10 minutes with… George Phidia, Interventions Officer at Poplar Harca
George works in the Anti Social Behaviour Team at Poplar Harca, we chatted about his role and working in Poplar…
A bit about you…
I’ve been with Poplar Harca for 5 years, prior to that I was working in Poplar since 2006. I worked in the community as a station officer for the Metropolitan Police, at the small police office in the market area, so I know lots of local people and knowledge of the area.
I was as employed a Support Co-Ordinator by Poplar Harca in 2012, supporting victims of domestic violence and hate crime. Part of that role was trying to modify perpetrators behaviour, rather than taking enforcement action straight away, to work through their problems.
What does your role as Interventions Officer involve?
I’ve been doing this role about 12 months, dealing with people that maybe have drug, alcohol or mental health issues and people who have been complained about as well. For instance, residents may have complained about their behaviour and when we delve into it, it might be the person has got a dependency on alcohol and we would try to look into supporting them around that, and trying to turn that around.
Rather than looking straight away at maybe taking legal proceedings or evictions things like that, we’d try to look at supporting that person. Of course, we do have to be careful because we’ve got a duty of care to other residents. If I’m working with a person and we’re still getting complaints in regularity about them, then we know somethings not working right. I liaise with the support team and the ASB team so they know what I’m doing, so if we are getting complaints then I need to maybe modify what I’m doing with that person. It’s great if we can support that person – brilliant, then we can stop the problem and everything’s fine and that person sustains their tenancy, but there has to come a point where if that isn’t working, because of the change of ASB legislation, (putting positive requirements* in for the resident), that can aid with any enforcement action we have to take and it then shows both we’ve tried to provide intensive support for a number of months.
*Positive requirement – to help anti-social individuals address the root causes of their behaviour, such as attending alcohol awareness classes, or mediation sessions for neighbours to get the issue resolved.
Do you do support with the wider family?
We work in partnership with other organisations such as Kineara. They do work with the family dynamic, because you might have one person who for instance is causing a problem but that impacts the rest of the family – they might have other children, parents, schooling. We also do work with St Gile’s Trust- they have people in Tower Hamlets to work with families. We do look at the person itself that is being complained and we do look at the family environment.
We are looking to work with other partners, we have spoken to the Communities and Neighbourhood team at Poplar Harca. We’ve had young people involved in Spotlight and Lifeline (now CGL, who specialise in providing support to young people about drugs and alcohol). We’re building up a portfolio of where we will signpost – knowing what’s right for that person. At the moment it’s about broadening and seeing what’s available for people, and us referring them to the right people. I’ve been speaking with Daniel Rose from Spotlight – they are doing some outreach work, being proactive and doing stuff around the local area.
What are some of the main challenges in your role?
Dealing with people where it’s been a habit with what virtually almost seems like a lifetime. If you’re dealing with someone who is being complained about, but they’ve got a drug dependency for example. It’s very difficult, obviously it’s not up to me alone, but we have to rely on other agencies, but the challenges are getting them to attend, to engage and things like that. It’s building up that rapport with that person so they trust you enough, that you can say to them, ‘this is what we’re going to try to do’.
I think it’s the realisation that sometimes they are going to fall off the wagon a little bit and it’s expecting that. The challenge around that is, for me, to liaise with the ASB guys who are looking to take the action to try and put the brakes on a little bit, and say ‘hold on a second here, yes they’ve made a mistake, this is what’s gone on, however I’m confident I can get them back on track that we can get them with the relevant support’. It’s like me acting like the buffer between the enforcement, for instance if this is a regularity and they’re misbehaving then there does become a point where we have to say it needs to go to the next step.
The challenges with the people, sometimes it might not be safe to go on your own to the property, maybe because of the people they hang around with or someone who has mental health or drug dependencies, that’s a challenge in itself. It’s knowing as well when, as support can be extensive (you take them to meetings, you take them to rehab to make sure they get there), the challenge is knowing when to wain that support off, as then they may become too dependent on you, relying on you too much, they have to become dependent on themselves.
We are not an organisation that is just about evicting people. The challenge we do face as well is – if a residents complains about someone, saying to them we are trying to support that person, because they’re not interested in that a lot of the time – not everybody, but they want that problem gone. If for example someone’s bringing people into the block, taking drugs and that’s gone on, the last thing they want to hear is that person is a victim, because they perceive, which they are, that they are the victim, they are the informant. So that’s the challenge, to say ‘give us an opportunity to work with that person’. Some are ok with that and I say I’m their support worker and this is what we’re trying to do, to give a bit of respite to try and work with that person. We might get calls from relatives saying we’re not doing anything and their Mum’s being kept up at night, it’s a challenge.
