Over the past few years, we have told many stories: from our clients to our volunteers. Now it’s time to hear it from our staff. What is it like to work at Homeless Oxfordshire?
We have interviewed Laura, our Head of Support Services.
Laura joined Homeless Oxfordshire last December, but she previously worked with rough sleepers for with various charities for the past 7 years.
What did initially appeal to you about Homeless Oxfordshire? Why did you want to work here?
Lots of reasons, really. The main one being it’s the largest provider of accommodation services for people experiencing multiple disadvantages. It’s a really important charity. It felt important for me to bring my learning and experience from other areas here. I’ve had the luck and privilege of working in some really innovative and pioneering projects over the years, so I felt like I had a lot to bring to the table.
Another reason was the fact that Homeless Oxfordshire also works with a lot of the most complex and entrenched rough sleepers that other services won’t accommodate or won’t work with.
It is important for me there’s an understanding of the trauma that people have experienced, that brings them to where they are now. Therefore, I wanted to be involved in a service that really does work with those people, that the rest of society sort of disowned doesn’t care anymore.
What’s Homeless Oxfordshire’s impact on local communities?
Regarding the homeless community, the people that work here, genuinely, truly care about them.
The people that work directly with our clients offer that compassion, and that empathy and that understanding that often they’re not getting from anywhere else. When somebody comes into O’Hanlan House, for example, they might have had quite a long period of rough sleeping, and feel sort of downtrodden, their self worth might be really low. And they come here, and they’re treated like a human being, with some respect, compassion, and warmth they might not have got for a really long time.
I think what the team here are really, really excellent at doing is building relationships with people who are really traumatised. Who have maybe lost their hope, and are really struggling to just trust anybody enough to let them in.
Our team here does a fantastic job, working with those really complex people who need a lot of time, effort and warmth to build those relationships. And that, I think, is the first foundation or building block that then allows them to access other services and make the changes that they might need to make in their lives.
What do you do specifically in your role? What are your day to day responsabilities?
I don’t think I have day to day, every day is completely different.
I’m head of support services, meaning I’m ultimately responsible for all of the services we provide: our hostels, our supported housing, our housing first project.
I work with the managers every day with anything that comes up within their teams, with the clients. I make sure that the services that we’re providing are safe and effective. I also liaise with other housing and healthcare teams, to try changing the system. I think that one of the big barriers that people who are homeless face, is the barriers that services create to access supports.
I think a big part of my job is trying to find a way around some of those barriers, and making sure that our clients are able to access the services they need.
Recently, there’s been a big increase in the number of female clients coming through. How has Homeless Oxfordshire had to change and adapt? And how specifically you’re supporting women and their needs, compared to the needs of some of the male clients?
It’s true, we are accommodating more women, I think, than we have ever had in recent years.
And women, once they reach services, have often been through so much more: they have perhaps stayed in really abusive relationships for their children, they have done anything and everything to avoid rough sleeping, because rough sleeping is so dangerous for women in particular. They are likely to have been exploited and abused a lot more than other male clients at that stage. So by the time they reach us, the task is often much bigger and more complicated. It takes longer to earn trust and to create a place where they feel safe and able to access support. And so it takes more time, more work and more creativity. I think that’s the way that we’re trying to adapt and improve and meet the needs of the women that we’re working with. We want to make sure that our services have the ability to be creative, flexible and have the right resources, so that we can offer that different, tailored, often longer-term interventions.
What is Homeless Oxfordshire doing in particular? How can people get involved?
One of the things that we are doing is running some additional training on trauma and on personality disorders. Lots of women that reach for our services have got a diagnosis of personality disorder. And as a service, and as a team, we want to be able to understand those challenges and make sure that we’re working with people as effectively as we can.
We work on increasing awareness of the service that people can get when they’re in one of our hostels, such as access to sanitary wear. We want to make sure that we’re aware of the specific needs of women and we’re meeting those needs in a human and thoughtful way.
What is your favourite thing about working at Homeless Oxfordshire?
The clients that use our services. I feel incredibly privileged to get to know them and to come into contact with them. I think that everybody that uses our services are incredible survivors, and they have endured so much. The fact that they’re still here and still trying and still smiling is incredible and so inspiring.
And then the team. Our work can be really challenging and emotionally demanding. It may feel quite isolating because we don’t often have the full support of the system to make meaningful changes. The staff does this work with incredible compassion, empathy, and thoughtfulness. They truly care and go above and beyond every day.
How would you describe Homeless Oxfordshire in one word?
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Would you like to join us?
Homeless Oxfordshire is currently recruiting new members.
Join our team and work with us to end homelessness in Oxfordshire.
To view all our current vacancies and find out how to apply by clicking below: