Homelessness: breaking the cycle through employment
By Annie Makoff on 19 November 2021
There’s a lot of misconceptions around what constitutes homelessness. To most, homelessness is sleeping rough, but, says Emma Freivogel, founder of not-for-profit recruitment consultancy Radical Recruit, it’s more than that. “Sofa surfing is being homeless, living in temporary accommodation is being homeless. Homelessness refers to any kind of unstable, temporary accommodation as well as sleeping rough.”
Radical Recruit work with those who face intersecting disadvantage: those with protected characteristics or with diverse life experiences which has made it tough to enter or return to work. It may be people with experience of homelessness, those who have been in care or prison, those who have experienced modern day slavery or domestic abuse, or those who are recovering from drug or alcohol addictions.
Unlike most recruitment consultancies who, according to Freivogel, remain largely inaccessible to the people Radical supports; and third sector organisations who don’t do recruitment well and ‘tend to throw mud at the wall and hope it sticks’, Radical Recruit takes a people-first approach to supporting its candidates to get ready for interview coupled with a commercial recruitment service: “We offer a tailored programme of support to equip individuals with the right tools to apply and win jobs on their own merit,” she explains.
This means partnering with a network of organisations and charities such as housing providers, probation services and that they recruit for a range of businesses from start-ups, SME’s and large corporates like SAGE, Warner Media and Compass Group.
Such additional support is crucial. As Freivogel explains, poverty and homelessness is a vicious circle that’s extremely hard to break. “You need somewhere safe to sleep at night in order to sustain employment. You also need a bank account and ID to start work, but you can’t get these if you don’t have a permanent address.”
Yasmina Kone, senior partnership manager at Beam, the UK’s first crowdfunding platform for homeless individuals believes that most homeless individuals have not had the same opportunities as others to nurture their skills and talents. It’s an aspect of inequality that organisations like Radical Recruit and Beam are wanting to put right.
While Radical Recruit have successfully placed over 270 candidates into work since October 2019, Beam have enabled 530 homeless people to find stable jobs and homes since 2017.
At the height of the pandemic, Radical Recruit worked with the Greater London Authority (GLA) to help 45 rough sleepers find sustainable work and move into permanent accommodation – they continue to support them.
Yet Radical Recruit aren’t just about placing candidates into any job. Freivogel believes candidates should enjoy their work and utilise their skills and talents. To date, they’ve placed account apprentices, landscape gardeners, data analysts, project managers to name but a few.
As a crowdfunding platform, Beam works differently. Their platform enables homeless individuals who have been referred through a network of government and charity partners to raise funds for job training, work tools, rental deposits and so on. Support is provided every step of the way and members of the public can donate and leave supportive messages. According to Kone, 100 per cent of the crowdfunding campaigns reach their financial targets within an average of 17 days.
“We predominantly work with employers who have entry-level roles, as many of our beneficiaries have been out of work for a long time,” Kone says. “Companies should be hiring on the basis of values rather than experience. I always tell hiring managers to look for potential not experience. Experience can be taught, values and potential can’t.”
Commitment to social change
Both Radical Recruit and Beam work with a large number of employers across health and social care, construction, hospitality and entertainment industries. What all these employers have in common is their commitment to driving social change by providing employment opportunities to those furthest from the labour market.
Sandwich chain Pret runs their own initiative to support homeless people into work through its charity, The Pret Foundation. Their Rising Stars Programme, launched back in 2008, provides career opportunities for those experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless.
“The programme provides people with jobs in Pret shops, training them exactly how we would any new joiner,” says Nina Allard, head of The Pret Foundation. “But then we go one step further, offering them the support they need to stay in employment, with everything from travel assistance to weekly support groups.”
To date, the programme has provided training and employment to over 550 homeless people.
Pret is one of many companies which provide employment opportunities for those who have experienced homelessness. In September, Greggs announced a charity partnership which provides a similar scheme while social enterprise coffee company Change Please is staffed run by barista-trained homeless people.
Other companies such as law firm Arnold & Porter provide mentoring and coaching. Working with the Single Homelessness Project, the firm identified individuals who were ready to take the next step into employment and were seeking extra support.
“For many individuals, especially those who have been out of work for a long time, the thought of returning to work can be daunting, so being able to talk through any concerns with someone who is in work can be incredibly useful,” says Juliet Huntington, corporate responsibility and diversity officer at Arnold & Porter.
The business case
For Freivogel, there’s a strong case for more companies to support homeless individuals into work. “It’s a huge cost saving to taxpayers,” she insists. “The cost of one person sleeping rough for one year is estimated at just over £20,000 versus just £1,000 to £6,000 to support them into work and into stable accommodation. And if they’re in work they’re paying taxes and spending money, so they’re contributing to the economy. So if the human case isn’t compelling enough, the economic one absolutely should be.”
Radical Recruit are asking businesses and individuals to get behind their Christmas appeal and donate cash to help run their vital services into the new year.
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