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What's it like working as a Specialist Support Worker at a Homelessness Charity?

  • 4 min read |
  • Posted by Rebecca, Specialist Support Worker
  • On 01 December 2023

What does Justlife do?

Justlife is a national homelessness charity advocating for people who are living in temporary accommodation (TA). Locally, in Brighton & Hove and Greater Manchester, we support people to improve their mental and physical health, and find a safe, stable home of their own. Nationally, we push for policy change to improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness across the country.

I’ve been a Specialist Support Worker at Justlife for nearly a year now and I love working here. In Manchester, Justlife supports people in unsupported temporary accommodation; hotel and B&B style accommodation, to make their stay in TA short, safe and healthy. We also campaign nationally for policy changes to improve standards in TA; most recently launching a campaign through the Households in TA All Party Parliamentary Group calling on the government to provide cots and moses baskets to children under 2 who are living in TA.

Our approach to supporting people experiencing homelessness

I love the way we work, the relationships we form with people we support and the impact we make as a small team. We work in a person-centred, strengths-based way which means that we trust that the person we’re supporting knows what’s best for them, we look at all aspects of their life and we focus on their skills, passions and assets. This is in contrast to a “deficit-based” way of working, where there is focus on someone’s “issues”, “problems” and difficult life experiences. We acknowledge that the people we support have faced challenges and we encourage them to use their skills and focus on what’s important to them. We trust the people we support to lead the work we do, advocate for them and are by their side as they move into secure accommodation.

Working in this way means we can develop a “helping relationship” that goes both ways, we all benefit from the work we do and we can see people move towards independence. One of the ways we do this is by continuing to work with people for up to 6 months after they move. This is often invaluable as some people haven’t had their own tenancy for many years or are moving into a new area. Having a familiar face and someone to reach out to means that they’re more likely to sustain their tenancy and connect with their community.

An example of this would be someone I recently supported when they were offered a flat on Manchester Move. We managed to secure funding from Real Change for his carpets which made his house a home, he did not have the means to pay for this himself and having access to that fund was vital for him being able to move from insecure housing lacking facilities to his own place. We visited Mustard Tree where he got a voucher towards furniture that he used to buy a sofa, nest of tables and coffee table. We were also able to source curtains, kitchen equipment, homely items and some house plants. At Justlife, we also provide a “move in pack” of cleaning equipment which he greatly appreciated.

Since moving in he’s connected with a local volunteering opportunity that he attends every week, where he socialises and learns horticulture and gardening skills. The last time I visited, he was showing me the windowsills in his flat that he was going to grow his own veg on; the passion was shining and it was joyous to see him so settled and happy, planning for his future. Every step of the way has been led by him, with me trusting the decisions he made and empowering him to reach out to other local services. He’s said he’s very glad I will be around for another few months as he settles in, and I check in every week over the phone if I’m not visiting. He also recently joined our Social Connections Project, a project focused on reducing loneliness and connecting members of the community. We’ve had people doing gardening at our centre and it’s been lovely for them to connect with each other and learn food-growing skills.

Working in this person-centred and strengths-based way brings more choice to people’s lives, empowers them and develops skills to thrive independently when our support winds down. By connecting people with other community services and projects that they’ve chosen themselves, they can settle and really feel at home.

If you’re interested in supporting our work with local people experiencing homelessness, all donations from now until midday Tuesday 5th December are match funded by The Big Give.