Now, Transforming Homeless Employment Insight to Action

As much as the HI Future team anticipated that addressing business barriers to homelessness employment would be a herculean task, the reality is that at the start of 2019, we had no idea of the real scale of the challenges we were facing.

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We understood that the cultural and systemic challenges – of negative perception and meritocratic recruitment – within businesses were as an important part of the solutions as supporting those impacted with their personal challenges. What we hadn’t accounted for was the scale of the challenges we’d be working with, or how deeply we’d have to dig to find opportunities that would enable people experiencing homelessness to earn an income, afford a home and reconnect with new communities of people.

Hence, why a three-month user research sprint turned into a nine-month exploration beyond just the mindsets and attitudes businesses collectively hold when it comes to the experience of homelessness. We chose to dig deeper and look at the processes and expectations businesses are wedded to when it comes to employment, and the support systems internal and external to organisations when it comes to enabling vulnerable people to thrive in the workplace.

We were exceptionally fortunate that we had so much support early doors. As little as we understood about the why in January 2019, early-stage sponsorship from Balfour Beatty and MAG-O – the dedicated digital arm at Manchester Airport Group (MAG)  – assured us that there was a business need to enable homeless employment. Enough to participate in user research and commit to helping us co-create the solution with other cross-sector parties.


Partnerships with the DWP, Business in the Community, Groundwork in Greater Manchester and Mustard Tree all meant that we were able to bring the public and social sector perspective in to inform our understanding. Most important, however, was the involvement of people impacted by homelessness. Alongside our personal insight consultant, Mooch Ashley, we worked with fifteen people either in or looking for work who to better understand the challenges.

We learned so much. Culturally, that fears around skills and experiences within businesses – plus assumptions surrounding health and professionalism – are the core biases preventing businesses from opening their doors to those impacted. That and the gap between empathy and expectations for those looking to reintegrate into society and the workplace is wide, and requires bridging before organisations will even consider people experiencing homelessness as potentially valuable employees, and address the recruitment and onboarding process to make it feasible

At this stage, we took a step back. The insights allowed us to design an education workshop, where we helped HR teams, line managers, directors and colleagues alike understand the context of the homeless experience. Shedding light on the scale, root causes, personal impact and societal response to homelessness helped shift mindsets from placing responsibility from people to society. That, and think beyond rough sleeping and wake up to the latent potential held in the people who have exhibited significant strength and resilience to work their way out of their situation.

mooch edit

It was during this process that the motivations behind our sponsors’ investment and supporters like KMPG and Lloyds Bank were revealed. Demonstrating social value and exploring the true potential of diversity and inclusion through investing in social mobility were just two of the drivers we witnessed as we prototyped the education workshop with Balfour Beatty and MAG-O. The immediate impact started to reveal itself too, as the workshop was rolled out during MAG’s diversity and inclusion week, and Balfour Beatty began a more involved conversation around in-work homelessness and supporting existing employees to thrive.

Whilst significant learning and progress had been made, we still had huge gaps in our knowledge. While funding had long since run outcome June 2019, understanding the recruitment process and potential for in-work support was key, so more user research was required. Workshops with MAG-O and Balfour Beatty’s HR functions followed, allowing us to map, contextualise and consider where the greatest barriers and opportunities might lie. Exceptions made in the graduate recruitment process and surfacing strengths that the recruitment processes overlooks all offered potential.

This led to an interim design sprint with our partner design agency, Paper. Keen to kick start the design process, build our own team and learn ahead of the major design and development sprints we were searching for funding for, we took the kinks observed in the recruitment process and redesigned the recruitment scoring system for social mobility. The tools created to improve inclusive interview technique, better surface hidden potential and enable longer-term support that will empower all employees to thrive is testament to Paper’s contextual thinking, sensitivity in working with vulnerable people and passion to improve society. We’re just starting with recruitment.


Also essential was exploring what good in work support looks like. Interviewing our public and social sector partners helped us understand the need for emphasis on ready for work – stability, skills and esteem all being key to getting people with personal insight to the starting line of work. However, the understanding of the challenges that can crop up in work and systems in place to mitigate and manage are disparate, and the need for a connected approach to enabling health and wealth is essential. Combined with a dearth of understanding around each individual’s strengths and aspirations, the potential for innovation in this space is ripe.

