Cath Millar:- Being There Project Manager
If someone has grown up in care, has experienced severe abuse and neglect in childhood, has lived in an abusive relationship, or simply has no loving family and no friends, that person will almost certainly have nowhere to turn when they come across a problem in life, as we all do from time to time.
For many of those supported by Caring For Life, the difficulties they face in day to day life are compounded by mental health issues, a physical disability or a learning difficulty, and they simply cannot cope with the day to day problems which we all face, let alone the crises of life with which we all struggle.
Finding work for such people is a virtual impossibility, especially if you don’t have a home, and accessing the benefits you are entitled to is ever more bewildering. Finding a safe home where such people will be safe from abusers is all but impossible.
What such people need, and need desperately, is a trustworthy friend they can rely on, someone they can trust 100%. That is what the Being There team of Caring For Life is all about. Caring for more than 150 people at any one time, gently taking the time to get to know someone who is hurting, and then helping them to find a safe home, and above all simply bringing Jesus’ love, His compassion and His tenderness to deeply damaged and hurting lives, is the call we believe we have received from the One who loves these people more than anyone else. This is the very first stage, the very beginning of our ministry in helping a person who is homeless ……..
We immediately recognised that what we urgently needed to provide, was ongoing support to help these people maintain their tenancies. So the need for a ‘housing support’ team quickly became obvious. But it was not until 1991 that we were able to employ a small and permanent team of compassionate Christian people to meet this need.
One young lady said, “I have been involved with a lot of agencies, especially in mental health. To everyone I am just a ‘client’ or even worse now I am a ‘service user!’ Here at Caring For Life I am Karen! (name changed) That is special, here I am me, a special person, a human being!”
Our refusal to use the terms “client” or as “Karen” said ‘service user’ has been an insistence of ours from the very beginning. People coming to us are beneficiaries of our care, and very quickly just become friends, and a part of a very special family.
The Being There team currently has seven staff, three gentlemen and three ladies, supported by Cath, our fulltime Senior Manager, who is in turn supported by Jonathan Parkinson, our Pastoral Director from the Executive Team. In addition we have eight volunteers all of whom help for at least one day every week.
Each staff member cares for around sixteen people and referrals are received from a wide range of statutory and voluntary agencies, as well as relatives, friends, churches and self-referrals. From the peaceful setting of Crag House Farm, lit up on a hill, the ‘Being There’ team go down into Leeds, into some of the poorest areas, the loneliest high-rise flats and the most despairing and terrifying of circumstances. They take with them the love and light of the Lord Jesus. Their help is extended to all, regardless of race, background or creed. They take the love of Jesus to some deeply damaged people and into some very dark places; underlying all the tasks the team undertake is their own personal love for and faith in Christ Jesus.
The key to the work of Caring For Life’s Being There team is the absolute, unconditional and positive regard for each person they support. When referred, many of those who come to CFL are in dire straits, living totally chaotic lives, often not in receipt of their correct benefits or indeed any benefits, and not infrequently involved in offending. Developing a trusting relationship with such people takes a long time; it may be some weeks or months before a new person feels able to speak much at all with their support worker, and it is likely to be many months, if not years, before they begin to trust them. Sometimes a person’s problems are so complicated and entrenched that it seems as though everything we try to do to help is doomed to failure. This is when we simply apply “turn up therapy”, as advised by our consultant educational psychologist. Just turning up, week by week, simply “being there” for vulnerable men and women is vital, and as we continue to turn up, in the face of hostility, so we are gradually able to develop meaningful relationships.
Housing is located for those who are homeless through applications to the local Housing Department and to private landlords. With the very low level of local authority housing stock in Leeds, good working relationships with accredited private landlords are vital.
Support workers seek to visit each of the people in their care every week, although this is not always possible if there is a crisis such as a court appearance, a lengthy hospital appointment which can take all day long, or in the case of helping someone to move home, two or three days out of a support worker’s time.
However weekly contact is always maintained even if simply via phone calls, and when someone has a serious need such as illness, a threat of domestic violence or a similar crisis, support workers visit the person several times each week.
