According to Hardcastle, Powers and Wenocur (2004), “Community practice is the application of practice skills to alter the behavioural patterns of community groups, organisations, and institutions or people’s relationships and interactions with these entities”. Drawing from this simple definition of community practice, the report focuses on the work I carried out as an Applied Community studies student working with homeless people at the Salvation Army (SA) hostel in Coventry where I completed 140 hours of practice learning as an Assistant Project Worker. For personal reflection and intellectual development the report evaluates the themes around homelessness (causes and bio-psycho-social impacts of homelessness). The theories, legislation and policy underpinning work with homeless people is discussed, and for argument`s sake, the effectiveness of intervention methods is critically analysed while particular emphasis on factors contributing to inequalities in health and social care such as ageism, gender discrimination, race and ethnicity and social exclusion to promote an anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice (Dominelli 2002 and 2008). An evaluation of my learning outcomes will be made, and the report will argue that relying on funding from the local government affects the administration and provision of welfare services at the centre, which in most cases creates ethical dilemmas for Project Workers. Further, the report will argue that complying with the local authority on who to give help makes the Salvation Army to depart from its core values based on Christian principles: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and giving shelter to the homeless (Walker, 2001) among others Christian values, for example, its work with asylum seekers. The report also recognises that lack of continuity in the community affects casework with individuals. The essay concludes by identifying areas of good practice.
description of SA and work carried out
The Salvation Army was founded in 1865 by William and Catherine Booth to help people identified as socially undesirables (Prostitutes, criminals, drug addicts) to embrace Christianity (Murdoch, 1996; Walker, 2001). To date, the Salvation Army has centres worldwide and provides social aid to people in need, including disaster relief (Chronicle of Philanthropy 30 October 2008). It runs youth programmes and provides accommodation to homeless people but on a temporary basis. In Africa the Salvation Army works with refugees and displaced people among other community works. It operates as a non government organisation agency that provides relief to people in need. Social support intervention is guided by the Salvation Army’s 11 Christian doctrines, or soldiers’ covenant, as an army against social ills. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy (30 October 2008: 10) the Salvation Army was the largest charity in the USA giving away more than $2 billion in social aid in 2007.
The Salvation Army hostel (Coventry) provides accommodation to 80 residents, mostly men (75 rooms are reserved for men with only five reserved for women). The implications of this gender variation will be discussed later. In addition, it takes only homeless people between the ages of 18 and 65, and this concept will also be discussed later in relation to ageism. In addition, the centre does not provide accommodation to people who have no access to public funds, such as asylum seekers, and there are no facilities for homeless families, although the Salvation Army in Leamington has only one family unit. Again, this will be discussed in relation to society stereotyping single people, especially men, as more likely to become homeless. The centre also runs a resource centre which help service users to bid for houses on Coventry Home finder, and job search. In addition, the centre also hold cooking courses to promote healthy eating and budget meals among residents, and used sport (football) to encourage healthy living interaction through sport, and clients participated in football once every week.
I worked as an Assistant Project Worker in a team of 20 staff that included 10 project workers. My job included attending referral meetings, carrying out risk assessments and identifying reasons for homelessness, profiling where a key worker asks the homeless person a series of questions in line with the National Monitoring and Evaluation Services (NMES). My duties also involved helping the service users to bid for houses, signposting them to the Job centre, organising cooking and football events.
Critical analysis of relevant theory to practice.
The report now analyses the discourse of homelessness in view of the bio-psycho-social needs of homeless people. Maslow (1954) identified seven basic human needs, of which shelter is among them (Taylor, 2010). In England, homelessness is a major issue, and between January and March 2003 there were 31 470 households identified and accepted as homeless by the Local Authority homeless (Wright et al 2003). According to Wright et al (2003), people who are homeless usually have socio, medical and psychological needs, and are stereotyped as anti-social, violent, migrants, and undeserving. Further, they also face isolation, lack of choice, and stigmatisation (Homeless Network 1999 Report). They are also likely to be discriminated and socially excluded because of their ethnicity, gender, race and age (Wright et al 2003).
