Lack of housing is greatest barrier for homeless people going back to work - study

Half of surveyed faced uncertainty around housing after returning to workforce

Cork Simon found a lack of stable, affordable housing is the greatest challenge for homeless people trying to return to work. File photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Cork Simon found a lack of stable, affordable housing is the greatest challenge for homeless people trying to return to work. File photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Securing stable affordable housing poses the greatest challenge for people seeking to move out of homelessness even after they secure employment, a new study by Cork Simon has found.

Cork Simon Director Dermot Kavanagh said the report, A Working Life: The Continuing Journey, highlighted the importance and the success of employment as a bridge for homeless people to rebuild their lives.

“It also demonstrates the many factors that can help or hinder sustaining work, and the critical importance of an adequate supply of affordable, stable housing in order for employment to work, and for people to rebuild their lives.

“Now more than ever people need occupation, connection and hope. Employment, with the right supports, offers these in spades,” said Mr Kavanagh at the launch of the report by Sophie Johnston of Cork Simon.

Ms Johnston explained the report followed people with experience of homelessness as they moved into employment with support from Cork Simon’s Employment and Training Team, and tracked their progress for up to two years

It followed on from a similar study in 2019 entitled A Working Life: The Early Days, which looked at the participants’ experiences during their initial weeks in employment as they sought to leave homelessness.

“This second part of the study explores the challenges and achievements for this group of people working to leave homelessness behind and it finds considerable achievement in work and in life, often against the odds.”

Ms Johnston pointed out that study, which tracked the progress of 18 people, found that 71 per cent of the group were still in employment up to two years later and 76 per cent had achieved life goals set over the period.

However, the study also found that securing housing remained an unresolved issue for 50 per cent of participants at end of the research period and this was a huge problem for those people, said Ms Johnston.

“It finds employment can be a catalyst for significant life change but securing stable, affordable housing impact one third of participants’ ability to work and remained a road block in their considerable efforts to rebuild their lives.

“Employment also brought a psychological boost that reverberated through the participants’ lives, improving self-esteem, helping to manage addiction and giving confidence to re-establish or deepen relationships with family.”

Factors helping to sustain work included a supportive work environment, where participants enjoyed good relationships with colleagues and opportunities to use and develop skills as well as personal strengths such as a good work ethic.

But the issue of housing continues to loom large in the participants’ lives - adding to their wellbeing when resolved but proving a significant stress factor when they found themselves under threat of homelessness again.

“While securing housing brought great relief and joy, housing scarcity and insecurity caused considerable stress and upheaval and impacted one-third of participants’ ability to work during the research period,” said Ms Johnston.

They referred to lack of availability, exorbitant rents, perceived prejudice in short-listing tenants and the challenge of taking time off work to search for housing, as among the hurdles to securing private rented accommodation.

“The participants in this research are literally working their hardest to leave homelessness behind yet many are still struggling to secure stable housing ... securing housing was a recurring hurdle for some.”

Ms Johnston instanced the case of people accepting, as their best option, short-term leases and becoming homeless again or accepting accommodation without their name on a lease with eviction following due to overcrowding.

The research also found that more than half of participants rated their physical health lower at final interview compared to first interview, with illness, injury and strain, to varying degrees, posing a challenge to sustaining work, she said.

The majority of the participants were engaged in demanding physical work and one third of participants were either planning to change jobs to ease the impact of work on their bodies or were unable to work due to illness or injury.