· Features

Supporting homeless people back into work

A little patience and understanding goes a long way in getting homeless people back into work. And they could be the best employees you've ever had.

When we talk about homelessness, most people think of rough sleepers. They see loneliness and destitution; and yes, homelessness can be all of those things. Yet at Crisis’s employment fairs, you’ll hear people say how it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between our clients and the employers.

Part of this is down to appearance: we offer haircuts, suits and coaching so that people can feel more confident when talking to employers. But it’s also the sense of drive and purpose that’s so immediately evident. It’s something you cannot help but see, and the employers we work with really do appreciate that.

People may be surprised to hear that the vast majority of homeless people want to work. Being out of work is both a major cause and consequence of homelessness. Most people just want a chance to rebuild their life, and for many a job or training programme is a crucial step in that process.

So how do you get someone who’s homeless back into work, and why are businesses so important? Homelessness is a devastating experience that shatters confidence and self-esteem. As a result, homeless people cannot be rushed, forced or sanctioned into work. They need the right support, which is where we come in.

Everyone has different reasons for ending up homeless. So when someone comes to us, the first thing we do is listen to them. Our frontline staff identify the problems that led to a downward spiral. We then match them to the services, classes and courses we offer.

For example, one client came through our doors after a period of homelessness. Speaking to him about his situation, it was agreed he should attend IT, literacy, CV building and interview skills classes. We even kitted him out with a suit.

I’m proud to say that he now has a job and a rented home. Using this holistic approach, we found work for 550 people last year.

As a key part of our year-round work, in April we held a national series of events – Employment Fortnight – in Crisis centres across the UK. Over the course of the two weeks, homeless people boosted their job prospects through workshops and employment fairs offering a range of employability skills, along with the chance to meet national and local businesses.

Employers also benefit from interacting with people who are homeless. Our teams work closely with companies to understand their needs and match them to suitable candidates. It’s a chance for businesses to invest in the local community and a great opportunity for staff volunteering and development. On top of that, organisations gain access to genuinely determined applicants for jobs. Indeed, one employer recently told us that our candidates were some of the most impressive he’d ever encountered at a recruitment event.

This year, more than 100 organisations took part. We hope that as word spreads, even more businesses will be motivated to offer homeless people the chance to rebuild their lives through employment. Those organisations that do will be surprised at the drive and commitment they’re rewarded with.

Jon Sparkes is chief executive of Crisis, a national homelessness charity