Can HR help the homeless?


“If you have a good idea and people don’t like it, don’t take it away and tone it down so that more people like it. Take it away and amend it so it pokes people in the eyes”

David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation

I just had to share this great quote, spoken last week at the fantastic “Creating Homes and Futures” event, organised by Youth Homelessness North East.

If you’re wondering what a post on this subject is doing on a blog purportedly about human resources, then please forgive my enthusiasm. Last Thursday was the first time I got to wear my “new hat”. After working part time in HR management for a while I’ve been asked to go full time. Not only that, my additional hours will be working with the general business strategy team, not in HR. It’s both exciting and daunting. HR is always being told to get closer to the corporate centre, but it wasn’t until Thursday I understood what a great marriage of roles this is going to be.

Often the most concise and insightful conference break downs take place while washing and drying your hands in the ladies’ (in my experience anyway). It was here that we agreed how useful the event had been, although one attendee added sadly “it’s what we do now that’s the problem”.

There were all sorts of people attending and speaking at the event – politicians, charities, social organisations and people who had experienced homelessness themselves. As far as I know, I was the only HR professional.

The key themes running throughout the event were the hidden aspects of homelessness (the statistics and people we see on the streets don’t tell half the story) and the partnership approach needed to tackle this. David Orr talked about what he called “institutional stasis”. It’s when we kid ourselves that we’ve always done things the way we do because that’s the best way – a fallacy we can all recognise.

Maybe I’m just a crazy newcomer to the field but I think it helped that I was an outsider. I could actually visualise how HR could be a tool to surmount some of the problems discussed. Yes, it involves challenging the stasis, but isn’t that another thing we’re always being told to do?

Before I tell you how HR can help the homeless, you’re probably wondering why. Sure, all businesses have some level of social responsibility and want to do charitable good. But of course there’s plenty of individuals and groups who need our help. What makes homelessness stand out? First of all, it doesn’t stand out. Second, if we think about homelessness at all, many of the ways we try to help (although great and useful) aren’t the real help that’s needed. To many people who live in a nice comfortable house, homelessness is stigmatised and branded as a one solution problem – to get a home. Of course this is only part of it. To support that ideal requires skills, a job and a career. That’s where HR come in. Here’s what we need to do;

* Work in partnership. Don’t duplicate, find out what great projects are already out there and support them. My favourite of the day was @YouthFocusNE.
* Connect with young people. I’m not talking social media. A high percentage of homeless people are under 25. They don’t have broadband. Get out there and meet them.
* Provide alternative routes. Your minimum entry criteria prevents providing people with a chance. Remove the criteria for certain posts, or provide entry via pre-employment courses.
* Offer real opportunities. Homeless people need stable employment to help then break the cycle of poverty.
* Pay the living wage. It’s whats required to break benefit dependency.

I’m not saying any of this is new or easy (but then when is anything worthwhile ever easy). But if we don’t poke a few people in the eyes, things will never change.

One thought on “Can HR help the homeless?

  1. Pingback: Why the homeless can’t get a job – HR Potential

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