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September 23, 2020

Good quality employment whilst experiencing homelessness: is it possible?

*Some names have been changed to protect anonymity 

The relationship between homelessness and employment is a complex one and many people find themselves experiencing homelessness whilst still in employment. Often, those who are not employed but want to work, are unable to for a variety of reasons, for example if they don’t have access to a bank account. 

The Covid-19 recession is likely to greatly exacerbate these difficulties and there is the possibility of both increased homelessness because of Covid-19 related job losses, and greater barriers to employment for those that are further from the labour market. This prompted us to write this paper, which synthesises existing evidence from our evidence and gap maps with the purpose of giving precise and practical recommendations but also promoting experimentation.  

Many individuals lose their homes when they are still in employment which then creates difficulties in maintaining the employment and whilst ‘good employment’ is vital for wellbeing, being employed on its own is not enough to protect someone from homelessness. Low-paid, insecure jobs can sometimes increase the risk of homelessness.

Sierra* (22), first experienced homelessness after finishing University and leaving student accommodation. At the time, she had been in the same job for three years. 

“At first I was sofa-surfing before moving into a hostel. I had to take a lot of time off as I couldn’t always stay in the same town. My employer was supportive, but I was leaving them short staffed so it caused a lot of stress. When I moved into the hostel I didn't qualify for housing benefits due to working and the hostel room was more expensive than a three bedroom house. I got to the point where I couldn't even afford a food shop.  I ended up having to leave my job because of a mental breakdown, due to the lack of support and my money situation.  I'm still not back in work almost a year later and have only just been given a flat. The support worker I have for this flat has told me to not get a job until I am discharged from her as the rent will be stupidly expensive due to it being 'supported' “ 

This reiterates one of the themes in the Employment Paper; many people lose their homes whilst still in employment which then makes it more difficult for them to keep the job. Some accommodation options, such as hostels and supported temporary accommodation may also be creating disincentives for work with expensive rent costs once individuals start to work. 

Paul Larkin experienced street homelessness in 2012 and missed out on a job due to not having access to his emails. 

“I took the time to look for work and also wrote a book. The hardest thing was not being able to check my emails constantly. I missed out on a job because I didn’t have enough money to go to the internet cafe. I found it impossible to get a job whilst I was without an address. Interviews back then were more judgemental and I never had appropriate clothing. They would always require a home address too, so as soon as I had one I was able to apply for college and get a job in a supermarket.”

Paul Larkin

Lack of access to technology, including the internet, creates additional barriers to gaining employment for people experiencing homelessness. The employment paper points to the fact that many people who are experiencing homelessness are not employed and want to be, but face various different challenges. 

When Sarah* (18) first experienced homelessness she had a job, but it soon became untenable. She is currently sofa surfing and although she has managed to find employment, it isn’t secure. 

It's so hard because employers want an address and then you need a bank account for wages, but you can't have one without an address. This job is cash in hand which makes it so much easier especially because I get paid weekly.” 

Although Sarah now has employment, having an insecure, low-paid job is not enough to reap all the potential social, economic and mental health benefits that come from having secure work. Entering low paid or unstable employment can potentially increase the risk of homelessness in some cases, because of difficulties in budgeting, failure to claim or to estimate the amount of in-work benefits, and difficulties in handling changes in income when moving in and out of employment.  

The evidence suggests that good quality employment can improve well-being, however work for people on the very edges of the labour market is often difficult to obtain, and for those who find employment, it may still be insecure and poorly paid. David’s* experiences echo this evidence. 

“I slept in estate agents' empty buildings while working on them before new tenants moved in. Sometimes just for a week and then moved on to another one. If there was a major refurbishment of a property then we got six months sleeping rough inside the building and they paid us hardly anything because they knew we had nowhere else to live. It made good business sense for the estate agents to employ people with housing issues and then pay them £30/40 a day and let them live in the building, but charge the landlord £150 a day”.

Howard struggled to look presentable for interviews meaning he also missed out on jobs.

Howard Anstock

‘Hostel stays were sporadic, so at times I wouldn't be able to shower or clean my clothes and I didn't see how I could go to work in that state. I also didn't have anything suitable to wear, so on a couple of occasions that I did get interviews, I was very badly dressed and didn’t get the job.’

Good quality, stable employment is vital for wellbeing along with sustaining accommodation, but it is clear that being employed is not on its own, protection from becoming homeless. Therefore meaningful work is one of the key factors in ending homelessness.

Greater efforts are required to assist people experiencing homelessness to gain and keep meaningful employment, as it is a fundamental human need. As many people want to work, support which takes into account all of the individuals needs is vital to help them maintain good employment. Those individuals who are job seeking whilst experiencing homelessness, or at risk of homelessness due to insecure work and housing should be able to get support from their local authority as part of one, personalised service. 

At the Centre for Homelessness Impact we’re committed to helping local areas improve their services through better use of data and evidence. If you’d like help, you can get in touch at hello@homelessnessimpact.org or book an evidence surgery, here

You can read the employment paper here

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