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How a trailblazing charity could help 50,000 homeless people into work

Rolling out Rentstart's Freedom2Work scheme nationally could also save the public purse £600m and help half of the homeless population into private-rented accommodation, researchers say.

Adviser and client discuss options at charity Commonweal offices

This model "has proven" that is is possible to make genuine inroads in breaking the cycle of homelessness, says Ashley Horsey, Chief Executive at Commonweal. Image: Commonweal Housing

An innovative housing scheme could play a major role in easing the homelessness crisis if rolled out nationally, researchers say.

South east homelessness charity Rentstart is behind the Freedom2Work project, in which homeless people are given job hunting support alongside a matched deposit scheme to help them save for a home.

Its five-year pilot supported 96 people and was so successful that three quarters are now in full or part-time employment and almost half are living independently in the private rented sector.

Now social justice charity Commonweal Housing is asking whether this could be one of the solutions to easing both the UK’s worker shortage crisis and the homelessness crisis.

“As Brexit crunches supply chains and the pandemic continues to ravage the job market, there is little doubt that innovative new approaches to plugging the employment gap are urgently required,” said Ashley Horsey, chief executive at Commonweal.

“Freedom2Work answers this question by supporting vulnerable people into employment and permanent housing, and delivers astronomical savings to the government at a time of steep national fiscal spending when saving every penny really does count.”

Based on the pilot outcomes, rolling out the model nationally could support 53,000 rough sleepers, homeless people and those at risk of homelessness into employment. That’s six-and-a-half times the entire UK workforce of Pret A Manger.

The project could also save the public purse £600m, according to Independent research by De Montfort University. 

Rentstart found many clients who were sleeping on the streets couldn’t access employment as they lacked a stable base, and were unable to save enough money for a deposit. 

When Isaac Thorne, 23, was referred from a hostel in February, he had no savings having left an abusive partner who prevented him from getting a job or becoming financially independent. 

Thorne was supported by Rentstart to gain a job at Wetherspoons and a privately rented bedsit, making him self-sufficient. 

“I feel like [now] I can get to where I want to be in life,” Thorne, told The Big Issue. 

Isaac Thorne ready to head to his new job at Wetherspoons. Image: Isaac Thorne

Like other participants in the pilot, Thorne received support to find meaningful employment through CV and interview advice.

With the UK experiencing the worst worker shortage since 1997, Commonweal suggests the model could be instrumental in providing up-skilled and re-skilled workers much needed by industries ranging from hospitality to construction or delivery. 

Some 68,250 households were found to be homeless or at risk of homelessness between January and March 2021, according to data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

For many people who are vulnerably housed, temporary accommodation or hostels can pose barriers to gaining meaningful employment, which is why the Freedom2Work model prioritises getting people into privately rented homes. 

After leaving his ex-partner in February, Thorne found a room in a hostel, but found it was more of a hindrance to finding work than it was a help.

“At the hostel I genuinely felt like I was in prison,” he said. “There was a curfew, you couldn’t use the kitchen or bathroom after a certain time, you couldn’t leave your room.” 

Although Thorne had found work with Amazon as a delivery driver, after a long shift he would return late at night to the hostel to find the kitchen locked, meaning he’d have to dip his savings pot to get a hot meal. 

Rentstart first moved him to one of their properties where he was supported with CV assistance, job hunting support and training to prep for interviews. He also received support to help manage his anxiety and autism while going through the stressful process of job applications. 

After gaining employment at Wetherspoons, Thorne is now able to pay to rent his own bedsit in Walton-on-Thames, and said, “I’m a lot happier now that I’m out of the hostel and more independent.”

The Big Issue has launched the Stop Mass Homelessness campaign ahead of the upcoming universal credit cut, the end of the furlough scheme, rising energy costs and taxes as well as Covid disruption.

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