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How to get a job working with the homeless

Get an idea of what it’s like to work with the homeless, along with the skills and experience you’ll need.

Enthusiasm for improving the lives of others is a great first step to securing a position with an organisation or charity focused on homelessness, but getting clued-up on the capabilities to show and the likely application process will help you to go further – and step into a job.

What’s it like working with the homeless?

This will vary depending on your job role. An office-based role is likely to be standard nine-to-five hours, but a front-line role may well involve early starts, night shifts and weekend work.

If you’re working directly with people experiencing homelessness, you are likely to experience days that are emotionally demanding, stressful, exhausting or frustrating. You will need to be resilient and, importantly, able to switch off and keep your work separate from your personal life.

No matter your job role, though, this career path is undoubtedly rewarding – whether that’s receiving a thank you for all you’ve done as a support worker or securing the support of a new donor as a fundraising officer.

How to get a graduate job that tackles homelessness

There are entry-level jobs available. These aren’t specifically for graduates, but that doesn’t mean graduates shouldn’t apply.

You can find vacancies by looking on charities’ and councils’ websites. You can also browse the vacancies on Homeless Link, the national membership charity for organisations working directly with homeless people in the UK.

You may find that speculative applications are worthwhile, especially to small organisations that may only advertise jobs locally. If it’s not clear how an organisation recruits, get in touch and ask how and where they advertise their jobs.

There aren’t graduate schemes specifically for working with the homeless, although two schemes that could be of interest are:

  • The Charity Works 12-month graduate programme. Relevant partners of this programme include St Mungo’s, Single Homeless Project and plenty of local housing associations.
  • The Civil Service Fast Stream. Schemes include generalist, governmental statistical service and government social research. There’s no guarantee you will get to work on homelessness during the three- or four-year scheme, but it could be a good stepping stone.

What qualifications do I need to work with the homeless?

There are often no set qualifications to get an entry-level role in the homelessness sector. However, it might be a good idea to match the type of work you’re interested in with your degree; you can find out more about different roles you can carry out to support the homeless here.

If, for example, you’re looking to work in outreach or support work, a qualification in social work or psychology might improve your ability to relate to and understand the people you will work with on a day-to-day basis. For roles in fundraising or PR, a marketing or business degree might be relevant, while business or economics might support you in a finance position.

What experience will I need?

A proven commitment to the issues surrounding homelessness and your transferable skills are far more important than academic qualifications. You’ll find it helpful to build up relevant experience, often voluntary work or temporary paid work. Most charities advertise temporary paid vacancies and unpaid volunteering roles on their websites.

For some roles, getting experience isn’t just beneficial, but necessary. For outreach worker roles, you’ll almost always need experience of working with vulnerable people. For housing officer roles, you may well need experience of providing housing advice or support.

As a volunteer or temporary worker, you may have access to training courses and e-learning on topics such as safeguarding, boundaries and engaging with clients. On top of this, it’s common for volunteers and temporary workers to progress into permanent jobs with the same organisation.

If you’d like to find out more about the different volunteering roles you could consider, read our article on volunteering your way to a graduate job.

What skills will help me work with the homeless?

Different skills and qualities will be more important for different job roles, but those appreciated in all areas include organisation, resourcefulness and flexibility.

For anybody working closely with homeless individuals, invaluable skills include:

  • perceptiveness and the ability to think like your client
  • compassion and empathy – without pity or judgement
  • interpersonal and listening skills
  • patience and discretion
  • positivity and a sense of humour.

What’s the application process?

This will vary between organisations. For smaller employers, it’s likely to be an initial CV and covering letter and then a face-to-face interview. Larger employers might ask you to complete other stages. St Mungo’s often uses verbal and numerical reasoning tests, work-based exercises and practical activities, such as group work or role plays.

It’s highly likely the recruitment process be competency-based. Shelter asks you to complete a behaviour-based application form and provides more instructions about its competency-based assessment on its job adverts. Both Crisis and St Mungo’s ask you to complete a personal statement of sorts to give evidence of how you meet each of the points on the person specification in the job description.

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