way up, mini-golf scores are way down. And that we have more excellent water slides than any other planet we communicate with. That everyone who wants a home has a home and it is sustainable, and it is what they want not what we as society thinks will do. 

As Rufus said: "I’m telling you this place can be great! But it almost wasn’t... it’ll all make sense. I’m a professional."

Time just McFlies… I am now in the midst of all that I came here to see and learn from. It feels like I have been here for months. I h...