Around 1994 there were big changes going on in homelessness provision around the country. In London the “Spikes” hostels (AKA: resettlement units, which replaced workhouses) run by the DHSS as was, were being phased out and existing providers (St Mungo, Bondway, English Churches, Salvation Army etc) were being invited to tender for the contract. I was working in street homelessness for Thames Reach and had referred people into Cedars Lodge many times. I had visited most of the spikes and other hostels but not this one.
Cedars Lodge, 113-117 Cedars Rd, Clapham Town, SW4 0PW (Circa 1930)
I decided to visit as I needed to do follow up work with the person I had referred in. When I telephoned Cedars Lodge and spoke to staff I thought they lacked a certain professionalism. I was put through to the support worker department and advised to report to the hostel staff on arrival. A division of roles that was never used in the voluntary sector. That lack of professionalism, I supposed, was not because it was a DHSS spike, more because it was homelessness provision. Many housing providers employed people but never trained them in anything in particular and things always seemed haphazard.
I met with my client. Then went on to speak with the support worker and had the tour. I was left alone for a short time and got talking with a few residents. One chap, Bernard, was very engaging. He knew many of the rough sleepers I knew and filled in some knowledge gaps about where people where. As the support worker approached, Bernard asked if I would like to stay for lunch. I paused, waiting for a nod or wink from the support worker that this was permissible. The support worker paused as well. I thought the support worker was not saying anything because she was annoyed at the presumption of the invitation. Finally, it became clear, the support worker was waiting for my answer.
I said yes and made an arrangement with Bernard to meet in the dining room. As we left Bernard, the support worker warned me that the soup was usually bad but everything else was lovely.
The spikes have all gone now. Replaced with projects with minimum staff numbers, and where staff with poor training are asked to be cook, security guard, mother, policeman and much else.
Cedars Lodge was able to treat its residents with a degree of kindness and equality I had not seen in the voluntary sector. Because, I suppose, of the high staff numbers. That lack of professionalism might actually have been a less stressed and more user friendly working environment. Something, I do not think the voluntaries will be able to emulate.
To be effective in the my new role at LSM I will need to develop the ability to even up uneven relationships just as that support worker did. I needed to work on my humility. I am still trying.