As we move into prototyping our education sessions – following on from the insights gleaned during our user research on the business barriers surrounding homeless employment – and start to speak more openly and honestly about the experiences of those impacted, we knew it was important to tell the stories of not just the men we see most frequently and invite a woman to share her experiences. Stefania kindly offered to speak to us about her journey back into work.
Having come to the U.K. following the economic crisis and ongoing humanitarian strife in Venezuela, Stefania now works within the hospitality industry and uses her spare time to support others experiencing homelessness. Working with the Booth Centre – a day centre which provides activities and advice and support to those impacted – and the Manchester Homelessness Partnership’s employment action group, her input is helping others make the journey back into work too.
Tell me about you, your work and interest in homeless employment.
My family and I left Venezuela after my father passed away. It was a decision because of the poor conditions of the country; lack of medicine, food supplies and constant danger in the streets. We left to meet with our family in Sicily, but we found out that the country was in very bad shape, making it impossible to find any kind of job.
My sister and I were able to pay for a flight to Manchester and stay in a hostel for 15 days in Manchester City Centre. It was a difficult situation to arrive in a completely unknown place with a remaining budget of £20.
We were lucky, really. The same day of our arrival, a lady spoke to me about a programme that helped homeless people with food and housing. She explained to me how to get there, and I got completely lost. I came up with the idea of asking in a church, so I walked until I found a Methodist church, I asked in the reception about the programme, but the receptionist didn’t know about it. However, she searched for someone in the church that was able to help me out. He gave me a map with the address to get to the Booth Centre. There, my sister and I got help with food and we were able to get temporal jobs and eventually a permanent job in McDonald thanks to the aid of Chris and Gavin from the Business in the Community (BITC). Even when it wasn’t easy, and I went through a lot of trials without any result at first, they kept on supporting us until we reached a stable placement.
I had never been that kind of support from organisations, companies and volunteers before. After obtained, I decided to help out people looking for a job by volunteering in the Booth Centre one day per week. I strongly believe that even if a perfect solution isn’t found for homeless people obtaining a job, it can still be a great step needed to gain some stability and move forward.
What initially encouraged your decision to go back to work?
When my sister and I left Italy, my brother and mother were left behind. We needed to find some stability to bring them with us and a place where everyone can stay together. Finding a job was essential to making everything else possible.
What support was available in getting back into work?
The BITC runs a program to train you for interviews and build inner confidence. They put me in contact with a company to get clothes for the interviews, money for the transport to the different recruitment processes and for the transport to my first job. They also helped me with a uniform for one of my jobs.
How were you feeling when you started your new job?
My first job was as cleaner in construction at Manchester Airport in April of 2018, I remember that I was really nervous, but I decided that I only have to do my best and wait to see what feedback was received at the end of the contract. Thankfully, everything went great and that helped us to get other contracts and move a better on to better employment.
What’s needed from an employer in making working a great experience for someone who has experienced homelessness?
Thanks to the help of Chris, Gavin and the people of Booth Centre we never had to face staying on the streets. We found a person who rented us a room but there was a point that paying the rent in that place was getting really difficult, so Chris and Gavin and the Booth Centre helped us to move from place to place in Manchester and to find our current home.