Lessons from working at a homeless charity

In our latest blog post, Paul Ebied (April 2014 Associate) recounts lessons from working at a homeless charity.

In my first placement of the On Purpose year I worked at Caritas Anchor House (“CAH”), a residential and life skills centre for single homeless people in Canning Town. The six months I spent there opened my eyes to the realities of homelessness.

Why do people become homeless?

There is a fine line between having a regular place in society and finding oneself without work or accommodation. I was struck by the reasons that CAH residents had found themselves on the streets, after years of employment and accommodation. Some had suffered an injury or long term illness, leading to loss of employment due to sick leave running out or being self-employed and unable to work. Others had been through the break-down of a relationship where accommodation was shared. One had been evicted from a property at short notice by a landlord looking to maximise rent during the London Olympics. There were also many complex cases, such as those with a background of alcohol or drug abuse, mental health issues, or domestic abuse.

The real contribution of homeless charities — an example by CAH

Before joining CAH, I was totally unaware of the great work that homeless charities do. I had a rough idea that homeless people might spend a few nights or weeks in a hostel, without structure or impetus to encourage a change.

In reality, this couldn’t be further from the CAH ethos. CAH is dedicated to helping its residents completely change their lives, by providing them with the opportunity to develop themselves both personally and professionally. CAH uses a tool called the Outcomes Star to score a resident on each of ten aspects (eg. physical health, self care and living skills, meaningful use of time, etc.), to identify the root causes of their homelessness and decide which areas should be focused on. They then create a Personal Development Plan for each resident, which enables them to identify and bridge the gap between their current and hoped for positions on the Outcomes Star. Additionally, by providing various educational and training workshops, CAH helps homeless people learn new skills, gain experience and improve their self esteem and confidence.

The combination of the above helps enable the residents to become self-sufficient and turn their lives around. Through their development programme, and the bespoke support they offer, CAH has had some amazing success — residents securing employment and finding independent accommodation, for instance.

Overall my experience has made me look at homelessness in a different light, and with more empathy. Homelessness can be reduced by supporting homeless people develop themselves, and offering training opportunities, not only by providing them with temporary housing solutions. I would encourage everyone to read up on the subject, and support organisations such as CAH, so that the amazing success stories continue.