Support workers ensure that everyone in their care has a GP and a dentist, as very few will have received adequate, if any, healthcare, and the support workers always seek to accompany those in their care to hospital appointments and support them in healthcare matters.
The team work closely with community psychiatric teams and attend Care Programme Approach reviews. Being There support workers also work with vulnerable families and liaise regularly with Children’s Services to provide crucial support.
The support workers do not always have the time they would like to help those in our care turn a property into a real “home”, i.e. helping with decorating or a major “make over”. For this reason we initiated ‘MAD’ days (Make a Difference Days). Utilising the assistance of up to 6 volunteers at a time, an eight hour period is spent in the person’s accommodation, helping to undertake a complete makeover of one or two rooms, and, when funds permit, furnishing the rooms with new curtains, carpets or essential items. This is done ‘with’ rather than ‘for’ those in our care. Their full involvement, enthusiasm and participation is crucial if they are to appreciate and benefit from this commitment. Some funds from our “Alternative Christmas” gifts appeal are set aside to help with the costs of this vital project.
Due to changes introduced under Welfare Reforms, the team had to spend up to 80% of their time helping people to cope with benefits reviews or appealing against unfair decisions. This has lessened at present, but a further pressure on the team has been the introduction of the “bedroom tax”, necessitating helping large numbers of people to somehow find alternative accommodation, and then to move home. Every effort is made to help those who are able to find and keep paid employment, but this is simply not possible for all. The welfare reforms have engendered acute anxiety in many of those supported by the team and the planned introduction of further online applications and notifications, plus the direct payment of housing benefit, will make the team’s task ever more complicated.
CFL’s “Being There” project monitors the outcomes of its work with those in our care on a quarterly basis and outcomes for last year, 2013, include:
Number assisted with benefits or debts: 72.6%
Number assessed for mental health issues: 55.9%
Number who encountered a dire crisis during the year: 42.8%
Number having a chaotic lifestyle: 54.7%
Percentage who avoided homelessness: 92%
Percentage with previous convictions who avoided offending: 95.7%
Percentage who avoided self-harm: 66.5%
Those with chaotic lifestyles who CFL stayed in touch with: 97.8%.
These outcomes show the importance of the project’s work and the significant positive impact it is having by helping vulnerable adults and families to achieve a more safe and happy lifestyle. The results also show the reduced cost to central and local government through helping vulnerable people avoid a return to chaotic life styles.
Very simply, deeply damaged individuals are not only housed but are also enabled to maintain their tenancies and to settle into a happier and more safe way of life, knowing that they are part of the extended CFL family and will always have someone to turn to. Moreover, with 95.7% of those people with a history of offending avoiding re-offending, Caring For Life is achieving quite extraordinary results.
Men and women from all backgrounds, cultures and religions are helped, and no pressure is placed on any individual to accept the Christian faith. However Caring For Life makes no apologies for our Christian convictions, and assumes the right as Christians to share the faith in which we believe, with anyone in our care, or anyone who comes within the parameters of our ministry, whilst not discriminating in any way against those who choose not to accept or share our faith.
Nevertheless, each time the ‘Being There’ team invite people to the monthly evening Bible study, they are overwhelmed by requests for lifts to the studies and the numbers who attend are limited by the transport available. There are often opportunities, sometimes very surprising ones, for a member of staff to explain what their own faith means to them, because those in their care really want to know. Deeply damaged people have found real peace and joy as they have come to know Christ, and all have known the love of Jesus shared with them in a very practical way.
We are hoping to have more ‘Being There’ beneficiaries on farm projects.
We are desperate to expand our work, either with new staff members or male volunteers befrienders and with a housing and benefits manager.
We would really like to have a professional counsellor readily available to beneficiaries with emotional problems, especially those caused by past abuse.
We are trying to arrange more social events, outings and maybe a holiday.
Finally, we want to see the vision for a Caring For Life housing area/village of our own come into being. Then we can offer care to many more vulnerable adults, in safe, supported independent living accommodation.