Asset Coach, Andrew Durman, looks at the importance and privilege of listening to the people we work with, the challenges of the traditional system and how his role as a Coach can help to break the negative cycle a person may find themselves in.

As I draw near to the end of another week of having many amazing conversations with inspiring individuals. I reflect on the mind blowing stories I have had the privilege to hear over the past 10 years working in this sector. A favourite from this week has to be hearing about someone’s past adventures travelling in New Orleans. Simply listening to him talk of his experiences and the feelings that he not only felt at the time, but was also re-living through the telling of his story to me, was amazing for him and me.

The opportunity to be able to hear these kinds of stories is one we regularly have to create ourselves. The people we work we are often surprised that we even want to hear them, especially when they have been caught up in the system for a prolonged period of time. Being given the freedom to have these conversations in my role as a coach, makes me count myself lucky that I am no longer caught up in the traditional system.

Looking at the traditional system

The current deficit, needs, label and diagnosis led system does not leave much room for these discussions. When a person in being assessed for eligibility to access the system, a number of questions will be asked. These questions will be on substance misuse, offending, behaviour or mental health difficulties, suicide attempts, history of arson and their previous housing history. This then leads to working with a keyworker or project worker, who will take this information to draw up a support plan and risk assessment, with the idea that at one stage (probably pre-scripted to 6 to 18months) this person will move on and live independently. Weekly meetings will be held for this person, reviewing how they are doing, and inadvertently reinforcing all the problems they have going on and what they have been through previously.

Looking beyond the surface

The traditional system demands this information to be shared to allow a person to qualify for the support they are told that they need. Yet this does not even scratch the surface of who this person is, what they have achieved, what they are interested in and where they would like to go. When working with people just on the surface and dealing with the symptoms of what is happening to them, you will never really see the real person. It is only once you get past all of this, that you will see the individual being hidden behind that label, deficit description, or referral form. The big question is, how do you do that as a coach?

Giving back the power, removing the labels and listening to the person

We have to earn trust and respect, we have to get the belief from that individual that we have their best interests to heart, and that we are here to have a positive impact on their lives. We have to ask different questions and have different conversations. It is simple, we ask people, instead of telling them and expecting that person to conform. We expect them to succeed rather than expecting them to fail. We see the talent and assets and we focus on them.

Accepting that there is a problem

You can’t ignore that there isn’t a problem in the current system, we see and hear about it on a daily basis as coaches. The system currently allows and encourages the use of labels, keeping people segregated from society and doesn’t identify the person, only their presumed deficits – so what can we do?

A question I often ask myself, is this how I would want to be treated? If the answer is no, then why would I expect others to settle for being treated this way?

Prior to joining Mayday these conversations that delved beyond the surface kept me motivated and passionate during my journey through the murky system waters, however they always occurred outside of the Key-work setting and beyond the file of paperwork attached to the person. Now these conversations lead the way and are always the starting point when I meet with a new person as a coach.

Starting the conversation and breaking the cycle

Once you get to the point where a person trusts you as a coach and starts to talk about themselves as an individual rather than a list of problems the real progress can start, development, aspirations and achievements can begin to be imagined and made.

I often find that due to the traditional system focusing on deficits and labels, the people I work with often define themselves by them and become institutionalised within the system. It brings me back to the same conclusion every time - we shouldn’t just be working towards breaking the cycle of homelessness, we should be breaking the cycle of the system.

Real life heroes

As a part of my reflection I continually assess my ability to have these conversations with the people I work with, and whether I deserve to still be doing what I do. Yet when I try and think of another job or sector to follow, I know I will be giving up the privilege of meeting the remarkable individuals I work with. They are real life heroes, yet they are portrayed as helpless, down and out, poor, disadvantaged, and written off.

Do you know someone who has jumped into a river to save someone’s life, regardless of their own? I do.

Do you know someone who left their family home, recognising that the relationship with their partner was not healthy, so that her children could continue to have somewhere warm, safe and stable to live? I do.

Do you know someone who has had no positive role models in their life and everyone they looked up to and trusted abused them, yet still became a positive role model for two children, which are not even his? I do.

Do you know someone who has experienced 20 years of hardship and difficulty, only to forego the opportunity of a way out because there was someone younger in the queue? I do.

Do you know someone who has sat in the French Quarter in New Orleans listening to jazz watching the world go by? I do and I wish it was me.

Will I ever stop meeting heroes? No.

Listening, the real art of the PTS

It is only when you ask and listen to someone’s story that you can help someone find the answers to what is going on in their lives. What and where they want to go, what they want their futures to look like and ultimately what barriers are stopping them getting there.

This is what I am able to do now, freely without the expectation of the system audits and questions. These are the stories being heard at Mayday Trust and with the partners who are delivering and reflecting on PTS and real strength based approaches. This is why it is working, this is why people are voluntarily allowing us to support them and this is why people are able to break free from the cycle of the system.