Thames Reach
Tuesday 23 May 2017
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Employing our own service users

Photo of a former trainee
Mark Whiteford, a former service user trainee, is now a project worker at Thames Reach's Robertson Street hostel

For agencies considering employing current and former service users, there are a number of issues to think through. Some will be common for all agencies but there will be others that are unique to your organisation, or your area of work.

The first step is to identify these issues. In addition, a number of policies and procedures will need to be reviewed, and some adapted, to ensure your service user employment practices are a success.

There are three major questions that any organisation considering employing homeless people within their organisation will need to discuss and agree:

  1. Do we want to employ people with experience of homelessness and service use or just experience of homelessness?
  2. Do we want to employ formerly homeless people only or also those currently homeless?
  3. Do we want to employ our own service users or only service users from other organisations?

Do we want to employ people with experience of homelessness and service use or just experience of homelessness?

At Thames Reach, we debated all the above options and decided to primarily recruit people with experience of service use, as they would bring with them the understanding, needs and frustrations common to our client group.

Do we only want to employ formerly homeless people or those currently homeless?

The result of our discussion on this question was that we did not want a blanket ban on those who were currently homeless. Our view is that this is discriminatory and we wanted to have a fair recruitment process, assessing people on their competencies to do the job, as we would with any other role.

Do we want to employ our own service users or only service users from other organisations?

This was an area where there was significant debate and discussion. We knew that there would be issues if we were to employ our own service users, particularly around the dual roles that these individual people could have and the potential for boundaries to become blurred.

However, we decided that we would employ our own service users – that the benefits outweighed the risks – so we wanted to find ways to manage the issues that could arise, rather than avoid them.

Out of the 26 trainees we have recruited during the first two years of the GROW programme, one third were current or former users of Thames Reach’s support services.