'The people we help must be heard because their stories matter.'
Resident stories matter and we must tell them - to influence our work and, above all, because they matter, says Rooftop Housing Group chief executive Boris Worrall.
Steve is 21 and became homeless after he was released from prison. Charlotte is 18 and could not remain in a family environment which social services identified as unsuitable. David, 20, lived with his mother but was left with nowhere to go after their relationship collapsed and he was thrown out.
The names are changed but the people and their stories are very real. This is the brutal reality of thousands of young lives in Britain today. And it's housing associations which provide the homes and support these young people need to get back on their feet and live independent and productive lives. This is their story, and ours. And we need to tell it. Not just because of possible changes to the way Supported Housing is funded; but because it matters.
All three were remarkably open in sharing their difficult stories. On a human level, I found it at times hard to hear. But by providing a home and critically, the support of key workers and engagement workers, progress is being made through personal support plans.
We talked candidly about where we as an organisation could look to do better, both in terms of accommodation, how it's managed (rules, curfews and the like are all obvious and understandable contested areas) and the balance between support and interventions they sometimes see as paternalistic. This is tricky territory and all three recognised the stress and strains staff can face in navigating such a sensitive landscape.
Steve spoke of the fear and anxiety caused by sofa surfing and having no fixed place to live. David of the challenging road to learn life skills like managing finances in his first job. And Charlotte of her determination to get through current tough times and succeed in life.
Sitting, listening and talking with these young people for an hour-and-a-half made me challenge my own thinking and assumptions on the accommodation and support we provide; and cemented my commitment to do as much and as well as we possibly can.
Nothing replicates seeing the reality on the ground. So we will hold our next Executive Team meeting at one of the schemes and encourage our heads of service to meet there too. I will also focus on finding a way to get politicians to engage with these young people whose voice needs to be heard and story told at the highest levels.
Boris Worrall is the chief executive of Rooftop Housing Group.