Wild boars and canaries
The heroic rescue of the Thai Wild Boars boys football team from a ledge deep in a cave threatened by rising flood waters rightly captured the world’s attention as an example of humanity at its best, working together without thought of personal gain or recognition (with the exception of Elon Musk) to save lives and re-unite families.
Like the boys, many of the people Hope helps are trapped and threatened by rising dangers of mental ill-health, addiction, abuse, debt, violence, intimidation, moral judgement, exclusion and so much else. They have no obvious way out of the desperate challenges they face, and where they are can seem like a deep dark hole.
Like the boys, the people Hope helps walked into their cave, but in the case of the boys the world recognised it had to help because otherwise they could not escape. The boys were not blamed for getting themselves there even if some foolishly blamed their coach. When it comes to our service users, they are blamed, and judged by some for being there. They are told they have to show self-responsibility, accept that their actions got them there, change their behaviour, ‘engage’, make massive efforts to manage those rising flood waters before the lifeline of housing is even offered and made to wait and beg.
This is simply not possible for many of the people we work with. They often did not walk into their cave with addiction or mental ill-health: it found them there, part of the bad gas that forms in a cave, or a mine, and which forced the Thai rescuers to act, with courage and bravery, before that gas killed the boys.
The risks our service users face are very real. Since June 26th 5 people from our client group have died, most currently or recently rough sleepers. The obvious presence of increasing numbers of people on the streets, and worse still, their deaths, is akin to the role of canaries in a mine: showing whether there is bad gas present. If there is, the canaries die.
Our service users are dying, and they show the cave is full of bad gas. The bad gas of a rotten housing system that creates not enough social rent homes that can be accessed without blame or judgement; a system of low wages, insecure work and benefits, set against uncontrolled rents and no security of tenure. Hope works with far more than just rough sleepers; a host of people teetering on the edge of destitution through poor social policy and greed, opening the way for rising floodwaters of addiction and mental-ill health to hold them there, trapped.
Our service users need little miracles of care and love to see the light of day, accepting that they cannot make huge changes in their lives before they get help, but alongside the offer of help, and that’s how we work at Hope, encouraging people to take responsibility but not exclude them from help whilst they do.
Hope does not claim the heroism and sacrifice that claimed the life of one navy seal in Thailand. But we dive every day for rescues.