From £35k to homeless: Why rough sleepers struggle to get a job

Homeless people are currently sleeping outside the former Laura Ashley store where Tesco look set to move in to

Homeless people outside the former Laura Ashley store in Norwich's London Street - Credit: Ben Hardy

For many people the night before a job interview means a shower, ironing a shirt and hopping into bed for an early night. 

But many rough sleepers in Norwich don't have that option - despite some having years of work experience already under the belts. 

A 28-year-old homeless woman sat in White Lion Street, who did not wish to be named, said: "I used to be in full-time employment in central London in the restaurant industry.

"But I really struggled with psychosis after my dad died. I did not have a grip of reality.

"For a lot of people it's just a case of survival out here and trying to get by day by day rather than thinking it is possible to just go out and get a job." 

The Liverpool-born rough sleeper grew up in South Africa but moved to the UK with her dad after he divorced. 

After leaving school, she went on to be the manager of the upmarket Albannach bar in London's Trafalgar Square where her salary was £35,000. 

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She went on to work in a pub called The Prince in Brixton for five years as the events manager.

But after her dad died from a heart attack when she was 27, the anonymous woman's mental health deteriorated and she received treatment at Hellesdon Hospital.

"I am in a much better place than I was three months ago," she said. 

She was echoed by Myles Harris, 43, who is among those homeless in the city and told the Evening News becoming a heroin addict set him on the path to begging for money on the street.

He said: "I can't work as I do not have a bank account or a home. I can't even afford to dress myself with smart clothes to go to an interview." 

Luckily services in the city have plenty on offer to help more homeless people get their foot in the door of a job.

St Martins Housing Trust has a learning and development centre called Under 1 Roof where a number of computers are available for people to use to create their CVs, print and apply for jobs. 

A spokeswoman for the non-profit organisation said: "We also offer coaching to support people to become job ready but for many of the people we support this is a longer term goal."

Homeless Myles Harris at his spot at the Royal Arcade. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Homeless Myles Harris at his spot in Norwich city centre - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022

St Martins also has a donation station at Anglia Square where people can access suitable clothes for an interview.

Clothing bundles are given out on a regular basis to people who are sleeping rough, living in hostels or temporary accommodation.

The spokeswoman said: "The people we support are able to choose what they would like to wear from the rails, just like any other customer– and we always welcome donations of good quality second-hand clothes and new underwear."

Colin Coleman, a shop apprentice at the St Martins' Donation Station on Magdalen Street, Norwich

Colin Coleman, a shop apprentice at the St Martins' Donation Station on Magdalen Street, Norwich - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

The Arc in Pottergate is among the places where homeless people can have a shower ahead of any interviews.

And there is also support in the city to try and tackle those who have drug addictions - often viewed as a coping mechanism by rough sleepers due to the challenges of living in the streets. 

St Martins works closely with Change, Grow, Live - which has sites across Norfolk - to try to ensure that people with addictions get the support they need to reduce their substance use.

And the Bishopgate homeless service has introduced partnership projects to provide specialist support to people on release from prison.

Councillor Cate Oliver, cabinet member for rough sleeping at Norwich City Council, said: “We know it’s incredibly challenging for anyone to be able to hold down employment while not having somewhere to live, so our first focus is on helping them find settled accommodation and structure in their lives.

Norwich City Councillor Cate Oliver, cabinet member for environmental services

Councillor Cate Oliver, cabinet member for environmental services - Credit: Norwich City Council

“Support is tailored to individual needs, and can take a number of forms, including providing financial assistance for clothing, delivering employment training and volunteering opportunities, and helping vulnerable groups access the job market.”