Homelessness: out of sight but not out of reach for businesses

Post author image. Charlotte Gibb
Develop long -term partnerships with communities to support people experiencing or at risk of homelessness says Charlotte Gibb.

Charlotte Gibb, Employment Campaign Manager, Business in the Community (BITC) on the action businesses can take to tackle homelessness.

In any normal year, winter brings a heightened awareness of homelessness, as many of us encounter visible street homelessness on our commutes, or are reminded of the issue on our Christmas sandwich packets.

For many this year, those visible reminders may be missing. However, the problem of homelessness continues; in fact, the problem may be getting worse as the ongoing jobs crisis continues, and councils and charities find themselves stretched after a demanding year.

During the spring, there was a huge effort to get ‘everyone in’ – providing a safe place for rough sleepers to isolate during the pandemic. Since then, councils have been finding longer term accommodation for those brought in during the first wave, whilst dealing with the demands of the second wave and the long-term impacts of the pandemic.

Even with Government measures such as the temporary ban on evictions and extension of the Job Retention Scheme, homelessness charity Shelter has reported receiving calls to their helpline every minute since March – totalling more than 90,000 calls, one in three of which are from families¹. Investing in preventative measures at this stage could help ensure these households do not have to face homelessness.

As Government measures begin to taper off, the need for a collaborative approach to respond to and prevent homelessness is crucial. Though many businesses are facing challenges of their own, targeting support in the following three areas can help to support your staff and community from the threat of homelessness.

Designing Out Homelessness

Last year BITC, in partnership with the West Midlands Combined Authority and Gowling WLG, published the Designing Out Homelessness toolkit with three areas of action for business – all of which are even more crucial given the impact of COVID-19 (a Welsh version of the guide was also produced in partnership with Legal & General and For Cardiff).

1. Prevention
1 in 4 people facing homelessness are in work, meaning support for employees is important. This is particularly true if workers are put on reduced hours or incomes. In addition, as part of wider wellbeing initiatives, enabling colleagues to seek help when facing financial difficulty can help prevent colleagues reaching crisis point or turning to high-interest lenders. For further guidance read our factsheet on homelessness and COVID-19.

2. Practical Help
The best approach for businesses wanting to support people experiencing or at risk of homelessness is through long-term partnerships in communities. This enables support to be needs-led and delivered by experts; however, the support your business provides could be wide-ranging, from financial contributions to donations of products and services or staff volunteering time.

As a response to COVID-19, Business in the Community launched the National Business Response Network, enabling businesses to meet the needs of community organisations. Since the launch of the platform in April, many organisations responding to homelessness have benefited from business support:

  • Tesco has provided more than 1,798 mobile phones with pre-loaded sims to charities across the UK to ensure the most vulnerable have access to the internet and the ability to contact support agencies.
  • DHL has provided logistics support to enable a donation of clothing from a high street retailer to reach more than 6,000 people.
  • IKEA has provided furnishings to help turn 30 houses into homes for individuals being moved into accommodation by Wolverhampton charity Alternative Giving.

    To find out how your business could respond to homelessness with practical help,visit the NBRN Platform.

3. Pathways to employment
Quality, secure employment can provide a vital route out of homelessness, but people with experience of homelessness can face barriers gaining employment. Not having a permanent address or bank account, or experiencing low confidence and an unfamiliarity with the world of work can all impact on employment opportunities. Businesses can help to break down these barriers by providing routes into employment.

Support could include employability sessions, workplace insight days and work placements. BITC delivers these employment programmes nationally, including our Ready for Work placement programme and Behind the Scenes workplace insight days. We are also working with our members to offer support virtually, and have published guidance for businesses looking to offer work placements in the new normal.

To follow on from the launch of our Designing Out Homelessness toolkit, we are running an event on 16 December to hear current examples of how businesses are acting in the age of COVID-19 to prevent homelessness and take action for those experiencing it. Sign up here.

¹ Emergency helpline for people facing homelessness getting one call ‘every minute’ (2020), The London Economic [online] accessed here: https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/news/emergency-helpline-for-people-facing-homelessness-getting-one-call-every-minute/01/12/