Under the Arches #1 – We have to invest trust

20th March 2024

Please note this blog mentions drug addiction (no graphic descriptions).


The centre is open and I can hear its activity sat behind a desk as I’m answering emails. This morning there is one loud person whose conversations I can hear above all others. She is doing some volunteer work with us. She is in a good place today. I hear one of my team laugh with her. There are others joining in.

In the summer I sat with her because she wanted to tell me what she knew about her drug addiction. She needed the internet to show me some TED Talks and other bits of information. We talked for a while, including about why she can be difficult to deal with on some days and not others. It was about forty-five minutes before it was too much and she had to go. It’s the little things that tell us a lot. Forty-five minutes as the limit of being able to sit is one of those things.

Talking to someone who is immersed in street life about theory and self-understanding can tell you a lot. It told me to expect a long journey of recovery, but more importantly a hopeful one. I felt certain that her journey had begun, even if that might not be clear on many days over the coming months. Sure enough there have been days which most might describe as chaos. On those days when I’ve seen her she gives me a sign, in one way or another, that she knows she is beyond the control she wants to have. Her voice travels, the speed of her words triples as they are fired around her, sometimes randomly, sometimes targeted. In the middle of that she might manage a “Not today Tim” or, maybe, a look.

These are difficult moments. We need to encourage and build the positive relationship but we can’t do that by ignoring the impact of her attack on others. Whilst I think she knows that, I also assume she has been the recipient of false promises, rejection, victimisation and much worse for most of her life.


The truth is we walk a difficult line.


We go out of our way to affirm that we support her and will support her. We need to do that because we believe she needs to hear that, whatever happens today, the relationship isn’t ruined. The future promise isn’t vetoed by today’s negativity.

Some people think trust is built. I don’t, I think we have to invest trust, as if it were money, borrowing it from somewhere else for this purpose with the belief that it will pay a dividend in the future. We borrow it from our experience. It has taught that where trust doesn’t exist, it needs priming. We’re determined to work for and with people who experience homelessness, so we have to do some priming. For balance I need to add that I think people show some level of trust in us, however low in expectation that may be, when they walk through the door again and again.

We make the most of good days. On days like today there is a comfort in hearing her working with our team. In that moment I feel proud of what they do and how they respond. There has been good and bad news. She has new accommodation and is no longer sleeping on the street, but it isn’t problem free and offers much less than most of us would find acceptable.

It isn’t just our team. My conversation was built on work she had done with somebody else. Getting into new accommodation and avoiding the very worst options for her has been an ongoing conversation between her, the rough sleeper outreach team and the team running the accommodation pathway. Drugs workers and probation officers are involved. It sounds a lot, but these might be only moments in a week. Without the energy she puts in, nothing long term would be happening. Without that complexity of support, the opportunity for progress wouldn’t be realised (or would be much slower).


Imagine, just for a moment, if there was enough quality accommodation to have secured her a home in the summer months when I sat down with her, or before that so that she hadn’t needed to come to our centre at all. Imagine! I do.

My imagination goes further. Imagine if we could have intervened much earlier in her life. She is intelligent but isn’t educated by the system designed to do that. She is caring but hasn’t received the care to nurture and shape what she has to give. She is clearly capable, but capable of what we don’t know, because those opportunities haven’t been accessible to her – most of life she has been fighting to survive, without realising the option to thrive existed for her.

Imagine her as a teacher, or supervisor or manager or leader in some line of employment. That’s what I imagine. I suspect she could succeed in higher education. She would naturally lead others, be vocal and change the world around her in ways that many of us do. I imagine she would bring joy and lightness as well as being someone who wouldn’t suffer fools, because I see that in her now.

How much of that has been lost? I hope that much of it is still to come. Today is a good day and that is all we have at the moment. And if tomorrow isn’t so good, it won’t be allowed to ruin the progress she’s made.


Written by Tim Renshaw, CEO of The Archer Project.

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