While a demonstrable passion for helping people on the streets is arguably the most important factor, it isn't the only thing you'll need to work with the homeless. Learn more about different career paths and potential employers

Why work with the homeless?

Homelessness is a huge issue. In fact, government data shows that between January and March 2022 74,230 households in England became homeless, or were at imminent risk of becoming homeless, including 25,610 families with children. While in 2021, a report by homeless charity Shelter stated that there were more than a quarter of a million homeless people in England.

The causes of homelessness are numerous and include unemployment, lack of affordable housing, poverty, family conflict, domestic violence, addiction and mental illness and it's often hard to accurately estimate the true extent of the problem due to the rising number of the 'hidden homeless' - those who are effectively homeless but manage to stay off the streets by sofa surfing at the homes of friends and family.

 We've all heard the phrase 'you're only ever one pay cheque away from homelessness' and with most people feeling the pinch due to the cost of living crisis it's a sobering thought. While the UK government has pledged £2billion to it’s Rough Sleeping Strategy, which is part of a Conservative manifesto promise to end rough sleeping by 2024, some have criticised them for not raising the funding in line with inflation.

Homeless people are frequently caught in a catch-22 situation of no home/no job, no job/no home but there are people who work tirelessly to help break the cycle and you could be one of them. Working with the homeless and giving them the tools and support to improve their situation is incredibly rewarding work.

What jobs can I do?

 If you'd like to dedicate your career to tackling homelessness there are a variety of jobs available. Job titles can vary depending on the type of organisation you work for, so you'll need to do your research to find relevant opportunities.

To narrow down your options it's a good idea to figure out the kind of work you'd like to do. For example, do you want to work directly with homeless people, or would you be more suited to a behind-the-scenes role?

In either case you could become a:

Other front-line roles include getting involved in outreach/support work, homelessness prevention, accommodation or employment advice and rehousing services. Youth workers can specialise to deal with youth homelessness, while healthcare workers such as nurses, mental health nurses and clinical psychologists also work directly with homeless people to address their physical and mental health needs.  

To contribute to the wider effort of eradicating homelessness you could forge a career within your  local councils housing or homelessness services or in the head offices of homeless charities, for example in the marketing and communications, campaigns, HR, legal or finance departments. You could also work in research and analysis.

Read more about charity sector jobs.

To find job vacancies look on council and charity websites. Homeless Link, the national membership charity for organisations working directly with the homeless, also has a job search function.

Follow employers of interest on social media to keep up to date on industry and company news and to hear about vacancies. Bear in mind that small, local charities don't always have the money to fund recruitment campaigns, so if you'd like to work for one of these consider sending a speculative application.

What qualifications, skills and experience do I need to work with the homeless?

The question of whether you need a degree to work with the homeless really depends on the job you'd like to do. While entry level roles (mainly administration or assistant jobs) are available, a degree may help you secure a competitive job in the charity sector.

Some jobs may accept graduates from any degree discipline (charity fundraiser, charity officer, policy officer and housing officer etc), while others (social worker, nurse, clinical psychologist) will require more specific qualifications such as a degree in social work, nursing, or psychology respectively. If you'd like to work within marketing, PR, communications or finance a related qualification is often required.

It's always best to do your research and read job descriptions thoroughly to ensure you're aware of all application criteria.

Often, far more important than academic qualifications are your skills and experience.

To get a job you'll need a demonstrable interest and commitment to working with the homeless or with vulnerable people. One of the easiest ways to prove this is through, volunteering. Look for opportunities with homeless charities where you could get involved in fundraising, campaigning, frontline or head office activities. For example, at Centrepoint you could become a helpline or independent life skills volunteer, while at Crisis you could dedicate your time to community engagement or learning mentor volunteering. What's more, volunteering with homeless charities is a great way to learn about vacancies and could lead to more permanent employment.

Within your own community you could volunteer your time to cook or serve food at a soup kitchen or deliver food parcels to the homeless with a local food bank.

As well as job specific skills, to successfully work with and support the homeless you'll need the following:

  • compassion and the ability to empathise
  • outstanding people skills
  • excellent communication skills, including listening ability
  • the ability to work in multidisciplinary teams
  • patience and resilience
  • discretion
  • problem-solving ability
  • a proactive nature and non-judgemental approach
  • a good sense of humour.

Discover how to get a graduate charity job.

Where can I work?

If you'd like a career helping the homeless obvious employers include charities dedicated to supporting homeless people and ending rough sleeping. On a national level these include:

  • AKT
  • Centrepoint
  • Crisis
  • Depaul UK
  • Emmaus
  • End Youth Homelessness (EYH)
  • Housing Justice
  • Shelter
  • St Mungo's
  • The Big Issue Foundation
  • The Salvation Army.

If you'd like to affect change and make a positive contribution in your local community then consider working for a small or local charity. To find organisations you’d need to do some research into what’s available in your local area, as it's impossible to list them all here, but for example:

  • Aberdeen Cyrenians
  • Emmanuel House Support Centre (Nottingham)
  • Four Square (Edinburgh)
  • Help Bristol’s Homeless
  • Huggard (Cardiff)
  • Jimmy’s Cambridge
  • Lauchpad (Reading)
  • Let's feed Brum (Birmingham)
  • Lifeshare (Manchester)
  • Path (Plymouth)
  • Roundabout Homeless Charity (Sheffield)
  • Simon Community (Belfast)
  • SPEAR London
  • St Martins (Norwich)
  • St Petrocs (Cornwall)
  • Street Zero (Newcastle)
  • The Halliday Foundation (Glasgow)
  • The Nomad Trust (Lincoln)
  • The Whitechapel Centre (Liverpool).

However, homeless charities aren't your only source of potential employers. You could work within government for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities or with your local council or housing association. Working for Citizens Advice is another option.

In terms of location, you're likely to work in areas where levels of homelessness are particularly high, such as big towns and cities, but as homelessness is such a widespread issue this could see you working anywhere in the UK. According to research by Shelter, London unsurprisingly has the highest proportion of homeless people, followed by Brighton and Hove, Manchester, Milton Keynes and Birmingham.

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