Which brings us to next steps. The need for insight and investment necessitated the shifting of our schedule, but the intention was always to move into the design and development of a solution that helps businesses find the right people, then support them to thrive in once back in the workplace. Awarded a development grant from the National Lottery Community Fund will allow us to do just that, and having received funding in late December 2019, means the first quarter of 2020 will be a hive of activity.

Our initial focus will be on matchmaking and bringing together our sponsor businesses and long-standing partners with new supporters in the shape of Bolton at Home and Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, alongside people impacted by homelessness to co-create the solution. With the aim of designing in January, developing in February and testing in March, Spring will see the launch and piloting of the HI Future solution across Greater Manchester. With a vision of creating secure and stable futures, it will take a collective effort to create more supportive and inclusive workplaces.

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With funding still needed to design and develop the support ecosystem, businesses needed to test the matchmaking platform and social and public sector organisations keen to empower people to live independently again, we need all the help we can get. Get in touch here to find out more about how you can help.

Five reasons businesses are considering homeless employment as an opportunity…

When it comes to considering employing people with personal insight into homelessness, there are a lot of barriers. Yet, there are a lot of compelling reasons to do so too.

Motivation EDIT

For every concern surrounding stable addresses, bank accounts and ID, there’s an organisation looking to smooth the path through the recruitment process. Worries around the confidence and skill sets of those being offered a role are assuaged through working in partnership with the third and public sector to ready people for work.

Quietly (or not so quietly held) perceptions and stigma, around a person’s mental or physical health, sobriety or criminal background are balanced with empathy and a willingness to explore the systemic as well as personal reasons a person might experience homelessness.

Yet, that’s just the personal drive. From an organisational perspective, in our work to get under the business barrier to employing people impacted by homelessness, there are five key motivations we’ve uncovered for getting involved. 

Diversity & Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion is moving from business buzzword to standard practice now in the private sector, yet, the focus is very much still on gender, with some of the more progressive businesses out there looking in addressing race, LGBTQ+ and ability gaps within their talent pool.

Yet, very little focus is given to social inclusion. Whilst large organisations support initiatives to support ex-offenders and people struggling to find work through Job Centre Plus, this type of recruitment often considered part of corporate social responsibility.

What we’re finding is a shift in attitude. Moving from a mindset of “helping vulnerable people” to “how can people from different backgrounds benefit our business” is profound in its impact, and fortunately, we’re working with some of the most progressive businesses in Greater Manchester to explore it.

Talent Shortages

Being progressive is also balanced with the practical. Greater Manchester’s economy is booming, but as we see new businesses, industries and properties flood into the region, we’re also faced with a growing need for talent. People, on the ground, undertaking the jobs that are being created.

Construction is case in point. You can’t walk through Manchester without happening upon a dozen cranes. Yet across the U.K., we’re struggling with a skills shortage in the sector, as older generations retire from related trades, and young people flock to more appealing industries.

Tech too is finding it hard to train, recruit and retain talent. With the region fashioning itself into a tech hub, bringing on board the bodies needed to sustain growth and compete on a global stage is essential. Yet, where to find them.

With Brexit looming large, and the threatened loss of migrant workers looking to impact the expanding hospitality industry too, looking to alternative groups will become a key part of HR strategy, with the first movers gaining a competitive advantage.

Disadvantaged Mandate

Whilst some of the recruitment surrounding social mobility – looking to people who have experienced poverty or disadvantage at some point in their lives – can be proactive in nature, some are mandated.

With local councils spotting opportunities to link needs across the use of property and public space with their health and work and skills initiatives, encouraging businesses which require licenses or approval from city councils (e.g. construction, hospitality) to employ people struggling to find and secure work in the region is a public sector win-win.

Social clauses in public sector contracts are resultantly becoming increasingly popular. For those organisations looking at the talent opportunity and diversity and inclusion benefits which come with bringing on board people with different backgrounds, the demand to shift recruitment focus can positively impact the private sector too.

Community Give Back

In addition to working for the public and private sector, there are bigger wins for those cities and regions which address poverty and homelessness in a strategic way.

