Why help the homeless, and what skills does it take?
If you’re looking for glamour, high wages and your average nine-to-five, then I’d probably just click on the ‘back’ button now. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a job where you’d be helping a range of people in difficult situations - some of whom are affected by violence, drug or alcohol abuse - then you’re in the right place.
Thousands of people are made homeless every year and thousands more live on the streets. Although many are eligible for social housing, the demand outstrips supply.
You will need to be upbeat and positive to work in this subsector. Furthermore, you’ll need to be an excellent problem solver. These careers can be challenging and difficult at times; however, they can also be incredibly rewarding.
Who could I be working for?
The UK has a well-developed welfare state. This means that the state tries to provide for the most vulnerable members of society.
Clearly, having shelter is an essential need for all people. Consequently, if you choose to work in this area of social care, your job will be focused on re-housing people, preventing people from losing their homes and helping people who live on the streets to rebuild their lives and re-enter mainstream society.
Many people find themselves working for local councils, charities or NGOs. Unfortunately, there are not enough resources to house everyone. Therefore, local authorities categorise claims based on several criteria in order to assess the needs of applicants. This means that the most vulnerable members of society are offered resources ahead of others.
Working for a local council, you may find yourself assessing and processing claims for housing, liaising with accommodation providers in order to satisfy the needs of your local authority and dealing with particularly urgent claims (e.g. one made by a heavily pregnant woman). You will need to deal with people from a variety of backgrounds, many of whom will be stressed and desperate for help.
Other people work directly for not-for-profit organisations, charities and NGOs. Here, the roles may vary greatly. For instance, you might be working as part of an independent housing association or working actively on the streets as part of a charity’s outreach programme, providing food, advice or healthcare to the homeless.
What are the key specializations within this field?
The homelessness and housing area of social care focuses on three main areas:
- Preventing people from becoming homeless
- Re-housing people that have lost their homes
- Working with people who live on the streets.
Prevention is better than cure. There are a number of organisations that offer help to individuals that are in financial difficulty, are having disputes with their landlords or are suffering from other issues, such as domestic violence, which may result in them becoming homeless.
You could work for all kinds of governmental and non-governmental organisations in this line of work, from your local council and the Citizens Advice Bureau, to independent organisations such as Shelter or the Salvation Army.
If people are already homeless, then it’s all about trying to find somewhere for people to stay. This process involves looking at claims, investigating them and placing people in appropriate accommodation.
Finally, there are also a number of charities and not-for-profit organisations that work directly with homeless people. For example, the charity, Crisis, works with homeless people to get them off the streets and helps them deal with any underlying issues that they may have. This area of work may sometimes involve working in potentially difficult situations.
If you want to work in this subsector, you are going to have to be compassionate, patient and sometimes firm in order to make sure that everyone gets the best help available to them.
You will have to deal with people with a range of issues, so having the ability to get on with people is of paramount importance. Although the wages are not as high as in other sectors, most people who get involved in this area of work do so more for the altruistic benefits, of which there are many!