Why can't homeless people "just get a job"?



Have you ever tried getting a job when you have no phone number for potential employees to call, no address, no nice 'interview' clothing, no resume or recent references, and are so focused on just being able to eat or find a safe place to sleep that you can hardly think straight? There is also such as strong stigma, that many employers will not hire someone they know is homeless. Plus, many homeless people have mental disabilities, or have just left abuse home situations, and really just need somewhere to help get better so that they can become productive members of society. Some homeless shelters now provide job training, psychological services, and help people get jobs and then apartments.

Hi Anonymous,

I see that the weblog post I was linking to isn't there anymore, but what you said was pretty much exactly the point. It was explaining what you said about all the things necessary to find work not being available when you are homeless (a phone number to be called on, an address to get a paycheck, a place to get a shower, a place to sleep in the day if it's a night job, ....)

- ask

truckstops offer showers you can lie about the address or instead of buying beer take the 10 dollars and get a PO box and McDonalds is always hiring

There are actually quite a few people working minimum wage jobs who ARE homeless, or living out of their cars. In their position it's almost impossible to climb any higher on the ladder, and just as difficult to try and get a home. With the rent on an apartment, plus paying for electricity and heating, PLUS paying for any needed healthcare* (which can be a major dent in the wallet), there are people who give up hope for ever being able to keep a home. It isn't easy to "just get a job", and even if you do there isn't even a vague promise that it will end your homelessness.

*There are free clinics. But these tend to be incredibly crowded, under funded and under staffed. Some people will wait in line for hours, only to be turned away because there aren't enough doctors to get to everyone.

be careful what you say because you may become homeless one day

you are a self-righteous, foolish being who has no idea what they are talking about! ...and yet strongly opinionated. Based on your words it seems all too clear you had everything handed to you, and their by have no real comprehension of what life on the streets entails. So, i've taken the oppertunity to better inform you.

1 "Truckstops offer showers..."

How would someone that is in the city find a "truck-stop"?
If they COULD find one, how would they get to it, and then back for their next day of work.
Does said place offer free shampoo, soap, razors, toothbrushes, or towels?
I'm guessing, but I would think they are not that clean, nor are they particularly hospitable to non-truck-drivers using their facilities. Other wise don't you think homeless people would be lining the blocks around the place? Then again you just assume they all are hygienically-inept, or just like to walk around smelling horrid...don't you?

2 "you can lie about the address"

Being they certainly can't get a bank account without some verification of residency, let's say you do lie about your adress, but then how do they cash a check at curancy exchange if the adress doesn't corspond to the one on their ID. [asuuminig they even have an ID]? If they use whatever adress is curantly on their ID what do think happens if the employer receives retunred mail stamped "UNABLE TO DELIVER"?
Besides, is lieing to you employer from the beinging REALLY the best way to start a job? ....REALLY?

3 "or instead of buying beer take the 10 dollars and get a PO box"

First of all, a beer is a lot less then 10$.
Second. Even if they can somehow scrounge up $10 don't you think they might need that to call employers, do laundry, buy toiletries, or maybe even to EAT? MOST HOMELESS PEOPLE TODAY ARE NOT ALCOHOLICS [or drug users]...THERE ARE/WERE PEOPLE JUST LIKE YOU. [well, maybe not as illogicaly judgmental of situation they have absolutely no direct understanding of, or as completely ignorant of the hardships in a homeless-reality]
Thirdly, [In Chicago] US. MAIL PO boxes are much MUCH more then 10$ and you can only pay for it by check, debit, or credit card. non-U.S. MAIL PO BOXES are dramatically more expensive and require a minimum of a three month commitment payed in advance.

4 "and McDonalds is always hiring"

Where would they call you at?
What McDonald's?
What planet are you talking about?
MOST business have either frozen all hiring, slashed their work-force with lay-offs, and/or downsized dramatically in the last few years.
Have you ever applied at a McDonald's?
I doubt it, because you would then understand that being an independently-owned franchise the majority of their new employees are gained through currant employees or by nepotism.
Have you noticed the tasks the 20-something manager assign the 40+ employee?
I can't speak for anywhere else, but out here it's practically a prerequisite that you have some Spanish ancestry if you want a job there.

5 "there isn't even a vague promise that it will end your homelessness."

