Diary of a trainee Street Pastor: Engaging at the right level
Session: Meeting rough sleepers
This was an eye-opening session, which while it didn’t exactly turn my assumptions about homeless people upside down, did begin the process of making me better informed about the local rough sleeping scene and the available services. In short, I think I’m less likely now to be someone who mixes compassion with naivety and more likely to be someone who adds compassion to my knowledge base.
Key messages: Change, complexity, signposting. I guess you can’t talk about rough sleepers without saying that this sector of statutory services is characterised by change – money, governments and policies that come and go. We were also reminded several times that rough sleepers are going to be complex people and that this will have a bearing on our interactions with them. There will be times when I will need to guard against feeling of guilt about what I can’t do for them in practical terms.
Signposting means being able to pass on relevant information about emergency accommodation or where to go on a Monday morning to get help with a benefits claim. It sounds good, but I don’t really want to end up touting phone numbers and info about a service that is closed until Monday.
Biggest challenge: Against a backdrop of the many socio-economic challenges (affordable housing; family relationships; addictions; service cuts; neighbourhood tolerance of the kind of issues that come with homelessness projects or supported accommodation) the personal challenge for me lies in having confidence to engage with a homeless person at the right level and not being afraid to evaluate their ‘neediness’.
Homework: To watch other street pastors responding to street homeless when I go out as an observer with a team at the weekend. I’ll be interested to see what that buzzword ‘signposting’ really means in practice.
Ros Davies is a freelance writer and communications consultant