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St Martin-in-the-Fields Charity undertakes an annual survey to gather the views and experiences of frontline homelessness workers across the UK. Their latest survey heard from 1,182 colleagues. In this guest blog, Rachel Marshall puts a spotlight on what they learnt about frontline worker wellbeing and shares some practical resources that can support staff in their roles.

In our Annual Frontline Worker Survey, many staff spoke of their commitment to tackling the issue of homelessness, how rewarding they found using their knowledge and skills for this purpose, and how much they appreciated the relationships they built through their work.

However, in spite of this, the majority (58%) of frontline staff shared that they felt that their role had a negative impact on their wellbeing. This is of serious concern. Good staff wellbeing is inherently important, but it is also critical to ensuring there is high quality support available to people facing homelessness.

What factors are affecting staff wellbeing?

Frontline workers shared a number of issues affecting their wellbeing at work. Fundamentally, staff are operating under extremely challenging conditions, due to high levels of need but limited resources.

78% of frontline workers stated that demand for their service had increased in the last 12 months.

“The stress of not being able to help clients is ongoing and will just lead to more burn out as the housing crisis worsens.” - Frontline worker, London

44% of frontline workers said it was ‘very difficult’ or ‘difficult’ to have time to undertake training.

“My workplaces do endorse reflective practice but won't pay/can't afford it. We don't have any way of de-briefing after traumatic incidents due to lack of time and funding.” - Frontline worker, East Midlands

86% of frontline workers thought that services needed additional support to help with the rising cost of living.

"[We] seem to be firefighting all the time due to poor funding, staff shortages and lack of affordable accommodation.” - Frontline worker, South East England

At the same time, frontline workers themselves have also been affected by the rising cost of living, and raised the issues of low pay, not feeling valued, and a lack of job security.

32% of frontline workers stated that they were struggling to pay housing costs.

“I love it. I value it. It is worthwhile and ever more important. I just don't know if I can survive it when I have a young family because our work is intense and doesn't pay well!” - Frontline worker, London

Frontline workers shared numerous recommendations which could help improve staff wellbeing. This included sufficiently resourcing homelessness services, improving working conditions, providing more opportunities for training, and implementing crucial reforms and policy changes to help prevent homelessness wherever possible.

"More investment into the staff here and a full staff/ management team would mean less churn which would equal a more stable and productive service. Then we could actually look at improving our offer to service users and doing more rather than constantly keeping our head just above water...” - Frontline worker, West Midlands

“[We need] Systems (Justice, Education, Council, Housing etc.) being more human focused and less budget and cutting costs orientated. If they looked [at] the bigger picture and the long-term preventative benefits of investment rather than always funding / putting resources into 'fighting fires'." - Frontline worker, Tayside, Central and Fife

We will continue to amplify this feedback and share it with decision makers. In the meantime, there is also immediate support available to help frontline workers in their roles, both from the Frontline Network and Homeless Link.

What support is available for frontline workers?

The Frontline Network

  • St Martin-in-the-Fields Charity facilitates the Frontline Network, which supports staff across the UK who work on the frontline with people experiencing homelessness. The Network is free and open to staff in the public, statutory or voluntary sectors in a wide range of roles such as outreach, housing, social work and probation.
  • We offer funding, community, and resources, including providing funds for frontline staff to access training; hosting national and local events to share best practice and conducting research with frontline workers to learn from their insights.

Homeless Link

  • Homeless Link has a Knowledge Hub which contains free resources for staff to support their practice. In particular, there are resources on Psychologically Informed Management and guidance on understanding vicarious trauma and burnout.
  • Homeless Link’s podcast series discusses how working in the homelessness sector can impact on individual’s mental health. The series provides practical advice for frontline workers to support their wellbeing.
  • Training courses for groups or individuals are available to book as well as a coaching service to provide staff with a safe and supportive space to explore their thoughts and feelings about their role, building individual’s confidence and resilience.