Network: For the homeless, employability is IT

Stephen Pritchard reports on an initiative to teach computer skills to young homeless people

A detour through Cardboard City, hidden in the underpasses of London's South Bank, is a sharp reminder that homelessness is one of the capital's unsolved problems.

For the homeless, moving on in life means breaking out of a cycle of unemployment. Without an address, everything from benefits to training is harder to find. Without work, it is harder to find a place to live.

Agencies that work with the homeless say that stereotyping is almost as big a hurdle. The public - and employers - fall into the trap of seeing the homeless as unemployable. But according to Streets Ahead, a recruitment agency that finds work for the homeless, 38 per cent of its job applicants have degrees, 43 per cent have A-levels and most have computer skills.

Keeping those skills up to date is not easy for people on the streets. Young people especially are at a disadvantage if they do not have access to computers. James Mellor is 21 and came to London two years ago. Family difficulties forced him to leave home in Cornwall; he arrived in the capital on Christmas Eve, and the first roof over his head was a night shelter.

James says he had no formal training in computers. "They did not teach computers at my school, but I was always sitting in my room programming," he says. "When I moved to London, there were not many opportunities ... You fall behind quickly if you don't study."

With help from the homeless charity Centrepoint, James moved into temporary accommodation, then to a flat. In November, he took a computing course under the Training For Work initiative. He is now looking for a job in IT and is working on his own software project, an encryption program to send data securely over the Internet or an intranet. Currently, he is looking for a partner or a company to market the application.

To do this, he needs access to computers. When Streets Ahead was opened last April by the Peabody Trust and Centrepoint, staff quickly realised that IT skills were vital. Programmes such as Training For Work can teach the basics, believes Paul Richards, of Streets Ahead. But it needs to be followed with hands-on experience.

Last week, with support from Gateway 2000, Intel and Microsoft, the agency installed a technology centre with a network of 13 multimedia PCs at its Kingsway offices. Gateway's support came about through the personal intervention of Mike Jarvis, the company's European business development director.

The centre will cost some pounds 40,000 a year to run, and Gateway is backing it for two years. One room will be used for Streets Ahead's own training courses. The other is for homeless people to hone their software skills or write CVs.

"Training initiatives get people up to a basic level, but employers are looking for in-depth IT skills," Richards explains. One of the best ways to build those skills is practice, but few people who are homeless or in insecure accommodation can buy a computer. "If someone just needs access to a computer to increase their technology skills, that is available. Flexibility is the key." This means that people who have taken IT courses can keep their knowledge current while they look for work.

In such a fast-moving field, there is always the danger that skills will rust or date. The Streets Ahead network is state of the art, and Richards hopes to add Internet access soon. "There will be the potential for people to develop their own Internet skills and Web design," he says. "It makes you look more employable, and puts the agency in a good position."

Internet access is not a bolt-on extra. As James Mellor points out, IT jobs are often advertised on the Web, and e-mail is the quickest way to find more information or to ask for an application form. "It is easy if you want to apply for a job on the Net: if you have an e-mail address, it is instant," he says.

Streets Ahead, and people like James Mellor, are challenging the notion that the homeless are "wasters" who have no need for hi-tech facilities. A survey by Streets Ahead in January found that 80 per cent of its applicants had a "good working knowledge" of Windows software. Gateway's Mike Jarvis recognises that IT skills are one way to give people a chance to return to work. But businesses should benefit, too. In time, Jarvis will recruit people from the technology centre to work at Gateway, and hopes other hi-tech firms will follow suitn

Streets Ahead, 129 Kingsway, London WC2B 6NH (0171-831 7764).

Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Environment
Pigeons have been found with traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system
environmentCan species be 'de-extincted'?
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
A Pilgrim’s Progress is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of David Hockney's life and works
people
Sport
Loic Remy signs for Chelsea
footballBlues wrap up deal on the eve of the transfer window
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker
TV
Life and Style
Instagram daredevils get thousands of followers
techMeet the daredevil photographers redefining urban exploration with death-defying stunts
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'
TVDaughter says contestant was manipulated 'to boost ratings'
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Head of Marketing (Online & Offline, Media, Digital, Strategy)

£85000 - £100000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing - Slough, Berkshi...

Administration Assistant / Office Assistant

£18 - 20k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An Administration Assistant / Office Assistan...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor