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Swapping Life on the Streets for a Life in the Office.
By Ollie Chase
Keeping a roof over your head can be as daunting as living on the streets for those with a history of homelessness. A charity is now giving former rough sleepers a chance to become part of their workforce
A radical recruitment scheme developed by homeless charity, Thames Reach is giving former and current service users an opportunity to get back on their feet by becoming a part of their workforce.
Giving Real Opportunities for Work (GROW) is setting a positive example to the rest of the homelessness sector by helping people regain a sense of purpose in their lives by earning their own income. Thames Reach have already exceeded their target for this year which was to recruit at least ten percent of their workforce from among people with experience of homelessness. They are now aiming to reach fifteen percent by 2009.
Trevor Shaw was once a homeless alcoholic but he now works as a support worker for Thames Reach after a six month stint as a GROW trainee. He feels a lot more confident these days: "it's given me my life back .......I've become more open minded and I've got a lot more to live for today."
For the likes of Trevor, Alpheus Williams and Kristina Kennedy the GROW project has given them valuable work experience and helped them combat the loneliness and long, aimless days that can make it difficult to adjust to coming off the streets. In turn, staff at Thames Reach have benefited from their knowledge of what it's like to be homeless which has helped the organisation improve its services. Current service users have also been provided with positive role models to help them rebuild their lives.
The GROW scheme was inspired by similar projects run by homeless agencies in New York where employing former clients is much more common. The Thames Reach initiative was launched in 2005 but there are still very few organisations within the homelessness sector in London that have followed suit.
Now Trevor, Alpheus and Kristina have made audio features about the impact GROW has had on them, in the hope of persuading other organisation to take up similar ideas. You can hear those features by clicking on the link at the top of the page. Alpheus also appeared on Robert Elms show on 94.9FM, talking about his experiences.
Project manager, Kath Dane, says GROW has challenged conventional wisdom within Thames Reach which could have a far reaching impact for the homelessness sector in general: "at the beginning there were a number of staff who were sceptical of employing service users. There was quite an us and them culture but there's been no serious difficulties around understanding professional boundaries."
Next month sees the launch of a Thames Reach website which will share what the organisation has learnt from the employment of current and former service users. It's hoped that this may inspire other homelessness agencies to take the same step.
last updated: 21/12/2007 at 12:00