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What I do at Glass Door 

I started at Glassdoor in September 2019. I originally started as a night shelter and day centre case worker for Richmond, and am now a Senior Caseworker. I do all sorts of things to support people facing or experiencing homelessness. This can be complicated things like: 

  • Helping with application forms, e.g. for benefits 
  • Ensuring guests know what they are entitled to 
  • Writing applications to the local council 

Or it can be more detailed things like: 

  • Helping people with financial admin, e.g. setting up bank accounts and regular payments 
  • Setting up their smartphones so they have all the necessary apps to make life as easy as possible  
  • Organising health appointments 
  • Going with people to appointments if they aren’t sure how to do them alone

What has changed within the homelessness sector 

When I began I was first and foremost providing support for people rough sleeping. However, that has changed because more of the people I help now are vulnerably housed. Because of the reduction in provision and resource, and the increasing number of people facing or experiencing homelessness, services are being much more strict about certain things. For example, it used to be that if someone’s rent arrears had got up to thousands of pounds the councils wouldn’t necessarily have pursued anything, whereas now we have councils pursuing legal action for as little as two months’ rent.  

From our perspective as caseworkers, it means that we have to be really diligent on every single point of someone’s situation, we have much less time to do things in, and we have many more guests with multiple complications going on that are pushing them into homelessness or keeping them from finding their way out of it.  

The other change is the sheer number of people coming to us, which has only increased in my time at Glass Door.

The homelessness sector has always been stretched, but in recent years with the cost of living crisis, rising energy prices and increasing rent issues, we are struggling now more than ever. 

The main challenges of being a caseworker 

One of the main challenges I experience as a caseworker is working within an increasingly flawed and brutal system. We often have to liaise with organisations and statutory services that don't do what needs to be done or gatekeep their services, so that can take time and a lot of hard work just getting them to do what they're required to do. For example, councils request evidence like three months of banks statements, ID, proof of benefits, address history for the last five years and medical evidence numerous times, despite having received this from guests.

I once had to submit this same evidence for a guest three times, even though I could clearly show this had been submitted already. 

We also have to keep the balance of being there for anyone who walks through the door without being part of a cycle of dependence. On the one hand, we don’t ever close cases at Glass Door, meaning we’ll always engage without a time limit on when an outcome needs to be reached. On the other hand, we are all about promoting agency for our guests, which involves having boundaries about the kinds of things we support people with.  

Each guest is unique, and what it looks like to support them to become as independent as possible is different for each person.

Some people need a lot of support with things like attending appointments, while others only really need a word of encouragement and a gentle push in the right direction. But in every scenario, we are always working towards empowering each guest to deal with anything that is actually within their power or capability.  

This can be hard because it’s so subjective, so we have things like reflective practice sessions where we can check in about how we are feeling about some of our cases with our casework colleagues. A good team dynamic is also really important, for information sharing and support 


The skills I need to do my job 

You need to have an interest in the people you support and an interest in what you're doing.

You need to have, at your core, a desire to help with these things. You wouldn't be able to do it for a significant period of time if you didn't.

If you stop caring, if you stop having that kind of desire, it can be so mechanical and then you're not really fulfilling that role. You just become another bureaucratic advisory point.  

At the same time, you need to have good boundaries. You have to be resilient and learn how to not take the job home. Part of having boundaries is knowing that you work within systems that you may not be able to change. There's a hunger for change, you're always wanting that. But you also need to understand you have no authority or power of attorney over the guests. You’re helping people, but you're not wholly responsible for them, it’s really important to remember that. 


What I like about my job 

My favourite thing about my job is when the guests have accomplished what they set out to do. When someone has poor physical or mental health, people really underestimate how important those things are. So when someone has come in, even to just obtain their passport, it can seem like such a trivial thing. But some people might not have ever had a passport, or its taken a lot to get to that point, so once they've got it in their hand and they can move on with what they want to do, it’s brilliant.  

They've sought help from Glass Door, which can be such a difficult thing to do, especially because there is such stigma around homelessness to the point where people don’t necessarily feel able to acknowledge or recognise that it is happening to them. So when someone has been able to move past that and ask for help, they get what they need and they make huge successes of themselves, no matter what that looks like, because that is completely dependent on each person. That’s my favourite bit.  


What people should know about homelessness 

The main thing I think people should know, is that you shouldn't be looking at homelessness as a kind of blameful, fault-aligning notion. You can be so close to that point. If you rent a house and you lose your job and you don't have friends and family, that next stage, after all of that is that you would lose your home. If a natural disaster happens, like a flood, that means the loss of your home.

It can happen to any of us.  

I think that the media, books and visual representations of what homelessness looks like means that it ends up being treated as someone’s whole identity. The idea that they are homeless, rather than experiencing homelessness. But you can’t ascribe these things to somebody and think it’s their only identity.  

This limited representation also means that we as a society have very narrow ideas of who is homeless, when actually there is a huge spectrum of experiences that fall within ‘homelessness. For example, people who stay with friends and family are sofa surfing, which is technically a form of homelessness; they're using the address of somebody else. But it doesn’t have the same stigma or rhetoric of dehumanisation that goes with a lot of perceptions of homelessness. Similarly, lots of people experiencing homelessness have jobs, which many people don’t know about.

These misconceptions about homelessness end up preventing people from accessing support.

Partly this is because many services don’t cater for these more hidden forms of homelessness, but also a lot of the time it is a sense of pride that prevents people from accessing help and because homelessness is so stigmatised and misunderstood 

So we have to start changing attitudes, changing cultural awareness, and educating ourselves and each other. Ultimately, we need a person-centred approach. That is imperative in order for the stigma to die away, for people to access more and feel more comfortable, more confident to ask for and receive the support they need  

Find out more about our casework service