If you’re interested in working with people experiencing homelessness, what better way to find out more than to hear from those doing the job?
We spoke to Shailini Vora, a fundraising officer, and Ella Muir, a Housing First coordinator, who both work for St Mungo’s, to get their takes on:
- their job roles
- what they enjoy and find challenging
- where they see their careers going in the future
- what skills and qualifications you might need to work for a homelessness charity
- what you can do to increase your chances of getting a job working with the homeless
How and when did you decide you wanted to work with the homeless?
Ella: I volunteered for a rape crisis helpline when I was at university. It was my first experience of supporting people who had experienced complex trauma and I learned a lot about the impact it can have on people, including mental health issues, substance abuse and homelessness. I then applied for an ad-hoc role with St Mungo’s, supporting clients with appointments and activities.
Shailini: I made up my mind while I was at university. I decided to write my dissertation on the issues facing people experiencing homelessness, particularly the stigma of menstruation, and found that nothing had been said in academic literature – or in the media – about women on the streets and their experiences of menstruation. It was clear that managing menstruation was an overlooked but common issue and I wanted to do something practical to resolve it.
I got my first job working with women experiencing homelessness by connecting with a local menstrual health charity. They were really interested in designing a programme that could resolve the issue. It was originally supposed to be for two months, but I ended up staying for two years.
What is your job role?
Ella: I’ve recently started in my current role where I manage a Housing First Project with 25 clients and 5 staff members. The aim of the service is to support clients (with multiple and complex needs) to move out of the hostel system and into independent tenancies. We then support them around substance abuse, offending and mental health issues. My role involves coordinating floating support for clients, covering appointments when needed and supporting my team.
Shailini: I’m a trust fundraising officer. My job is to raise money from trusts and foundations for the important work we do. Day-to-day, I’ll be writing informative applications about the different projects we undertake as well as doing research to find new sources of funding. I’m also responsible for the relationship with trust and grant funders who have donated to us. I send them updated reports and organise visits.
Did you need any specific degree or other qualifications or experience to get your job?
Shailini: You don’t need a specific degree to work in fundraising, although strong communication skills are really important. I studied geography with Spanish. However, I had two years’ prior experience in the voluntary sector, so this helped me to get the job.
Ella: I have a degree and my previous experience at St Mungo’s as a locum worker and then as a project worker helped me to get my current role. Some other roles won’t require any specific experience, though.
What’s the best part of your job?
Ella: Giving clients access to activities and sports and watching them have a bit of fun is my favourite part of the job. It’s great to see them smile. One of my proudest achievements was as a project worker. I arranged a women’s group where we completed a muddy Race for Life. It was so inspiring to see people who struggled so much in their day-to-day lives achieve so much.
Shailini: I love that my job lets me write in a formal yet creative manner. I also need to research the issues I write about in my applications to trusts, which I find fascinating.
What have you found the most challenging in your role?
Ella: Understanding that it’s not always possible to change people or fix them overnight. Sometimes our role is to be a witness to our clients’ lives and everything they’ve been through and that can be hard.
How can students find the right job for them in this area?
Shailini: Deciding on a path is always difficult. What skills do you have? Do you prefer working face to face with people? Are you ready to face difficult situations as a project or outreach worker? Would you prefer a creative marketing or fundraising role? Have a look at what jobs are being advertised for your local homelessness services. Which ones really speak to you?
What can students do to help them get a job working with the homeless?
Shailini: It’s definitely worth connecting with homelessness charities and housing associations while you’re studying so you can do an internship or volunteer. Talk to people who work with people experiencing homelessness – go to networking events and connect on websites such as LinkedIn. You also need to build an understanding of the current political and economic situation that has led to the crisis of homelessness. Read the news, listen to podcasts such as the Housing Podcast or go to conferences on the topic.
Ella: I would recommend volunteering for a homelessness charity. Lots of volunteers move on to permanent roles. There are also other jobs you can do where the skills are transferable to the homelessness sector, such as working with vulnerable people or young people. Volunteering for the rape crisis centre gave me valuable insight and the training I received is very relevant as most clients I’ve worked with at St Mungo’s have been affected by trauma. After university, I also volunteered in a school and worked on some summer programmes with teenagers. I picked up a lot of transferrable skills, including managing challenging behaviour.
How do you see your career progressing?
Ella: My project could grow and I could become a service manager, which is a step up. There are lots of other management roles too and St Mungo’s runs a Steps into Management programme.
Shailini: I’d like to carry on raising funds to support the people who really need us the most. It’s really surprising the breadth of work you can do with people experiencing homelessness.