First, Understanding Homelessness

We’re three months into addressing the business barriers to homelessness and employment, and the thing we’ve learnt most quickly? That it’s difficult to get people to open their mind to it.

Considering Homeless Employment

Some of that is wholly understandable. Most people equate homelessness with rough sleeping so for many, the idea of those most vulnerable individuals – we see on our city streets day-to-day – holding down or successfully delivering a steady job is unimaginable.

It’s only when you understand that people experiencing street homelessness account for less than 2% of the homeless population, do you start to wake up to the potential. Yet, there’s something more going on.

Part of the challenge is that people place value judgements on those individuals too. Despite the oft-repeated trope that no-one is more than a few paychecks away from losing their home, the reality is that its hardship, trauma and a lack of support network that is most likely to lead to homelessness.

Personal Challenges

Yet, most people don’t see the relationship breakdowns and grief, the domestic violence and childhood abuse, or the homophobic families that cause people to leave their homes. Time in care institutions, the armed forces or the prison system, that leave people adrift.

All these things, combined with the challenges that mental health issues or addictive substances can lead to homelessness, and they aren’t experienced by the majority of the population. Which explains why people can’t understand those at risk and their reduced capacity to help themselves.

For some, this can translate into negative perceptions, about the type of person those individuals are, and such stigmas stick, especially when it comes to examining their potential within the workforce. Resultantly, people are shut out of opportunities to get their lives back on track.

Systemic Causes

Which is a little perverse, when homelessness and its meteoric rise in the UK over the last decade has been predominantly caused by the system. Whilst certain people will always be vulnerable to becoming homeless, it takes certain conditions to enable that to happen.

Conditions like Great Britain’s current housing crisis. A lack of affordable housing combined with a 1.15 million long waiting list for social housing means there is nowhere for people to go.

The subsequent impact on the private rented sector means hose with limited means are unable to afford a home, and the lack of regulation around private landlords means all renters can be evicted at short notice with limited right to recourse, and worse, no roof.

Whilst housing is the foundation stone of homelessness, policy and economy-led choices have left vulnerable people to operate within a shaky structure. Over 1.8 million people on zero hours contracts and 6.2 million being paid less than a living wage leaves people struggling to make ends meet.

For those on welfare, the picture is equally problematic. Over £7 billion in housing benefits cuts, the arrears generated as a result of the bedroom tax and initial issues experienced in the rollout of universal credit – people not receiving benefits for between 5-6 weeks – left people short.

Here, the local authority would usually step in, but with over 8000 hostel closures across the UK and budgets halved since 2010 impacting housing, homelessness and adult care services which support those with multiple and complex needs. It’s a dire situation.

Cultural Contributions

For already vulnerable people, being stuck within (or on the fringes of the system), with limited state support, little in the way of networks and (if they weren’t experienced already) exacerbated issues surrounding mental health, addiction and often physical health, people can deteriorate pretty quickly.

People who have previously held jobs. People who have their own aspirations and gifts to offer the world, and simply fell through a crack in the system and got trapped there. We know that 56% of people spend 5 or more years out of work, even though 88% are willing to work and live independently.

It why we’re working with our HI Future community to foster better understanding of homelessness, and through our research, the unique issues that people experience and the barriers businesses will need to address in helping those in need create secure and stable futures for themselves.

Understanding the issue is the first step, but understanding our own perceptions, biases and the stigmas we project onto others is just as important. We want to work with the most progressive, open-minded and proactive business to get involved.


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