With £1 in every £5 spent on poverty within the public sector, and an average of £20,000 spent supporting rough sleepers annually, that’s a lot of money that could be released back into the public purse and spent on investing in our towns and cities. With £14,000 put back into the local economy with every person employed, greater prosperity too.

Prosperity that we’re already seeing in the investment that’s coming into Greater Manchester. The expansion of the airport, Amazon’s move to Bolton and the cultural financing through The Factory is brilliant, but as the region with the greatest income disparity outside of London, without action, will only be enjoyed by the few.

Right Thing To Do

Last, but not least, employing people who have experienced homelessness because it’s the right thing to do. Outside of London, Greater Manchester is one of the most impacted regions when it comes to homelessness, and its visible day to day on our streets. Our most vulnerable citizens need help.

Yet, people confusing homelessness with rough sleeping – when in fact its only parts of the picture – is getting in the way. Rough sleeping nationally accounts for less than 2% of those impacted, and there are hundreds of thousands of people in hostels, sofa surfing and in supported accommodation who are willing to work.

It’s those organisations, looking beyond the assumptions to the root causes of the issue and realising the issue goes beyond personal responsibility, working in collaboration with those already helping people in difficult situations and think strategically that will help make a meaningful, impactful and long-term difference to people’s lives.

Think you might be able to help create secure and stable futures? Get in touch.

Interviewing Stefania

Stefania EDIT.jpgAs 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.

What we’re learning about homeless employment

We’re four months into HI Future, as we’ve already learnt a lot. In February and March, we ran user research.

Working with businesses leaders and employees, HR teams and line managers, we asked how well people understood homelessness, how much consideration each organisation had given to including homelessness within diversity and inclusion practise, and what “ready to work” would look like from a business perspective.

We also spoke with people with personal insight into homelessness and are now in steady employment, as well as those still experiencing the issue and looking for work. We asked what their experiences were like in securing a job, what factors were at play during the recruitment process and what was needed when each individual was willing and able to return to work.

We learned that people who have experienced homelessness often feel profiled. They’re aware they’re being judged for CV gaps, often in a way that gap year students wouldn’t be, and that visual differences can turn employers off in the early stages of recruitment. We also learned how important their job coaches and support workers were in getting them to the starting line. Invaluable, in fact.

From an employment perspective, we found a huge willingness to support people in work, particularly from co-workers and line managers. We found the potential to link existing diversity and inclusion policies – particularly around mental health – to the work our business community was opening up to do around homelessness.

We also happened upon some challenges. A general lack of awareness around homelessness, and a recognition that stigmas may creep into people’s belief and attitudes are a cause for concern. We also spotted blind spots during the recruitment process which may impact those with personal insight applying, and a gulf in expectations between the potential employer and employee.

So, our first step has been to educate. We ran our first education session in early April, and the feedback has led us to reviewing and prototyping a new workshop, which we’re in the process of testing with our business community, including KPMG and Lloyds Bank. The results of this will come back early July and give us a good idea of how well we’ve improved business understanding.

We also spotted some fundamental gaps in our knowledge. The recruitment process – beyond the issues in understanding homelessness – is the second major barrier in getting people with personal insight into homelessness back into work, so we’re undertaking more user research. We’re working with both Manchester Airports Group and Balfour Beatty’s HR teams to learn more.

The third challenge is supporting those people impacted whilst in work. We won’t know a huge amount about the potential challenges a person who has experienced homelessness might face until we launch HI Future in later 2019 or early 2020, but in the next couple of months, we’ll be working with support workers and job coaches to dig deeper into the potential pitfalls.

Fostering better understanding amongst the businesses we’re working with and plugging the gaps in our own understanding is essential to building an impactful first iteration of the homeless employment solution HI Future intends to be. Right now, we had hoped to be prototyping the matchmaking and support platform, but stage one and two determined otherwise.

Bringing together mixed groups, of business employees, charity teams, public sector workers and those impacted by homeless employment to co-create them is stage three in our design process, but due to the gaps we uncovered, education had to come first. So, we’re focusing on our education solution up front, before we move into developing the core solution.

The next two months will be jam-packed with testing, feedback and learning, and we can’t wait to share what we’re learning and moving close to helping create secure and stable futures for those impacted by homelessness.

