Just be fucking nice

I have been busy delivering briefing sessions to front line staff including Housing, DWP, University security teams who in their day to day work come into contact with people on the street, begging, rough sleeping, intoxicated or causing anti-social behavior. The aim of the briefings is to not just raise awareness about what support provision is available in Sheffield, I have focused it more about trying to educate, help people understand WHY someone who they have come across may not be engaging in services, why someone might be refusing the help offered, why someone might be uncooperative or even aggressive! Here are some of the questions that have frequently that have come up during the sessions…

“Why would someone continue to take drugs even though you can see it is clearly killing them slowly?”

“I have offered, arranged support even taken them to support, but yet there is no change?”

“Why someone would sleep out on the streets, risking hypothermia and still refuse help?”

“They won’t do anything to help themselves”

“I have done all this! tried that! to help support someone, but none of it works – why?”


 The other Friday morning I had agreed to go visit a Broomhall breakfast club that operates just on the outskirts of the city center, the club has been operating for the past 18+ years, my plan was to go there for 8 am stay for a while then go deliver a briefing session to University of Sheffield security staff, just up the road at 9.30am.

Walking down the street, looking for the church, I saw a guy who assumed was going to the same place, my assumptions were founded by the fact he looked street homeless, he was carrying a black sack and a Sainsbury’s carrier bag for life, and looked like he hadn’t washed or shaved for weeks. I asked him if he was going to the same breakfast club and offered to help carry one of his bags for him, turns out he was going to the same place,  he declined my offer to carry one of his bags, but he did recognize me which took me back a little. Because as I looked more closely I realized that I knew him too, only he looked a lot different to how he did the last time I’d seen him. (to protect his privacy I am using a different name)

You see the last time I had seen Tom, had been at one of the Recovery Support groups that from one of the larger homeless support projects in the city center, he had been a regular attendee to the groups, he was rather a shy guy but was always polite and when he shared his story he would always capture my attention, he was very articulate, calm, a self-deprecating person who was well aware of his own weaknesses and shortcomings and wasn’t afraid to point them out. He had his own place, was stable on a script and was generally finding his own way on his recovery journey.

As we walked together towards the breakfast club, Tom told me how he was currently sleeping rough, up by the university, the very same one I would be delivering training too later that morning. As we reached the doors to the project and Tom, bid me fair well and went to order his breakfast before finding a table, notibly a table where no one else was sitting, I sensed he wanted to be alone and didn’t much feel like talking, so I went to meet the manager and the other staff to find out more about the project, whilst all the time observing Tom from my position the serving hatch. I was intent on going over to sit with him, once I had been told the ropes, but just as I was about to walk over, one of the other volunteers, a lady had beaten me to it, so I bided my time. Half an hour later I saw Tom, start to gather his belongings to leave, as he headed for the door to leave, I made my excuses from my conversation and followed Tom outside.

Tom seemed embarrassed, ashamed and slightly reluctant to chat, knowing he was back on the streets sleeping rough, I asked if he wanted me to call Framework? but he politely declined my offer, I asked if he was still getting his script to which he replied no, he said he hated having to go the Fitzwilliam Centre,  being around other people, hence why he’d stopped going to the Archer project and was keeping a low profile. My gut wanted to jump into rescue mode, get on the phone call the rough sleeper service, get on the phone to Fitz, get him an appointment sorted, but my instinct told me that he wasn’t ready for that. As the conversation flowed, so did the tears he shared how he felt he didn’t have another attempt of recovery in him, he was fed up with his lot and just wanted out! and truth be told, my gut instinct was right, he was defeated, he felt he was a failure, it was literally heartbreaking.

One not to give up, I remembered Addaction’s new breakfast club that was running, it wasn’t Archer project, it wasn’t Fitz, there would be no pressure or expectations laid upon him, he could just go there and socialize, eat and relax and get some respite from the streets and it ran 5 days a week. Tom was aware of the project as he had previously been required to attend as part of a court order. I told him about an amazing worker down there, who I thought he would get along with, some who I think he would have really connected with, someone who was great at working at the client’s pace, who himself has been where Tom was now and had the scars from years of digging into his veins to prove it. He said he would consider going and I wrote down the workers name for him and encouraged him to make contact when he was ready!

Tom was restless, you could tell he was ready to leave, I gave him a big hug and wished him well, as he turned the corner I got onto the phone to the worker I had mentioned and explained Tom’s circumstances to him, totally unfazed the worker was more than happy to see Tom and agreed that he would inform the reception staff that should Tom access the service or ask to speak to him, to inform him straight away. The only thing I can do now is hope that Tom makes that first move.  It was heartbreaking to see Tom, a shell of his former self, defeated almost.

There is a little model/framework, called stages of change or Cycle of change that I use when presenting or delivering briefings about what treatment and support are available in Sheffield (see diagram below) I strongly believe it is as important to try and get workers/staff to understand that by simply knowing where to refer or send someone into treatment and support, isn’t enough. My belief is that if staff understand where and why someone may be acting irrationally or “not normal” (whatever the fuck “Normal” means,) that they can try and be understanding and less judgmental and that if someone refuses help, not to take it personally, its just could be that they might not be ready, or more likely scared to take those steps to change.

The last time I saw Tom, he was clearly in Action mode, making attempts to take his addiction, seeking support, was in receipt of a script he was attending groups, he had a flat. Today when I saw Tom, he had slipped back into contemplation mode, he knew he had a problem, he knew what he needed to do, he knew where he could go for help, he knew it all, BUT he didn’t have the psychological or emotional capacity to consider the work required to move him back to where he was the last time I saw him.

Later on, that morning in the training I used Tom as the case study, it transpires that the security staff knew of Tom already, the regarded him as being a nice polite guy, who actually didn’t cause them any issues, but after the briefings, at least they had the knowledge to know where they could signpost him to support, should he be receptive to the offer of support.

In today’s society, addiction, mental health is more prevalent more visible, it’s not like breaking a leg, where you can go to a GP, get an x-ray, get a cast, rest up for a while until its fixed and carry on with life… It’s no wonder some front line services, workers who work in a system struggling to understand why they can get frustrated and deflated if they identify a problem, offer a solution but don’t get the desired outcome.

The point I am trying to make is you don’t have to be an expert in addiction, nor a therapist to recognize that us humans are complex and unique you may never get to know or understand someone’s journey, where it started, where they have been, how long they have been traveling, where or what their final destination will look like, BUT you CAN be nice or kind, after all, you may never know if your kindness that day might just be the one thing that influenced that persons change in direction.

I do not yet know if Tom has taken the advice, or gone to the service, but what I do know is that I treated Tom with dignity and respect, I didn’t push, nor judge, I just listened, I was there for him for those few minutes, being there for him. One thing that i have learned about myself and others is that if someone isn’t ready for change, regardless of the reasons, you cannot force people to change, that change has to come from within. So even if you cannot help someone, you can always help or make someone’s day, or journey by just being fucking nice!

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3 Replies to “Just be fucking nice”

  1. Spot on Tracey, as I’ve said for many years, the most important “degrees” needed to be an effective helper in our game is Fahrenheit and Centigrade. WARMTH ; 0 )

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