Power and Hunter (2001) concur with this assertion and argue that some of the homeless people’s most immediate challenges include nutritional deficiencies, cold weather, poor personal hygiene and drug and alcohol misuse. In addition they have higher incidents of morbidity and mortality (Wright el al 2003). Some of their medical needs/problems include “a chronic history of severe alcohol dependence, with gastrointestinal, neurological, cardiovascular or metabolic complications” (Wright et al, 2003 pg 9). They also have higher incidents of depression and risk of suicide (ibid). For effective intervention with homeless people to promote their health and well-being, staff at the Salvation Army works jointly with health partners (GPs), housing departments, non-statutory organisation and social services departments.
Most people who use the services (homeless) at the Salvation Army hostel are single white men, ex-convicts, drug and alcohol misuse, and refugees. Underlying bio-psycho-social issues included HIV, substance misuse, isolation, and unemployment. An understanding of these underlying needs was important during a risk assessment so that they could be identified and appropriate intervention provided, for example, where homelessness was caused by unemployment, the person would be sign-posted to the Job Centre, or assisted to fill in job application forms. Getting a job would empower the person to become financially independent and offer a more permanent solution to a recurring problem. Similarly, people who lost their houses due to drug and alcohol misuse would be referred to other agencies such as Recovery Partnership for rehabilitation (solution focussed intervention).
The SA worked with the Coventry City Council, who referred homeless people to the centre. The Local Authority pays £147 per week towards the accommodation of the homeless person, while the person is required to pay £10. The City Council is also the major funder for the agency, a concept which eroded its independence and community standing as a Christian based sanctuary for the homeless regardless of creed, race (based on verses from the Bible). As a result asylum seekers who had no recourse to public funds were denied services. This experience highlights some of the challenges faced by community workers in their quest to promote social justice, which is defined as “the embodiment of fairness, equity, and equality in the distribution of societal resources” (Flyn, 1990). This makes their role controversial as they become border guards (Ravi Kohli, 2006), and gatekeepers of resources (Limbery, 2005). The project workers also works hand in hand with GPs, the Job Centre, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres, Community Psychiatrists and independent and local housing agencies. This requires good team working skills, and I will comment on the development of my team-working skills later in this report.
Working with homeless people for statutory organisations is underpinned by legislation such as the Housing Act 1996, and the 1985 Housing Act. Local authorities have a duty under Section 183 of the Housing Act 1996 to provide or prevent homelessness. They have to make inquiries (Part 7 of the 1996 Act) where someone is likely to become homeless within 28 days. In addition, someone is prevented from becoming homeless if there is a casework intervention that will provide the person or family with accommodation sustainable for at least six months (Communities and Local Government Recording Homeless prevention and Relief E10 of the P1E Quarterly Returns, 2009). The Local authorities can work with partner organisations to help prevent homelessness, although these partner organisations have no duty to prevent homelessness. A partner organisation is “any organisation which is assisting the local authority in tackling and preventing homelessness” (ibid: 12). It may be funded by the Local Authority to help in preventing and tackling homelessness. In addition it can also be any organisation where the Local Authorities can refer people for assistance to prevent homelessness; and these include voluntary organisations and independent organisations for housing advice under s.179(1) of the 1996 Act. The Salvation Army is one of the voluntary organisations (faith based) that provide temporary accommodation to prevent homelessness.
The Green Paper Independence, Well-being and Choice: Our Vision for the Future of Social Care for Adults in England (DoH, 2005) and the White Paper Caring for People (DoH, 1989) recognise assessments as key to any methods of intervention and good care for people. Assessments were carried out to identify the causes of homelessness, the person’s history, entitlement to services, needs (medical, social and psychological), while a risk assessment was carried in all assessments in order to protect the service user from risk of self harm (suicide, intravenous drug use, substance misuse, financial abuse etc). According to Parker and Bradley (2006:11), a risk assessment is “the likelihood of certain outcomes, whether positive or negative, occurring under certain circumstances or dependent on decisions made”. It was important to carry out a risk assessment to establish the likelihood of people repeatedly becoming homeless, as some would return within three months to the centre. As such, a risk assessment sought to establish the best method of dealing with the presenting situation to reduce repeat homelessness, and where homelessness was attributed to drug and alcohol misuse, gambling, etc, the likelihood of that happening again was assessed before appropriate intervention methods were implemented. However, Webber (2009) argue that risk assessment in social work (and this can also be applied to community work) is laden with assumptions while lacking scientific thoroughness which can lead to rationing and excluding some service users. In particular I found that in some cases risk assessment led to the exclusion of some service users whose homelessness was seen as voluntary. One can argue that is being judgemental and not in-line with an anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice (Dominelli 2006). However, in the same breath as risk assessment led to exclusion of service users, it also helped to identify those at risk of harm (physical and emotional) as a result of homelessness.