Have you seen how government cuts have affected services or people you’re working with?
A lot of the drug and alcohol services, some of them have been cut, however in the particular service I use, the Reset service now it’s called, that has gone in house, it’s under one roof – so for us it’s been a little bit easier for us to refer in to.
In terms of the enforcement – the policing has been a major challenge. There used to be a safer neighbourhood team, but now with the government cuts and things like that, sometimes that team is not necessarily accessible, the whole team anyway, you would maybe have one designated officer, however sometimes those officers are pulled away to different areas of the borough so they’re not always accessible. I’d say that’s been a major challenge – the local policing isn’t always there. Whereas Poplar Harca used to lean on them for intelligence, obviously we still try and do that and engage with police, but sometimes where their time is taken up in the current climate, their time may be diverted elsewhere and rightly so. The residents themselves, the reports we get in, for example that there’s a group of youths hanging about and they call the police and they don’t turn up or they turn up but it’s maybe 3 hours later when the group’s gone. It’s things like that when you haven’t got that local policing that we used to have.
We are however in the process of once again having our own police team which will focus on Poplar Harca issues. In doing this it will make them (Police) more accessible to us and will enable them to focus and to deal with those issues that are most important to our residents.
You mentioned your experience working around Hate Crime. Have you got any advice about this or how people know what is considered to be a Hate Crime?
In the past when I’ve bought people in, sometimes they aren’t aware what a hate crime is. When you say hate crime it’s just got so many broad things, a lot of people wouldn’t automatically think skin colour and things like that, but you’ve got disability, people wouldn’t generally recognise that. I think it’s getting better making people aware, but there’s some work to go.
Things around disability and mental health, definitely need to be a bit more publicised, with hate crime and things you’d automatically think of discrimination against skin colour or anti-Semitic, people don’t always give consideration as well to people’s sexuality, that can be a hate crime.
Going back to working with domestic violence, it’s a similar sort of thing – people may think of it as being beaten up by a partner, but it’s not always about that. When I used to have residents in, they may say their partners are doing certain things like withholding their bank cards – I’d point out financial abuse is another form of domestic abuse and they aren’t aware of that. Keeping your cards, keeping your money, its educating people it’s also a form of domestic abuse. It’s an ongoing process, there are certain aspects of those types of domestic abuse and hate crime that aren’t highly publicised and people aren’t quite aware.
How do residents access support from you? Is it a referral or a self-referral, or identified by your colleagues?
A lot my current role, referrals come through the ASB team. For instance if they bring someone in who’s misbehaving and they’ve identified there could be some sort of issue going on with them, then they’d explain the process, that we’re got someone within the organisation, they can work with you, we would suggest we would go that route.
A lot of time it’s not like saying to them we give you this warning and if you do it again… the option is that support. It’s a voluntary thing, so if they say no then we offered it, but if they say yes, we’ve got a referral form and me and my manager Joe we’d determine if it’s the right and positive support and sign them up to some sort of agreement. Then we’d meet up and it’d be a lot of signposting, if it’s a drug or alcohol dependency, I’d try to get them to engage with the Reset Centre in Mile End. If it’s a family issue I may engage them with St Gile’s Trust and then we’d oversee that support and see what their engagement is like and still liaising with ASB and the support team and see if the problems are getting better. I’ve had a few cases where Rents have referred in, where people have come in rent arrears and they’ve got a mental illness or drug or alcohol dependency, so referrals can come in through them too.
You’ve been working in Poplar for over 10 years and must have seen a lot of changes – what do you love about Poplar?
I like there’s a definite community feel amongst the people, I saw that mainly as well in the front office (at the police station in Chrisp St). I think a lot of it is with the community, if they see that familiar face, and they see someone, particularly what I was in the front office. It takes a bit of time to trust you, but once you’ve got that trust with them, that rapport, they’re more than willing to open up to you.
With the area as well, the regeneration, it’s reinventing itself which is great, but I still think there’s going to be a focus on keeping its core values – the sense of community, which is key for the area I think. You don’t want to make it too Canary Wharf-y, you still want to keep that edginess and that sense of community, that’s what