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.

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.

Interested?

Find Out More

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.

Why?

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.

How?

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.

What?

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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How to Help with Homeless Employment

With rising numbers of homelessness across the U.K. – the vast majority of those hidden from sight in hostels, temporary accommodation such as B&B’s or couch surfing – thinking of the long-term prospects, as much as the immediate needing of support and housing, is essential.

Handshake EDIT

That goes for those people struggling and the stretched charities and public sector teams addressing the increase in demand for services that comes with a 4% surge in homelessness since 2017 alone, and local government and funding budget cuts, meaning supporting those most in need has become increasingly challenging.

That’s why helping people achieve stability is so essential. Yet, with so many people seeing (and believing) rough sleeping as the only experience of homelessness, it can be hard to understand how some of the most vulnerable individuals we see on our streets might be able to maintain a job, bringing an income, the ability to afford a home and a community that so many in this position need.

With rough sleepers estimated to account for less than 2% the country’s homeless population, and 88% of those who have experienced homelessness willing to work according to  Crisis, there is more potential and opportunity than initially meets the eye, and the possibility of a secure and stable future within all our collective grasp.

With the HI Future project, our community of businesses, homeless charities and public sector teams will be working with those people impacted to co-create a homeless employment solution that will remove business barriers to offering opportunities and working with those organisations already helping people get ready for work.

For those looking to have a direct impact sooner rather than later – we’ll be researching, mapping and building the HI Future solution throughout 2019 – here are some of the amazing initiatives across Greater Manchester that you as a business can support now.

Jobs Clubs

Many homeless charities run jobs clubs, with CV writing sessions, interview technique practise and support applying for jobs are all available for those willing and able to re-enter the jobs market. Our partner organisation, Mustard Tree, runs two sessions weekly in Ancoats, Manchester, on Tuesday and Friday from 10am to 12pm.

The Booth Centre in Cheetham Hill too supports people looking to access training and additional qualifications, and like One Manchester – a local housing association – also arranges volunteering or work placements for people in need of experience before placing a person with personal insight into a full-time role.

Get Involved: Volunteer to support with CV building and interview training or hold “meet the employer” days and provide work placement opportunities with your local charity.

Ready to Work

Beyond the practical needs, people often need more personal support to ready themselves for work. Self-esteem, motivational skills and expected workplace behaviours, especially for those people for whom experiencing homelessness may have exacerbated personal challenges, is why programmes like Business in the Community’s (BITC) Ready for Work programme is vital.

“Ready for work” however, can be seen as a subjective assessment, as there are broader needs that are essential, for both the individuals and employers looking to sustain work opportunities. Having a bank account is a typical stumbling block, which our supporter organisation Lloyds Bank are addressing in Greater Manchester,  as is the need for a secure and stable home, which the Job Centre recognises as it supports people on benefits as they search for work.

Get Involved: Signing up or sponsoring BITC’s Ready for Work programme is one way of supporting people experiencing homelessness back into work, as is partnering with the DWP on work trials, traineeships or apprenticeships.

Homeless Sector Roles

Experience prior to entering the work place is often essential to help people who have experienced homelessness gain the confidence, routines and support network needed to secure and sustain long-term employment, and the third sector – like our partner organisation Groundwork in Greater Manchester – is particularly adept at creating opportunities.

Launching social enterprises like HM Pasties and Blue Sky North, Groundwork provides jobs for ex-offenders, and for organisations like Shelter, GROW trainees are employed and trained whilst helping develop services for others who have experienced homelessness Manchester.

Get Involved: Hiring a GROW trainee, or making use of the services that enterprises like HM Pasties provides is a great way to offer support, and ensure those gaining confidence and experience continue to develop in their chosen employment paths.

If you’re game to support our cross-sector, collaborative solution to homeless employment, you can always support the HI Future community too.

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Our Journey So Far

HI Future – the HI standing for homeless inclusive – came into being long before we created the community that lives and breathes it now, though its collaborative way of working has been fundamental to its existence since day dot… and, it’s our cross-sector community, co-producing an employment solution with those people impacted by homelessness is what will see it through to success.

journey edit

It wasn’t always this way, though. Two years ago, not long after I launched Noisy Cricket, I started working on homelessness. With people I love personally impacted by the issue and seeing how the rise in homelessness was impacting a human I’d come to care for who slept rough on the same street I lived in central Manchester, how could I not?

A year later, and I’d been taken in by the Manchester Homelessness Partnership (MHP). An inspiring collective of public and third sector organisations, Viv Slack of Street Support, Jez Green at The Mustard Tree and Beth Knowles of GMCA had all shown me the power of co-production – working with not for those impacted by an issue – and a core principle of Noisy Cricket’s work was born.