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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Recruiting Groundwork

Veetia Knight EDITAs one of our partner charities, Groundwork in Greater Manchester has brought some much-needed insight to our HI Future user research, and challenged our thinking on how trauma and vulnerability can impact the settling in period at work. We spoke to Venetia Knight who heads up the charity’s employment initiatives across the region… 

Tell us about you…

I am the Head of Employment and Enterprise at Groundwork in Greater Manchester – a not-for-profit organisation that delivers a wide range of services to create a sustainable future for people, places and businesses in Greater Manchester. In my spare time, I am a primary school Chair of Governors and secretary for my local allotment society. I have spent my whole career at Groundwork working on many different programmes and services – from physical landscape improvements to environmental education and crime prevention initiatives. My real passion is about achieving better social justice for marginalised groups and ensuring that all children get the best chance in life.

Why HI Future for you and for Groundwork?

My team deliver services coaching, developing and training unemployed people to enable them to move into work and build new careers. We also run social trading businesses which create transitional employment for people with criminal convictions, including the catering business HMPasties run by Lee Wakeham. Our programmes are led by people with shared lived experience who have built successful working lives, they specialise in working with people with criminal convictions, care leavers, people that have served in the armed forces and young people aged 18-25. Although we are not a specialist charity working with homeless people, homelessness is a problem affecting some of our service users and it is becoming more prevalent. Through our social enterprises, we also have particular insight as an employer of people that have experienced homelessness, about the practical challenges faced and also what works.

What’re the challenges around homeless employment?

Homelessness affects a lot more people than the most visible people that we see sleeping rough in the City Centre and in towns across Greater Manchester. Some of our service users live in temporary or unstable accommodation or are sofa surfing with a network of friends, family and associates – this causes anxiety and uncertainty – and can make people dependent on people they might really be better avoiding, all of which makes it difficult for people to get into the settled routines you need to hold down full-time employment. Not having a fixed address can cause administrative challenges when trying to get work such as organising ID, getting hold of previous qualifications and certificates, opening a bank account, providing checkable address history or being easily contactable by employers to arrange interviews. People may also have lost their essential tools of the trade by constantly moving about.

For some people that have experienced homelessness, there can be other person-specific challenges or barriers that make it harder to secure and sustain employment, which may have originally led to them becoming homeless in the first place. Childhood trauma, family and relationship breakdowns, problems with drugs and alcohol, involvement with the criminal justice system or debts. These issues can affect mental wellbeing and confidence so people require additional support and coaching to move into and sustain work in the long term. Also, just being out of work for a long time can mean that people’s skills and qualifications are out of date, as well as understanding of current employer needs and getting through recruitment processes successfully.

What’re the opportunities with the HI Future project?

Building understanding by more employers of the issues faced by people and how this relates to securing and sustaining work in the long term, coupled with creating proven models of in-work support, provides the opportunity for better outcomes for more people. I think it is important to remember that just getting a job is not always job done. It can take a bit longer to resolve some problems for some people whilst in those first few months of work.

We know that financial capability skills and managing debt are also problems that a lot of people will face, including when they are in work. Building this support into the model can help people in the long term.

What’s the potential impact for Groundwork and the third sector?

Groundwork, and other third-sector organisations, are skilled at engaging and developing people to get them ready for work. We already work with some great employers, particularly SME’s, who take on people from our programmes and are realistic that there can be bumps along the way as people settle into a normal working life and start to consistently perform well at work. Connecting with more employers, understanding their needs and how we as providers can support them can only be a good thing so we can match people into work at the time when they need it.

Collaboration, which raises awareness of the work of social enterprises and the benefits of ‘buying social’ as a choice to contribute to achieving multiple benefits including reducing unemployment of vulnerable groups, is also important to us.

Who else should be involved?

Any employer who has recruitment needs and is open to being a bit more flexible in recruiting and settling people into their business and is happy collaborating with providers such as Groundwork to find the right people for them.

Find out more about the work of Groundwork here.

Interviewing Danny

Danny Collins EDIT.jpgAs we come to the end of the first stage of HI Future’s user research into the business barriers to employing people who have experienced homelessness, and head into sharing the insights we’ve gathered with our community of businesses, charities and public sector teams, we couldn’t think of anyone better to speak to than Danny, tour guide and storyteller extraordinaire at Invisible Cities Manchester.