[Il. min. wage]8$/hr * 40hrs = $320[gross]
$320[gross] - 25%[approx. total deductions] = 240/wk
A SHOE-BOX STUDIO IN CHICAGO [not including utilities] STARTS AT ABOUT 550/MONTH!!

Yeah, because there's a truckstop every 10 feet, within reach of every homeless man... sorry, that's completely and utterly false.

Spending money when you're homeless on anything besides food or simply saving it up to not freeze to death, well, you've obviously never been homeless. You have no idea what it's like.

And Mcdonalds is NOT always hiring, fyi.

1. Phone
As a recent picture indicates, there are indeed homeless folks with phones. But the phones owned by many of the homeless are usually the type that one must use prepaid minute cards to use. Minutes aren't free and when they run out, the phone is virtually worthless until such time as those minutes can be renewed. So much for promptly returning inquiry calls on prospective jobs. We will leave for another discussion the incredibly scandalous charging practices some of these prepaid card companies utilize to rip their customers off, thereby decreasing further the usability of the phone in question.

2. Address
Shouldn't have to state the obvious here, but there is another aspect to this as well. Oftentimes certain agencies that serve the poor and homeless allow the use of their mailing address by individuals to receive mail. This is all well and good, except that there is a distinct possibility of stigmatization and discrimination when these addresses are used (and this goes for their phone numbers as well when they are used as "message" phones on applications). There is a definite risk that some services and companies (read: employers) within the community who recognize the address as belonging to a shelter or service agency will simply "round-file" an application for employment or service, leaving the individual in question scratching his/her head and wondering why nothing happens when they apply for a job.

3. Clothes
Aside from the fact that the typical homeless individual's average wardrobe selection is limited, to say the least, keeping what clothes one does have clean, safe and available is a job that, if one could attach a wage requirement to it, would probably rank somewhere around what the typical brain surgeon earns on an annual basis. Nice clothes are always the target of theft, so they must be kept either on the body or in a backpack or bag. Keeping those clothes wrinkle free and crisp, not to mention clean, when one must sleep, walk, eat, and work in them on a daily basis is damned hard to do. Nashville has just one organization that provides free laundry access. Although the doors open at 9am, people often begin lining up at 6am with their dirty laundry in hand. Incidentally, they are limited to 35 pounds and yes, staffers weigh the bags as the folks come in. Proper footwear is another story entirely and suffice it to say, if one must have specific types of shoes for the job, one is often screwed.

4. Transportation
Here in Nashville, shoe leather is the primary source of transportation for people experiencing homelessness. A single ride on a bus is $1.60 and this going just about anywhere in the city requires at least one transfer, which costs at least another $1.60. If you're hoping to return from your initial destination, you can double whatever you spent to get there. An all-day bus pass costs $4.80; not unreasonable for those of us who have dollars in our pockets and a paycheck each week but for folks searching for employment while existing on pennies a day it might as well cost thousands, cuz they ain't got it, either way. Recent cuts in routes have made bus travel even less attractive for all residents of Nashville and to make matters worse, the run schedules and cut-off times often eliminate many of the homeless from being able to make it to the local soup kitchens for food, or the mission or safe havens in time for curfew or admission cutoffs. Most of the homeless here are resigned to having to walk everywhere, so any employment has to be nearby, which then eliminates the vast majority of available jobs almost instantly.

5. Meals
People experiencing homelessness don't have a whole lot of choice in where they're going to eat each day. For most, it's going to be at the church or soup kitchen that's providing the meal(s) on that particular day. If an individual decides to take a job, chances are very good that it will be from 8amish to 5pmish, Monday through Friday. If this is the case, our homeless employee is going to be extremely hungry by the time he/she arrives at the weekend, since he/she will have missed virtually every single meal that is available to them via free feedings. Nevermind too that, at least here in Nashville, by the time our employee could get to the local mission for a bed, it'd be way too late for their admission criteria and almost certainly full, anyway.

6. Personal Hygiene
If you happen to be sleeping outside and then spending your daytime hours at a jobsite, unless you're working where showers are readily available at the worksite, it's unlikely you're going to find a day shelter open to get a shower at by the time you're done with your shift. After about two or three days, it's probable that co-workers are going to start noticing, if it takes them that long. The human body can get quite funky when it goes long periods without exposure to soap and water, and in today's appearance-conscious society, folks who look like it's been a while since they've bathed usually stick out like a sore thumb, especially in a work environment. Oh sure, a person can get themselves what the tramps call a "bird-bath" by stopping in at a local restroom and freshening up a bit. But this only goes so far. Lack of deodorant, soap, toothpaste, shaving supplies, etc., have a very noticeable impact on a person's overall ability to maintain "good grooming and hygiene," as employee handbooks often put it.

