Off the streets, back to work
An organisation in Cork is combating homelessness by helping people find work
Often, when the issue of homelessness is discussed, providing a physical building is seen as the obvious solution. With an abundance of empty housing stock in the country, there is an argument that a swift act of legislation could take everyone off the streets, give them a two up two down somewhere, et voilà, their lives would be transformed. The assumption is that being without a home is the main reason a person is homeless, when often, there are many contributing factors: leaving school early; an abusive family; addiction; illness; and changes in work environments. A person who is homeless requires many different types of support to help stabilise their lives.
A recent report called Working It Out, published by the Cork Simon Community, looked at some of the barriers facing homeless persons who want to re-enter the workforce. It showed that 65 per cent of respondents had left school early, and a similar percentage believed that an employer would not hire someone who had been homeless. A significant number of men who engaged with Cork Simon had previously worked in the construction industry (36 per cent), with 59 per cent of respondents saying they lacked the confidence to look for or return to work.
One encouraging element of the report was the evidence that, with the right kind of support, people could get their lives back on track. Last year, Cork Simon helped homeless persons secure 26 job positions, mainly part-time work in catering or cleaning. The agency liaised with employers, and helped with interviews, CVs and online applications – 30 per cent of respondents had never used a computer.
One employer who works with the homeless is Ingrid Homich, human-resources manager at the Cork International Airport Hotel. Ten per cent of staff at the hotel have been referred through Cork Simon, although their backgrounds remain confidential. Homich says that at first, she was reluctant to take on employees from Cork Simon.
“There is a kind of bad perception of people who are homeless and it is to do with drugs and alcohol,” she says. “I thought that if a person is homeless that it is their fault. Now I see there are so many different situations people can get into and it is often not their fault. Often, all people need to be given is a chance.”
Many of these employees will spend time with the hotel, get a good reference, and then be able to move on to other employment. “We don’t specify who was previously homeless working here and if they don’t work out, we treat them the same as everyone else,” Homich says. “We sometimes help fill a gap in their CV and they leave with a good reference. But also important is that we help give them belief in themselves. Some of them can be very fragile emotionally and we see that, after working for a period of time, that can change.”
This observation ties in with what Cork Simon found in its survey: the longer a person remains unemployed, the harder they find it to get back to work.
One 28-year-old female who has engaged with Cork Simon services says she was helped back into training and employment following a period when she was homeless. “My circumstances changed quickly. I was out of a job and eventually my place went and having moved from couch to couch, I ended up with Cork Simon. They were very kind and I started doing some courses,” she says.