Having experienced homelessness personally, with support from the Booth Centre, Danny now shares his story and knowledge of our home city on his alternative tour of Manchester. A project exclusively employing those impacted by homelessness, the charity is a great example of the potential of employment, and an incredible way to understand the impact homelessness can have both personally and societally.


Uhm, about me. I am a person who was homeless on the streets of Manchester for four and a half years. My initial involvement with volunteering and committee work through the Manchester Homeless Partnership means I now work closely with people and other homeless organisations to help people get back into employment.


People ask me why I do a lot of the volunteering or what I get out of it… I just say it’s not what I get out of it but instead what I can put back into it.


There was excellent mentor support through the Booth Centre. The mentors have been through those experiences, they understand you and were a great help to me. They helped me move on to becoming a mentor myself. Through the Booth Centre, and experience with Walking with the Wounded and the Veteran’s Associations, plus contributing to Manchester Street Poem with Manchester International Festival and now through my job at Invisible Cities, it all helped me rebuild myself and my self-esteem. With the tour guiding I do now for Invisible Cities Manchester, I have learnt to do a lot more public speaking and I get a lot of what I want to achieve through that.


It was very daunting to start off with, I must admit. Yet, it wasn’t a pushed kinda thing. I was given time to gain my confidence and build myself up. It was a slow process but a good one.

What’s needed from an employer in making working a great experience for someone who has experienced homelessness?

Understanding. Understanding of people who have experienced homelessness and understanding that not every person who has been homeless has problems.

To learn more about Invisible Cities Manchester and their tours led by people have been impacted by homelessness, check out their website here.




Why We Need To Talk About More Than Rough Sleeping…

When it comes to addressing homelessness, it’s natural that what you see as the problem is what you believe is the problem. In the past decade, the issue of people finding themselves without a home, income and support system has become dire, and the situation on our city streets makes it evident.

In the centre of Manchester, Brighton and parts of London, its hard to walk two streets without happening upon an individual, sleeping in a doorway or begging for food or spare change. It’s gut-wrenching, to see people at their most vulnerable, and understandably, it inspires much-needed action.

Yet, most people don’t understand that rough sleeping is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to homelessness. As of December 2018, Shelter, released statistics that there are now over 320,000 people across the U.K. experiencing homelessness, of which 4,677 are estimated to be sleeping rough. That’s less than 2% of the population of people experiencing the issue.

Shelter Iceberg
Shelter, 2018

Which means, we have a much bigger issue on our hands. People staying in hostels, B&Bs, on friend’s sofas or in sheltered accommodation, which we don’t get to see, but due to the insecure, temporary and varying quality of accommodation provided, means people are experiencing homelessness, whether it looks like what we expect it to or not.

This also presents a challenge. With men, women, families and working people all struggling to make ends meet, that’s a lot of people in need of housing and support. Yet, with a 1.15m long social housing waiting list and a lack of affordable homes nationwide, plus local authority budget cuts across the country meaning mental health, addiction and homelessness support is challenged, how?

With rough sleeping representing the most acute need – and costing the public purse an average of £20,000 a year to support – finding housing becomes imperative. In Greater Manchester in particular, significant efforts are going into programmes like the social impact bond, where private sector money is invested by the public sector to secure accommodation and support, but only for the most entrenched rough sleepers.

Housing First EDIT

Housing First – an internationally renowned programme for turning around the lives of people with multiple and complex needs – is also being piloted in Manchester this year. 400 homes are being made available in partnership with Great Places Housing Group, with the wraparound support needed to turn lives around.

Yet, with thousands of people in the region – at a minimum surpassing 5,500 across the region according to Greater Manchester Together – experiencing homelessness, and around 400 of those rough sleepers, how to help the vast majority of people in this situation?

People with less complex challenges but no less a need to find a home, financial security and a support network to get by. People still in need of housing, adult care services and money to take care of themselves month-to-month.

With so much pressure on housing and adult care services within our cities, balancing the immediate needs of rough sleepers – food for the next day and a bed for the night – with those looking to live independent and fulfilling lives is essential, and not just to relieve the system that supports them.

