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Working it

March 14 2016
Chris Ubsdell, a former rough sleeper, found getting a job to occupy the mind was a pretty big challenge
Chris Ubsdell, former rough sleeper, found getting a job to occupy the mind was a pretty big challenge.

Once you make it off the street, you may be able to begin to think about finding a job. But having been homeless (not a marketable skill in itself), you are probably wondering what you could do for a living.

Some of you have plenty of skills already. I have met all sorts of people on the streets from many backgrounds: teachers, bankers, chippies, musicians, artists, and plenty of military types. If you do have a skill, then finding a job in the aftermath of homelessness will be so much easier. But for those with no skills (me included), finding a job can be very difficult indeed.

One challenge is trying to explain homelessness to somebody who has never experienced it. A potential new boss may be simply unaware of that life, or have media-induced prejudice against homeless people that you will have to overcome by careful explanation.

I've had this conversation with colleagues and bosses in the past. For the most part, it’s been positive. Mostly, people reject the stereotype of a homeless person and, if they use a bit of imagination, start to see how it can happen. A tip is to begin by explaining that on the whole, people are not homeless intentionally and if they are, they have a good reason.

You don’t always have to be so up-front of course. One option is to get your foot in the door first and leave the conversation about homelessness until later.

I tend to work in jobs that are unskilled and so can usually find something that suits who I am. The transport and construction industries are full of these sorts of roles, as are the hospitality and retail sectors. The trouble is that these roles are basic in pay, which means learning how to budget.

There will be a difficult transition from being on housing benefit too, but keep in mind that after you find a job, the HB runs on for a month, allowing you to save a little. The?job centre can supply you with an interview suit, too, although you may need to pay up-front.

A mistake I made recently was finding temporary work that lasted only a few months. When a contract ends (or when you walk away because the boss is a plum), you may have to go back onto benefits. You can make a rapid reclaim if you’ve been off JobSeeker’s Allowance (JSA) for less than 26 weeks, though going back on benefits after a period in work can be heart-breaking. So take stock and think about what kind of job you want to do long term.

My last job was as a concierge on a building site, believe it or not. The early starts and 12-hour shifts every weekday took a little getting used to. For the first week it was difficult to drag myself from bed; every fibre of my body was telling me to stay under the covers. But I got used to it.

The biggest change occurs in your mind. After a day on site or in a warehouse or supermarket, you clock off and then trudge to the bus stop to wait with all the other drones. What hits you is the comparison between this working life and the streets. Sometimes I was so exhausted from work that I would fail to notice the homeless people who I would otherwise have spotted. It was then I realised how far I'd travelled.

One final thing I'd say is: don't blow your hard-earned cash on sweets and cinema trips. When you get your first month’s wages, try and to set aside an amount for rent, food, tobacco, travel etc – and spend no more than that in one week. Put the rest in the bank and leave it for a rainy day, because you never know when a job may end and money dry up until HB comes through again.

You never know – maybe you’ll find a permanent fixture that would mean coming off benefits for good.


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