Throughout 2017, I was able to bring businesses to the work the MHP were doing. Using Noisy Cricket’s root cause research, we were able to educate 250 businesses on the “why” of rising homelessness and channel them into an MHP support group to take action. Yet, with the power, platform and resources available to so many businesses, I suspected there was bigger potential at play.

high five editCue Mooch and Woody. Bringing their own experiences of homelessness and the sector to the work we were doing at the business support group – now part of a much bigger programme run by the inimitable Dee Lowry – I was told in no uncertain terms that we needed jobs. A root cause, strategic and sustainable response to an issue that impacts the whole city and every person in it. Got it!

Yet, with numerous brilliant initiatives across the UK readying people experiencing homelessness for work, where were the businesses? Despite the Booth Centre’s weekly jobs clubs, Business in The Community’s (BITC) ready for work programme and the programmes and platforms developed by Manchester City Council ready for the regional skills gaps in tech, construction and hospitality, where were the jobs?

A chance encounter with Tash Willcocks of Hyper Island presented an exciting opportunity to get under the skin of the issue. With a growing body of insight on the issues underpinning the business barriers to employing people who have experienced homelessness, Noisy Cricket put a brief, to the 30 plus bright, proactive and creative students at their Manchester MA programme, and let the innovation roll.

raised hand editThree months later, with the support of BITC and Pret a Manger – an organisation running their own homeless-focused employment programme – Woody, Mooch and I worked with the student to support the development of eight solutions, addressing the systemic, cultural and personal challenges inherent in employing people with personal insight into homelessness.

With so many potential options, we went back to the business community, and with feedback from the Co-Op, KPMG and Manchester Airports Group (MAG), narrowed our options down to two key solutions. One, a matchmaking solution, helping businesses find those individuals willing and able to work. The second, a support system, to add on to the great work being done up front by the public and third sector.

Yet, indirect feedback came our way too. Assumptions regarding the type of work people who have experienced homelessness would be suitable to do. Fears surrounding mental health, addiction and criminality. Concerns around cultural fit, another perception which we knew needed to be challenged if we were ever to encourage businesses to open their doors and offer up opportunities.

open hand editNow, to make it happen. We knew if HI Future, were ever to succeed, it would be the community we create created around it that would be the deciding factor. Taking our solution out to the progressive, pro-active and committed businesses, charities and public sector departments across Greater Manchester, it became clear the potential HI Future had to create the systemic and cultural shift needed.

As 2018 closed out, we were delighted to welcome Manchester Airports Group and Balfour Beatty on board as runaway sponsors, providing the funding necessary to kick start the user research and education sessions needed to understand the challenges and opportunities inherent in employing people who have experienced homelessness.

To Sophie Stephens and Kelly Singleton, thank you, for passionately championing such a new and exciting approach. 

Throughout 2019, as we bring on board new sponsors, and with the commitment of supporter organisations of the like of KPMG and Lloyds Bank, we’ll bring together directors, HR professionals and line managers to work directly with people who have personal insight into homelessness, to co-create the solution we need to shift attitudes and test the platform making recruitment as simple as possible.

To Rebekah Ingham, Alex Roche and Jonathon Summerlin, so much gratitude, and to James Hargraves and Simon Chapman, for all making waves within your organisations!

open doorThe expertise of the DWP and our local partner organisations – the Mustard Tree, Groundwork in Greater Manchester and The Growth Company – which already work, on the ground, with impacted people to ready each-and-every individual for work will be essential too. There’ll be a lot to learn, but working as an open, collaborative and caring community bring better insights and a brilliant outcome.

To Nina Cioffi, Chris Hulse, Chris Gopal, Venetia Knight, Aileen Stirman, Ellie Jess and Naomi Ilagoswa, a huge thank you for the brilliant work you already do, and the support you’re lending to the HI Future project!

It’s an exciting year ahead of us, and with the talented team we’ve now assembled around Noisy Cricket to research, educate, design and build the solution you tell us is needed, we’re aiming for a later 2019 launch, to pilot across Greater Manchester in 2020, and roll out across the UK thereafter.

We can’t do it alone though! We’re still on the lookout for sponsor organisations, and need all the help we can get – from the tech, retail, and hospitality industries in particular – to make sure we launch a solution which provides opportunities, choice and acceptance, all to help us achieve our vision of creating secure and stable futures for all.

Get in touch!

Much love,

Lauren x