UK voluntary and community sector organizations (VCOs) play a key role in caring for homeless people. However, there are widespread concerns about the impact of increasing government contracting on the quality of their services. This paper examines understandings of homelessness and identities as homelessness professionals, as expressed by VCO professionals. By so doing, it considers how ‘partnership working’ enables or undermines their capacities to care. The paper uses 24 in-depth interviews and four focus groups with London-based homelessness professionals. Professionals expressed deep tensions in their experience of their role. On one hand, they reported a deep ethical commitment to care and to develop quality supporting relationships to respond to their clients' complex needs. On the other, their capacity to care was undermined by their dependence on statutory resources and the controls this involved over the way VCOs delivered care. Professionals had to adjust to statutory monitoring frameworks and hard performance targets, which detached them from the human and intimate encounter with their clients and constrained their person-centred caring interventions. The findings highlight the contradictory nature of contemporary systems of ‘joined up’ welfare that neglect the very human and complex nature of the issues that they were originally created to address. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.