Stepping Up EDIT.jpg

Whilst it makes sense that helping those readiest to support themselves will increase capacity elsewhere, HI Future’s work to address barriers to employing people experiencing homelessness has shown how important self-determination and dignity is in the process too.

Interviewing people who have experienced homelessness and are looking for work, being able to find work which builds on previously held skills, that brings more independence and allows people to re-establish their identity is essential, and it’s here where businesses can have the most significant impact.

Providing jobs is as essential as providing food, and a strategic contribution to build on the tactical work needed to keep those at the sharp end of the homelessness spectrum going day to day. Yet, with so many people equating homelessness with rough sleeping, we’re learning its hard for decision-makers to see how someone struggling could be successfully employed.

User Research EDIT

Its why we’ve been getting under the skin of needs AND mindsets of directors and HR leads, line managers and co-workers, in addition to learning about the experiences of those experiencing homelessness who are trying to get back into work. Understanding is the first step, in designing, building and piloting a homeless employment solution which works for everyone.

Its why we’ve built a community, bringing public sectors teams from the DWP, charity experts from Business in the Community and Groundwork, and most essentially businesses, like Manchester Airports Groups and Balfour Beatty together with people impacted by the issue to co-create a solution, and we’re halfway there.

Yet, the more the merrier. We’re looking for progressive businesses, willing and able to change their mindsets and approach social impact in a strategic, collaborative and open-minded way to join our growing HI Future community and help us design, build and trial the solution.


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Learning about Homeless Employment

Facing into our ambition of designing a homeless employment solution, the HI Future team knew that understanding the business barriers around employing people who have experienced homelessness was fundamental to developing a service that would enable the most vulnerable people in society to have secure and stable futures.


Well, with so much great work already taking place in the public and third sector to ready and support people back into work, HI Future founder Lauren Coulman’s work in homelessness highlighted the strategic opportunity for businesses to contribute a scalable and sustainable solution to addressing rising homelessness in the U.K.

That, and addressing the cultural fears, strict HR processes and varying levels of personal support available to disadvantaged groups that were seemingly stopping these organisations from offering jobs.

So, with a keen eye on both the challenges and opportunities of employing people who have experienced homelessness, we kicked off Phase 1 – where we are co-creating our homeless employment solution with our cross-sector community all alongside people who have or are experiencing homelessness – with user research.


Simply through asking questions, to understand the needs and mindsets of those people aiming to make use of the product or service being designed. For Noisy Cricket, this included the businesses we’re looking to enable as well as those who will benefit from its usage.

So over 4 weeks we interviewed and ran workshops with 30 people. We included the businesses open to employing impacted individuals, those people looking for work and the charities and government departments keen to see each person they support or coach back into work succeed. In the process, we learnt a lot.


That expanding their definition of diversity and inclusion to include people with challenging backgrounds has the potential to be a huge boon to their business, as well as paying their own successes forward to the local community.

We also found that the co-workers most likely to work alongside those impacted are keen to support people with personal insight into homelessness, though are conscious they may not always be equipped to do so.

The leaders of the same organisations – including Balfour Beatty, Manchester Airports Group, Lloyds Bank and KPMG in Manchester – have a good understanding of the root causes of homelessness but that this doesn’t necessarily translate through the organisation.

These findings make sense of why those experiencing homelessness experienced stigma when it came to the interview process.

Negative perceptions around addiction, mental health and criminality has the potential to cloud judgment and shut down opportunities, and the 13 people we interviewed who had been in that position had all experienced

Yet, speaking to support workers and jobs coaches working in charities across the region, we found that the core issue was confidence on the part of the individual involved, and the need for understanding, flexibility and support in role.

So, what next?

We’ll be sharing these learnings, and the many more insights we gleaned from speaking to those organisations and individuals committed to creating more inclusive and supportive workplaces at an open business event at the end of March 2019.

Bringing together businesses from the construction & property, travel & hospitality and tech & media industries across Greater Manchester, we’ll also be educating those keen to get involved on the root causes of homelessness, the immediate opportunities available to employ people who have experienced homelessness and hear from the incredible people already working in this space.

Longer term, these insights will be used to bring together our HI Future community of businesses, charities and public sector teams to co-create the employment solution, but for now, come join us on Tuesday 26th March at The Federation in central Manchester, listen and learn!

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