For our Wayfarer Collection, we teamed up with The Northampton Hope Centre to pilot a scheme offering employment to homeless and vulnerable people. In May we took on our first candidate, Angela, who is receiving background support from a liaison officer funded by The Lottery Fund. Six months down the line, we want to share our experiences and hopefully encourage other businesses to follow suit.
We live in a time of individualism and capitalism, a combined ideology that is encouraged by the media and political establishments in the name of financial pursuit. As a result of our financial drive and community detachment we often tend to value each other by financial success rather than emotional, creative and practical worth. I hope to break down the misconception that poverty and addiction are a direct result of individual failure.
Angela talks openly about most of the experiences that led to her becoming homeless. Her stories are full of emotions ranging from tears of sadness to fits of laughter. One thing that is clear to me is that for the most part, she has been a victim of circumstance which escalated from an uncontrollable tragedy in her life into addiction and incarceration.
I believe in the Rat Park theory of addiction which demonstrates that addiction is controlled by your emotional and physical environment and not by the drug itself, as demonstrated by the rats in 'Rat Park' and the tiny fraction of people to have ever become addicted to opiates in hospitals. After all nobody wants to be an addict! We fail to treat addiction as an illness due to our war on drugs. We live in a system that criminalizes people that need help and creates a public perception that the addicts are to blame for their circumstances. I cant't speak for everyone but If the worst imaginable turn of events happened in my life I think the pain would be too consuming for me to cope with it in a healthy way.
After her incarceration, Angela found it very difficult to find work and tells me she received no support to help her transition back into society. People often re-offend because they don't receive any support to resolve an existing emotional problem or to find work so that they can lead a normal life.
Our media make it harder by demonising addicts, convicts and poor people, when what they need most is support. They often highlight the drain on taxes that welfare claimants create, whilst at the same time marginalising them and reducing their chances of progression.
Inevitably Angela's past has lasting effects on her, and as an employer we have adapted to meet her needs which has been an invaluable learning curve for ourselves and our team. She is a kind compassionate person and a dedicated member of staff. She is currently working part time until she is comfortable enough to increase her hours. Her income is now less than when she was on benefits but she loves the pride she gets from her work. Angela is an example of the great things that come from a small opportunity and a little support.