7. Personal Limitations
For many homeless individuals, formal education is not typically found on their resumes, although I certainly don't want to give the impression that no homeless person has ever gone to college. There are plenty of people on the streets holding advanced degrees from solid, accredited colleges and tech schools across the country. But for a good portion of people on the bricks, they are lucky to have a GED or high school diploma. Job skills are often minimal and consist of restaurant service, carpentry work or other general labor, or factory-rat assembly and/or warehouse work. Employers in these professions know workers are a dime a dozen and in tough economic times, they have a labor pool to draw from that would make Upton Sinclair consider penning another version of The Jungle. Add to this mix issues of mental illness, addictions, developmental and/or physical disabilities, and a host of other personal matters that are as unique as the individuals on the street and limitations become an extremely large obstacle to cross over.

8. Background Issues
It isn't hard to pick up a criminal record in the good ol U.S. of A today and studies bear this out. A recent Pew Center report states that "the nation has reached a sobering threshold; for the first time, more than one in every one hundred adults is now confined to an American jail or prison." Those folks don't stay incarcerated forever and criminal records keep many from public or private housing, forcing them to lie or cheat in order to obtain housing or live homeless; just what we want to teach rehabilitated felons. Being homeless also brings with it additional police scrutiny, whether police will admit to it or not. Nashville's downtown "quality of life" improvement effort has been wildly successful in handing out tickets, but judges will be the first to tell you that most folks receiving the tickets have had similar citations before. It's no secret here that people experiencing homelessness are ticketed for minor offenses such as ‘obstructing a sidewalk" or public intoxication while obviously drunk tourists walk right past the ticketing officer with a drink in hand. Factor in a couple of past evictions for nonpayment of rent, add poor or non-existent credit ratings to the criminal record and it's not hard to see why obtaining employment or housing is a monumental task for some.

* * *

For the sake of argument, let us assume that our homeless individual, through superhuman effort and a big dash of luck, has shrugged off every obstacle thrown in front of him (or her, but for ease of writing, let's just go with "him") and has actually landed a real honest to goodness job!

Hooray! He's now mowing lawns and landscaping at a local hotel, earning a whopping $8 an hour, which is a substantially higher wage than most of the homeless who are lucky enough to find work typically make; most of the folks I work with usually earn minimum wage, $6.55 an hour.

Our homeless hero has "pulled himself up by the bootstraps" and is on his way to being an independent wage earner who can finally become a productive member of, and contribute to, our great society!

Break out the brass band because our newest community member has arrived! But if we're having a party, we'd better not ask him to foot the bill because he's going to have enough trouble paying the rent and utilities on his $8 an hour position. In 2008, Vanderbilt University Professor Dr. Melissa Snarr performed a study in which she determined that a wage of at least $10.35 an hour would be needed to earn a "living wage" here in Nashville, and I can guarantee you that in some cities you'd about have to double it. Incidentally, a living wage differs significantly from a minimum wage and is best understood as the hourly wage necessary for a person to achieve a certain standard of living. In a nutshell, it means that if a person works a 40-hour week, he/she and would then be able to afford the necessities; food, housing, utilities, health care and transportation.

But our person is employed and that is damned good news indeed. Now all we've got to figure out how to get the poor sod fed, clothed, showered and transported to and from the jobsite for the next three weeks, since this is typically how long most folks end up waiting for that first check. One thing is certain however; we are not going to find showers, stoves, refrigerators, or wardrobes underneath the overpass, although there may be a bus stop pretty close by.

But even with that new wad of cash in the pocket, life isn't going to get much easier, since he/she still isn't going to be able to afford rent on a typical dwelling in the Nashville area, and we won't even talk about how to save up enough cash to pay the deposits on the dwelling and the utilities. At least our person will be able to eat, and might be able to begin improving the wardrobe. Good luck in keeping it for any length of time, unless he/she can carry it to the jobsite each day. Better hope the job site is on a bus route, too, by the way.

Such are the conundrums facing the homeless every single day when they hear, "get a job."

They are definitely open to suggestions.

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This page contains a single entry by Ask Bjørn Hansen published on October 17, 2002 8:06 AM.

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