After identifying risks, an assessment of needs was also carried out to identify the needs of the person, such as shelter (which would be the reason for coming to the centre), financial needs and those who were eligible to receive social security benefits would be referred to the Job Centre and/or Social Services department for housing benefit. In addition, those who were homeless because of debt would be referred to national debt agencies to device ways of alleviating the debt. Others would have lost their jobs, which led to repossession of houses or eviction. Those with medical needs were referred to specialist services. In summary, I found the role of carrying risk assessments and assessments of needs very educative while I also applied theory into practice while I assumed a managerial role (commissioning services and signposting). In addition, liaising with other agencies improved my communication skills, advocacy skills and negotiating skills, all skills which are vital to effective community practice.
Skills required by community workers include community organisation, administration, social planning, social action and social development so that citizens can become active in their own environments (Hardcastle et al 2004). The model of intervention used with homelessness is that of empowering individuals to become self reliant and self sufficient. Social planning involved liaising with other external agencies such as the Coventry City Council, Refuge Centre, Job Centre and Social Services to help clients to get houses, social security benefits, as well as to help clients get jobs. My duties of coordinating services and signposting service users to these external agencies were part of social planning, organisation and action.
One of the most intervention methods used at the centre is crisis intervention. According to Jackson-Cherry and Erford (2010), a crisis intervention involves providing emergency psycho-social care to assist individuals in crises situation to restore a balance to their bio-psycho-social functioning. Similarly, Wilson et al (2008) define a crisis as a breakdown or disruption in a person’s usual pattern of, or normal functioning. Homelessness and losing a tenancy in most cases is a result of long-term crises, and individuals respond to crises by striving to maintain their equilibrium through using their coping mechanisms (Jackson-Cherry and Erford, 2010). In addition crises can arise where problems persist and the precipitating events are threatening, and usual coping mechanisms fail to work (Wilson et al 2008). An analysis of some of the people who came to use the centre showed that they were going through crises such as financial, debt, unemployment, domestic violence, which affected usual coping mechanisms in others. In addition, losing a house can also lead to a crisis and affect the individual’s coping mechanism. In a situation of homelessness caused by a crisis, or leading to a crisis, the role of a community worker is to solve the immediate crisis by offering shelter while looking for long term solutions (Wilson et al, 2008), which in turn leads to solution focussed intervention discussed below. Crisis intervention involves carrying out an assessment to identify needs, make referrals and implement a treatment plan or solution (Roberts, 2005). However, as already argued above, not all cases presented as crises were offered appropriate intervention, such as the case with asylum seekers, families, and people below the ages of 18 and above the age of 65, who were referred to other agencies.
In addition to crisis intervention, solution focussed intervention method was also used at the Salvation Army hostel. Solution focussed intervention is change oriented, and encourages service users to find solutions to their problems (Wilson et al 2008). Solution focussed works by placing the responsibility on the service user (empowerment), providing them with tools to identify the extent of their crises, and where they are in the crisis. Gamble (1995) cited by Hardcastle et al (2004) argued that community practice involves using “empowerment-based interventions to strengthen participation in democratic processes, assist groups and communities in advocating for their basic needs and organising for social justice”. Bidding for accommodation, job search, referring service users with drug and alcohol problems to Recovery Partnership were some of the solution focussed methods of intervention provided on the model of empowerment. In addition to finding solutions as a tool for problem solving, the Salvation Army also uses person-centred intervention method which sees the client as unique thereby requiring unique intervention. Person centred care (PCC), was developed from Carl Rogers’ person centred counselling (Nay and Garratt 2004). It promotes building relationships between client and professionals, which is empowering as it seeks to put the individual at the centre of their care (Wilson et al, 2008; Nay and Garratt, 2004). The project workers at the Salvation Army recognise that homeless people are individual people with different needs, and not a homogeneous community, hence support is tailored to meet individual needs.
