When top chef Gary Usher left his Manchester restaurant last week after a shift, he didn’t know he was about to have a conversation that would change someone’s life.
A homeless man asked him for cash, but he didn’t have any on him, so the pair got chatting instead.
In a Twitter thread that’s gone viral, Gary explains: “As I walked off, he shouted: mate, got any jobs!?”
Gary revealed that the man showed up the next day at his restaurant Kala to ask about a kitchen porter position. According to Gary, he has been making such job offers for 10 years to people living on the streets, but this man was the first to take him up on his offer.
The founder of the Elite Bistros group soon realised things weren’t going to be as straightforward as they would be any other new employee, asking for advice on Twitter: “What do I do about him having no address? How does it work with him having no details? Whatever it is I’ll sort it.”
He’s not the first person to offer a job to someone on the spot. But how do you deal with the logistical challenges of having a new employee who may not have access to a bank, a shower or a washing machine?
And that’s before considering things like how the new member of staff will cope mentally with a huge change in lifestyle – issues Gary has said he is well aware of.
‘A heartfelt, emotional reaction’
Big Issue chief executive Stephen Robertson emphasises that a support network is key.
“Gary reaching out as a heartfelt, emotional reaction is terrific, on one hand. But people going back to work will have a number of issues that could inhibit them from maintaining full-time employment.”
He adds that there’s been a huge increase in the number of people living in temporary accommodation holding down a job.
“It takes a lot to get a job, and it’s great to be offered one spontaneously,” he says. “But the challenges that come with it are significant.”
Mark Lewis, chief executive of Hospitality Action, which helps those in crisis working in the hospitality industry, says: “One of the issues is the practicalities.
“How do you wash your clothes? How do you get a good night’s sleep so you can work well the next day?”
He said his charity is one of the agencies that can help – for example by paying the first rent payment for someone with a new job.
“People are often in a catch-22 situation,” he explains. “You’ve got a new job, but nowhere for your first paycheque to be sent. And often, you can’t get a job if you’ve got no address.”
How employers can help
Amanda Croome, chief executive of the Booth Centre in Manchester, a day centre for homeless people, says: “It’s quite a big step, from being on the street to working full-time.
“You have to turn up on time and follow instructions you’re given.”
Her centre runs an employment programme – one of a number of such schemes to help guide people into work and help them get qualifications.
“We work with employers too, helping support them so they can be more sympathetic.
“Someone might need an afternoon off to sort accommodation, and might have motivational difficulties. And if someone has drug or alcohol issues, they might have a blow-out after their first pay cheque.
“They might not have confidence – they could start a job, then bail out when they have to deal with customers.”
Logistical help can be offered too, with employers letting staff come in early for a shower or letting them leave a bag at work, she suggests.
What practical help can people get?
- Homelessness charities and centres can give their address as a “care of” address
- They also sometimes have showers people can access
- Some banks and the Post Office offer accounts that are easier to set up
- Some mobile banking sites like Monzo don’t require customers to have a permanent address to sign up
- In the case of the man working for Gary Usher, Twitter users have pledged help for items such as clothes and shoes
- There are homelessness prevention grants from local authorities, says homeless charity Crisis
Nick Buckley, founder of the Mancunian Way charity – which runs a homeless employment scheme – says: “We need to make sure when someone is being put into a job, that they’re not known as ‘the homeless person’. We’re trying to get them away from that kind of lifestyle and not to label them.
“We worked with someone who said he was sick of being known as Homeless Bob.”
The stability of employment can be transformative though, he says. “It gives routine. It builds up self-confidence and self-respect. Someone can say ‘I earn my own money now, I pay taxes. I’m not a charity case any more’. We need to make them feel human.”
Greg Mangham is chief executive of Only a Pavement Away – a charity set up by representatives from the hospitality industry helping homeless people get into work – and says everyone should have the chance to build a career.
The charity provides a link between employers and homeless charities, bringing them together so charities can see what jobs are available. It also helps people get the “empathy and sympathy” they need starting a new role, and adapting to the workplace.
‘The routine is survival’
While he says what Gary did is a great gesture, he warns a spontaneous job offer is not necessarily the best way to get someone back in the workplace.
He wants to work with others like Gary who are keen to offer help to those living on the streets, having already got 31 people into work after launching a year ago.
“When you’re on the streets, the routine is survival,” he adds. “When they get a job, they don’t want to end up back in that doorway.”
Rebecca Pritchard, director of services at homeless charity Crisis, says that “every person is different and has different levels of resilience”, and “things can feel overwhelming” for some.
“Homelessness can hugely affect self-esteem and make you feel vulnerable,” she says. “You lose that self-management, more drifting through a day.”
As a result, it’s important to learn skills to help you cope and deal with things such as conflict resolution and communication, she adds.
Gary’s newest employee is due to start work this week.
While the chef doesn’t want to speak to media, he’s promised to update those who praised the gesture – including TV presenter Davina McCall – with the man’s progress.