This article describes how a group of young people, each of whom had been homeless in the past, made a DVD about their experiences with the aim of improving services for people in the future.
It started with a simple idea. A group of young people who have experienced homelessness in Kidderminster started to meet in the local Connexions office each fortnight with the co-ordinator for Wyre Forest Nightstop. All the young people have been homeless and are now living in their own, or in shared, accommodation. But the experience has stayed with them, and they wanted to use this to improve services for other young people in the town.
When the young people decided that they wanted to meet regularly, they were given the option of a fairly informal get together – perhaps a chat and a pizza. But they rejected this offer because they meant business. They wanted agendas, officers and a clear plan.
The group now has an elected chair, vice-chair, secretary and treasurer and has been meeting as the crisis prevention team for more than a year. Usually, about six or seven attend the meetings.
One of the first tasks that the young people set themselves was to raise awareness of homelessness in Kidderminster. Although not on an inner-city scale, Kidderminster does have a youth homelessness issue – as there is in many medium-sized towns – accompanied by a failure to recognise that it could possibly happen there.
The young people thought the annual Kidderminster Carnival would provide a chance to raise the youth homelessness issue. The summer carnival is a major event for the town, attracting local people and visitors. The group set up a stall on the day to highlight homelessness issues. Members constructed cardboard houses and invited the public to discuss the structures and “buy a brick” to develop better services for the town’s young homeless people. The carnival raised more than £400 for the group.
Raising the profile of the issue was, however, not enough. The crisis prevention team wanted to do something that would actually improve the services to homeless young people who needed services. Buoyed by the success of the carnival, the group members decided to produce a DVD about their experiences. It would be used to demonstrate users’ viewpoints to local managers of services and to suggest changes.
While a great idea, it presented real challenges both for the group and for those offering them support. Some of the young people initially saw it as fun to do which was important if the interest and momentum were to be maintained, it had to be a happy experience for the whole group.
Others saw it as a chance to get things off their chest and “tell the bosses what a crap service they ran”. Again, it is important that the young people’s frustration and anger at what had happened to them is given expression, but in ways that most effectively help bring about better services.
Before finalising the DVD, the young people spent time identifying the experiences they wanted to highlight, writing a script, choosing the locations and the methods to be used, and deciding the practicalities of who would do what. Plus, it had to be fun and it had to be real for them.
A number of meetings were dedicated to these tasks. They all agreed that the outcome would be something that would help other homeless young people. Some local service managers were approached and asked whether, if a DVD were made, they would meet the young people to watch it and consider whether any changes in service delivery were warranted as a result. The managers agreed to meet the group and discuss the ideas raised in the DVD.
Over a series of sessions, a storyboard was developed, locations identified and roles assigned. A colleague who worked in a local youth agency had the equipment and editing skills and agreed to help the young people with some of the more technical aspects.
The filming was done in one day. This ensured that the same group of young people were involved in the filming throughout. Spreading the filming over two or three sessions would not only have affected the continuity, but it would have been difficult to ensure that everyone could take the same days off work or college. Five young people took part in the actual filming, with more helping in the preparation phases.
The finished DVD was viewed for the first time at the annual meeting of Wyre Forest Nightstop in December 2006, with two members of the group enthusiastically answering questions from the audience at a public meeting of more than 50 people.
The young people are due to meet senior managers soon when they will present their material and suggest improvements that can be made to services for homeless young people in Kidderminster. CC
Turn to the next page to find out how people with learning difficulties have written, starred in and produced a DVD about their lives.
The group raised awareness of youth homelessness with a stall at Kidderminster’s summer carnival
Top Ten Recommendations
The DVD has Top Ten recommendations to local managers on ways to improve services for homeless young people:
● Offer young people a private place to explain their situation.
● Understand that young homeless people may be going through a rough time. Put yourself in their shoes and be understanding.
● We understand that respect has to be earned, but that works both ways. Young people deserve the same respect as adults.
● Feel free to use our DVD in training (e-mail email@example.com for details).
● When new members of staff are employed, make sure they are aware of the problems that young people face.
● When we were homeless we realised there was a lack of accommodation for young people. We feel a hostel being built would benefit young people.
● Update young people on their situation, so they know where they stand.
● It shouldn’t take bringing adults or support workers to interviews to be listened to. Please do not dismiss what we say.
● Ask young people if help is needed with forms, and if they grasp what they need to do.
● If young people can’t attend meetings, try to be understanding, as young people are expected to understand if services cannot attend.
David Harris is support and development officer for Nightstop UK, a national organisation that works with local communities to try to prevent youth homelessness. In addition to working in the voluntary sector, he has previously worked in local authority children’s services, and as a lay university chaplain.
Sally Perks has been the first co-ordinator of Wyre Forest Nightstop in Kidderminster for just over two years. She is a graduate in community studies and is currently studying for an MA in youth and community studies.
Training and learning
The author has provided questions about this article to guide discussion in teams. These can be viewed at www.communitycare.co.uk/prtl and individuals’ learning from the discussion can be registered on a free, password-protected training log held on the site. This is a service from Community Care for all GSCC-registered professionals.
DVD obtainable from 01562 820110 (Wyre Forest Nightstop)
People with learning difficulties put their experiences in DVD. Supported by United Response
This article appeared in the 23 March issue under the headline “Homeless, young, talented”