The report critically analysed the main functions of the Salvation Army hostel for the homeless. As a student I felt that although the faith-based centre is doing its best to help homeless people, the SA has diverted from its original ethos of helping people in need regardless of race and creed, and this was notable especially with the way asylum seekers are turned away because of their immigration statuses. The role of the Church and philanthropists in helping the need and the poor has its roots before the Reformation, when welfare assistance to the needy was provided by the Church, based on the seven corporal works of mercy (the thirsty must be given drink, the hungry to be fed, the naked to be clothed, the sick visited, the prisoners visited etc) (www.victorianweb.org); through to the Elizabethan Poor Laws (1601), when the church provided relief to people through its parishes (Payne 2002). However, because the Salvation Army gets most of its funding from the Local government, this limits what it can do as a church.
Implications for practice.
In relation to providing shelter to people between the ages of 18 to 65, one can argue that this is ageism (Dominelli 2006) because it assumes that people below 18 and over the age of 65 cannot become homeless. Ageism does not promote anti-discriminatory practice, and it is also oppressive (Dominellie 2006). In contrast The Employment Equality (Repeal of Retirement Age Provisions) Regulations 2011 abolishes the retirement age of 65 years, which means that the government recognises that people can still be active after 65 years of age. The centre also views homelessness from a gender point of view by allocating 75 of the rooms to men and leaving only five to women. This is based on the assumption that men are more likely to lose their homes especially through domestic violence (perpetrators of domestic violence) yet there is increasing evidence suggesting that there are also male victims of domestic violence (Shupe et al, 1987) . In addition to homelessness, single women are also likely to lose their homes for the same reasons that men lose their homes (such as unemployment, drug and alcohol misuse, gambling etc).
The report highlighted that there is no family unit at the Salvation Army in Coventry, while Leamington has only one family unit. Under the current economic climate, many families are losing homes due to repossession of houses and unemployment.
As such it is also possible to have families becoming homeless. During my placement I witnessed whole families being turned away because of lack of facilities to accommodate families. One can also argue that by not having family units, the system views single people as more likely to become homeless. This issue of separating families was also practiced during the Poor Laws Amendment 1834, when families were separated in workhouses to ‘punish’ the undeserving poor.
For continuity of care the Salvation Army must continue to work in partnership with GPs, Community Psychiatrists and other health professionals during the recovery pathway so that people do not relapse when they return to the community. In terms of workloads, the project workers were allocated at least 10 service users each. In relation to time, comprehensive assessment to identify risks and needs, this workload was viewed by most workers as unmanageable, especially when allocated to service users with complex needs (accommodation, medical, drug and alcohol misuse, access to benefits etc). This also reduced the time of building rapport with clients (Trevithick 2000 and 2005) for effective intervention methods.
The placement provided me with a forum to apply theory to practice, including relevant theoretical intervention methods, understanding policy and legislation, as well as exposing me to the challenges faced by community workers when they work with people towards individual and community development strategies. I also gained an insight into social and health inequalities leading to homelessness and how these impact on people’s lives. My communication and interviewing skills were also enhanced (Trevithick, 2000 and 2005) as I spoke to different service users and professionals. Working with external agencies improved my team working skills (ibid). Values of a community worker include ability to empathise, to work in a non-judgemental manner, to be patient as well as to promote empowerment through social justice.
The conclusions to be drawn from the above report and analysis of the role of the Salvation Army with homeless people in Coventry are that the church and the voluntary sector play a significant role in the provision of welfare to citizens. However, there is also need to reform some of the Salvation Army’s policies to address issues of ageism, gender, challenge oppression especially with asylum seekers, and become inclusive to women and families who become homeless. Recruitment of volunteers can also be encouraged to reduce workloads. While the methods of intervention may be appropriate, however, assessments are not needs led but resource led, which makes it difficult for project workers to fulfil their roles to promote social justice.
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