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Employment

How The Salvation Army is helping homeless people find work

The Salvation Army’s job support programme for homeless people in London is having double the success rate expected. We spoke to the charity’s Rebecca Keating to find out how

The rising number of people who are out of work and not looking is sounding alarm bells across Britain, with attempts to turn the tide on the labour market crisis so far falling flat.

Official figures show the number of people classified as economically inactive has risen by over half a million since spring 2019, largely driven by people leaving work due to long-term sickness or early retirement.

There is another segment of people, however, who fall into this category: those who are out of work but not engaged with the Jobcentre Plus. Basically, they’re off the grid.

“It might be that they’ve been sanctioned, they might be disengaged with the programs that are available through the Jobcentre”, explains Rebecca Keating, director of the Salvation Army’s employment plus programme.

For the government to class someone as a job seeker, they have to be available and able to work in the next few weeks. However, for people experiencing homelessness, sofa surfing or sleeping on the street, this can be a tall order. 

The Salvation Army’s job support programme for people experiencing homeless in London is having double the success rate expected. 

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Of the 353 participants the service has engaged with since 2021, 20 per cent moved into employment, doubling the scheme’s original target.  

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The scheme’s eight employment development coordinators work with each client to figure out what they need to get into work, whether that is building their confidence, support writing a CV or application, formal education or training, or even money management. 

“Among people that have multiple barriers and complex needs, and have chaotic lifestyles, it’s about making sure you can tailor the service to suit them,” says Keating. 

Bamikola, who is 29, was sofa-surfing for years with no work or income. “I was sleeping from house to house and got arrested during that time,” he says.

It was through Jobcentre Plus that he was introduced to Angela, a Salvation Army coordinator who applied for a grant to equip Bamikola with the basics to apply for jobs, including one month of rent. 

“She found out what I was entitled to,” says Bamikola. “I ended up with stuff I had no idea about. I got a free Oyster card so I could travel to interviews, clothes I could wear to them and food… She even sent a letter to the bank so I could get an account and a bank card.

“She also helped me with interviews, so I know to look smart, make eye contact and answer questions in a way that shows I am committed.”

Bamikola now has a job as a bartender and ambitions to go back to university to do business management.

Assumptions around people who have experienced homelessness, such as addiction or reliability, which may or may not be true, do persist, says Keating.

However, with Britain experiencing a recruitment crisis in sectors from hospitality to the NHS, “employers that are desperate to hire are more likely to give people a go”.

The Salvation Army team works with employers to match the right person with the right job opening once they’re certain the person is ready for the role. 

“A chaotic lifestyle is a major red flag for employers, who are primarily looking for reliability”, Keating added, so they take steps to reassure potential employers that the candidate they’ve selected is prepared. 

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But the cost of living crisis, where everything is getting more expensive, is inevitably making this even more difficult for people looking for work.

“People are coming in to do CV writing courses, for example, and whereas before they would ask us to reimburse their travel, they’re actually (walking instead) and wanting to use that money for food,” says Keating. 

So, how can people looking for work use the current situation – with 1.2 million job vacancies on offer – to their advantage? Even if you don’t have the right skills or experience, the best thing you can do is show that you’re willing to learn, says Keating. 

“Employers are really struggling to get people that are reliable and can work flexible shifts and hours,” says Keating. So it you’ve got that, they want you.

Big Issue Group has created the person-centred recruitment service, Big Issue Recruit to support people facing barriers to employment into sustainable jobs. To find out how Big Issue Recruit could help you into employment, or help your business to take a more inclusive approach to recruitment, click here.

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