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Homelessness can be caused by a range of actors such as relationship breakdown, debt and financial difficulties, substance misuse, and imprisonment. The number of homeless people is very difficult to calculate because of the transient nature of the homeless population and because the various forms of homelessness are counted in different, but sometimes overlapping ways. However, the pressures of the economic downturn combined with a lack of affordable housing and housing benefit cuts mean more people are facing homelessness and, after years of declining trends, 2010 marked the turning point when homelessness began to rise.

In relation to employment, the homelessness charity Crisis finds that:

·          2% of homeless people are in full-time employment and 12% work part-time.

·          50% of homeless people have been unemployed for three years or more. 

·          37% of homeless people have no qualifications; and only a third have qualifications equivalent to five Standard Grades or above. 

·          77% of homeless people would like to work now and most have worked at some point in the past.

Barriers Faced

Homeless people often face multiple barriers that hold them back from moving towards and into employment. These barriers include:

·          No or low qualifications.

·          Poor basic skills - e.g. literacy and numeracy.

·          Low self-confidence. 

·          Lack of work experience or incomplete work histories.

·          Lack of recent references.

·          Housing situation not conducive to training for a job or sustaining a job.

·          Health and/or substance misuse problems. 

·          Debt and financial worries.

·          Criminal background.

·          Perceived or actual discrimination from employers and colleagues.

·          Isolation and lack of social networks.

Policies and Interventions

Recent policy has made reference to the importance of addressing the employability needs of homeless people. The Housing Scotland Act (2001) required local authorities to write homelessness strategies that took account of employability, and both the Code of Guidance in May 2009 and the Prevention of Homelessness Guidance in June 2009 mention employability agencies and employment as being important parts of the bigger picture in tackling and preventing homelessness. There is, however, for example, still no statutory duty to record the employability needs of people presenting as homeless, and no tracking systems to measure the employability route to employment.

In supporting homeless individuals towards and into employment, good practice suggests the need to:

·          Adopt a holistic approach where all agencies work in partnership to support the individual. These include housing, health, social work, education and employability services.

·          Create a culture where employability is seen as central and positive amongst all support partners. 

·          Take into account people's fears and potential risks and build robust information networks to support and reassure the client.

·          Adopt a 'small steps' approach that gradually break down their barriers to employment.

·          Tailored, flexible support as traditional learning routes may not always be the most appropriate. Learning in groups may be overwhelming & intimidating, while engagement may ebb and flow. Folio based learning can aid in this respect as clients can build their evidence base of learning at their own pace.

·          Build services around what actually appeals to clients.

·          Peer mentoring through fellow and former homeless people.