Shifting the power to service users

The Mayday Trust totally overhauled the way it supports people experiencing homelessness after listening to feedback (See previous blog). The new way of working involves really listening to clients and to do this effectively involves addressing the multiple power dynamics in play between funders, charities and the people they serve.

Pat McArdle Mayday Trust’s chief executive officer said: “We began to shift the power dynamics in all interactions to give people more power and choice.”

Below is how they tackled the power dynamics in some key relationships:-

Between staff and people experiencing homelessness

Client feedback revealed that when people were living in supported accommodation they were unable to be totally honest with their keyworker, for fear of being evicted. Some said that they only attended key-working sessions because it was a condition of their tenancy, while others said that they avoided support sessions when they had rent arrears. So the trust changed it staffing structure separating coaching from the accommodation side of the service. The coaches now have no say on an individual’s tenancy status. People engage with their coaches on a voluntary basis and their relationships are based on trust rather than tenancy. This enables people to be honest without fear it will affect their accommodation status.

Between the charity and people experiencing homelessness

Another area where they have shifted the power towards the people they serve is to view the trust’s services as something the client might or might not buy. The trust now offers a four week trial period. People can decide if they think coaching will work for them and tell the Trust if they would like something else. After the Mayday Trust made all engagement with mentors voluntary they saw it increase from 50% to 80% over the initial six month period.

Clients are given their own personal budgets, which they can spend on support they need when they need it. This means clients no longer have to be persuaded to participate in training/work placements instead they decide for themselves what would be useful.

dsc_0275Between people experiencing homelessness and the community

People reported that they felt isolated from the wider community and most of their relationships were with other people experiencing homelessness or their support workers. Staff said they sometimes felt uneasy about introducing homeless people to the general public, they were seen as a risk. Conversely, people experiencing homelessness felt that they might not be accepted and so didn’t have much confidence using community resources. Mayday Trust made changes to support people in building a network of trusting relationships. They trained all their coaches in power dynamics and introduced volunteers who help clients build positive peer networks outside the service and take up opportunities in the community.

Between the trust and its funders

Another important power dynamic is that between the trust and its funders. The Trust’s determination to stick to its new people-centred and strength-focused way of working means it has had to turn down funding which is incompatible.

Pat McArdle said: “It is not just us that needs to change but wider systems need to change. Funding needs to be more flexible because we are learning all the time.”

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