Caring for our older clients

Maria, who manages one of our care homes, tells us about the joys and the challenges of her job.

I’ve worked in social care for almost 20 years, but the residents here still manage to surprise me. They make me laugh, they make me cry – it’s not easy, but I love working with people. This is a job you can really throw yourself into. The clearest difference between the care home and a hostel is the slower pace of life.

We’ve got 26 residents at the care home I manage in London, the youngest is 56 and the oldest is 87. Most of them have a long history of homelessness, moving back and forth between street homelessness and temporary accommodation. People living on the streets often don’t make it to old age – if it wasn’t for the care home, many of them may not be here today.

I’ve worked in lots of different social care roles, predominantly with single homeless people. Working in hostels can be chaotic. Clients often have a range of complex needs and behaviours which means that difficult situations can arise quickly and without warning – you have to be on your guard. The environment here is much calmer and quieter.

They make me laugh, they make me cry – it’s not easy, but I love working with people. This is a job you can really throw yourself into.

Image-25%-factWhile hostels are designed to be temporary, most of the residents at the care home will stay here for the rest of their lives. When I worked with younger people facing homelessness, our focus was on supporting them to regain their independence so that they no longer needed our help. Here, we focus on creating a place where our residents can finally settle: a home for good. Some of our residents need dedicated care and attention.

That often means taking a more hands-on approach, helping them with tasks like washing themselves or tidying their room, and monitoring their medication. They wouldn’t be able to get that sort of care in a hostel – that’s why the care home is so vital.

Although the residents may not be able to enjoy the independence they once had, I think it’s important that they still have the freedom to make their own choices. Sometimes it can seem like the easier choice for staff to be very hands-on with residents, to make decisions for them. But I don’t think it’s right if older people aren’t able to enjoy the same freedoms as younger people. I always encourage staff to imagine that their mum was living here, and treat the residents how they would want her to be treated

With 20 years working in social care, you would think I’ve seen it all. But, the residents have taught me to never judge, and never underestimate anyone. Like one resident, Scotty. He’s had a pretty tough life, but he’s such a great character. Every morning when I come in to work, he shouts ‘Hello, Miss!’ and it always makes me smile. The other day one resident spoke to me in French which took me completely by surprise!

Even though the residents here are much easier going than in some of the places I’ve worked, they can still be difficult at times. Whenever I start to feel that the job isn’t for me, the unexpected kindness and quirkiness of the residents makes me think again. When I’m having a tough week, ‘Hello, Miss!’ is often all I need to hear to feel better.


Homelessness is a complex issue, and those who are facing it in older age often find that their changing needs pose additional complications.

  • 25% of clients who came to us in 2018–19 were over 51 years old.
  • The most deprived fifth of adults are 50% more likely to get dementia than the least deprived fifth. University College London, 2018
  • The average age of death for a man who dies whilst sleeping rough or in homelessness services is 45. For women, it is just 43. Office for National Statistics, 2019

Our Older People and Care programme is designed to address the needs of our older clients. As part of the programme, we run two dedicated care homes in London.