Tackling homelessness through ETE

Research has shown that over a third of people who use homeless services don’t have the formal qualifications they need to find employment or to participate in and enjoy full and active lives.  Numerous reports have highlighted the need for coordinated and specialist education, training and employment support for homeless people.

Housing support services have long recognised that housing in itself will not provide a complete answer to the risks and consequences of homelessness.  There is a general consensus that the availability of specialist education, training and employment (ETE) services has improved over the last ten years and have played a key role at local level, usually being seen as flexible and supportive by other agencies and people.

Homeless people often experience significant barriers in engaging formal education; the advantages are clear and include greater social integration, confidence and self-esteem. This would give a boost to homeless people who have a strong academic background but need to update their qualifications or to re-familiarise with them. Successive governments have also taken the view that paid work is beneficial in a number of ways; it provides a route out of poverty and it can address the sense of purposelessness, lack of direction and poor self-image that may be present among people who have not worked for sustained periods.

However, many studies have emphasised the need to tackle the problems and barriers single homeless people face in securing training and employment. Some of these problems and barriers include low education attainment, little or no work experience which puts homeless people at a disadvantage, problematic drug use and poor physical and mental health which renders them unemployable.

There are also homeless people that have a history of employment, have qualifications and can perhaps with help, make a move back into paid work relatively simply. In some cases they have complex needs and need a great deal of support before the transition to seeking paid work is a viable option. This means that there are unmet support needs, low levels of self assurance, a lack of interpersonal skills and also an inability to structure their time means they cannot immediately use mainstream services designed to help with job seeking, let alone secure paid work for themselves.

Research carried out by St Mungo’s Broadway suggests that people in this group may benefit from activities that allow them to develop interpersonal skills; emotional literacy, assertiveness and self-esteem, as well from programmes designed to deliver meaningful activity or ‘sheltered’ forms of employment prior to acquiring more formal qualifications.

From experience, front-line housing support workers have frequently voiced concerns that recent legislative changes have failed to recognise adequately the vulnerability of young homeless people and that individuals with particularly traumatic histories were at risk of being pushed out into mainstream programmes before they were ready.

That put aside, there is clear evidence that education, training and employment (ETE) services are beneficial to homeless people. The ETE sector has grown very significantly over the years and is characterised by innovation, diversification and experimentation with many different forms of service being developed.

Poached Creative has been working with The Big Issue to provide practical training in communications and journalism for people who are homeless and long­-term unemployed or facing significant barriers to employment. The training has been really successful and has seen some of the trainees regain confidence to pursue recognised journalism qualifications, write articles for print media such as The Pavement, The Telegraph, and E9 magazine. Some have found work as photographers.

There is a very strong need for coordinated and specialist education for training and employment support for homeless people by service providers. This is imperative as resources might be subject to constraint in future. There is a need for caution, in that it is logical to expect that wider labour market conditions will have an effect on ETE effectiveness.  Realism is needed when considering the scale of barriers that a minority of homeless people face in relation to securing paid work. With appropriate ETE and support paid work can be secured, it can help a person overcome the material and psychological effects of being homeless. 

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