|Attempting to Work While Homeless
In the viewpoint of many people the solution to all homelessness is for people to
simply "get a job". That sounds simple and easy, just get a job. In the real world
however, getting and maintaining a job to afford housing while homeless is hardly
For those with homes, cars, good clothing, phones, and all the typical necessities of
everyday life, it can still be difficult to find employment that actually pays a good living
wage. When a person has none of these things, maintaining meaningful employment is
far more difficult. Getting a job is hard enough, but keeping the job requires much more.
There are several factors in maintaining a job. Those who have never been without any
of the basic necessities can easily assume that everyone has access to them.
Having to sleep on the ground and dealing with rain, thunderstorms, oppressive heat or
freezing cold, mosquitoes, and night foraging animals can make it difficult or impossible at
times. Add to that the very real danger of being attacked, robbed, beaten, or even killed,
and then try to get some sleep. Trying to sleep in some night shelters may not be that
Working close to others demands good hygiene. Not
being able to even shower frequently, or have clean
and appropriate clothes, rules out any employment like
this even if more than qualified to do the job. .
Any indoor work demands being clean and outdoor labor work requires being able to
clean up afterward. Having to sleep outside in your clothes doesn't help. Some places
provide showers for the homeless, but due to location and time they are unavailable to
most in need. Getting appropriate clean clothes is a major problem. When clothes get
dirty and wet they stay that way. Few places will help people with washing clothes for free.
A Place for Belongings
Keeping a supply of clean clothes and personal items is extremely difficult while living
outside, or at a night shelter with no storage. If your things are stolen or vandalized it's
considered to be your own fault for not having housing. Carrying everything around (if
that were possible) doesn't help in maintaining a "normal" appearance. If your clothes get
wet in the rain they're likely to just stay that way and become mildewed.
Relatively few homeless have cars, or can afford to keep them running. This leaves the
bus system, bicycles, or walking. Some areas have good bus systems, but they don't
always go where the jobs are. With waiting, transfers, plus walking it can take hours. A trip
that takes 20 minutes by car can take two hours or more by bus.
You would think that bus systems could get people to jobs early in the morning. The bus
system where I live (PSTA in Pinellas County FL) is fairly good, but most buses don't run
early enough for a person to get to a 7AM job, even if they run on schedule.
How can an employer reach a homeless person who applied for work? Being without a
mailing address or phone number makes it very difficult. If a temporary agency needs
someone for an opening they choose from those they can reach immediately. Most
employers will not even consider anyone who can't provide a phone number.
Conflicts with the Law (or the Community)
Police generally don't bother people sleeping outside unless it's on, or close to, private
property or visible to the public. With public pressure on authorities to "eliminate the
homeless problem" it keeps getting more diffucult. I've been stopped by police repeatedly
just for walking to work early in the morning, since "normal" people don't walk to work in
the morning when it's still dark.
While some employers may be understanding, and even flexible on terms, knowing that a
person is homeless, most are not. If you don't show evidence of a place to live people
automatically assume you're a criminal. If you don't have a drivers license they assume
that it must have been revoked for drunk driving or some other offense. Many employers
won't consider anyone using a shelter as an address (even if it is discrimination). Many
homeless people don't have any significant job or personal references either.
Until that first paycheck, which could be weeks, a person still needs to eat. There are
some places that provide free lunches or dinners for the homeless but, especially for
those trying to work, may be inaccessable due to time of day or location. Some
soup-kitchens have been forced to close as a means of "eliminating the homeless". I know
of one mission that had been serving free breakfast and dinner to anyone coming in for
about 20 years, but was ordered by the city to stop providing meals on the grounds that
they didn't have adequate parking. Most of the people coming there didn't have vehicles,
but it was an excuse to stop them from helping people. Many churches provide free
groceries, but it doesn't help much with nowhere to cook or store any food. .
The Cost of Housing
With minimum wage work, even if it's full time, it's difficult to rent even the cheapest rooms
and then afford other necessities like food. Renting an apartment may require putting
$1000 down (if not far more) plus proving adequate wages to qualify. The cost of housing
has been going up much faster than wages in much of the country. A good job requires
having housing and affording your own housing requires a job. The very cheapest motel
rooms where I live are about $40 per night.
Even for some of the hardest, dirtiest, and most dangerous low paying jobs there is
competition. It's not unusual to have dozens of applicants for one job opening, and
employers don't choose based on the person's need.
Competition for the lower wage jobs is actually higher. While the government may publish
an unemployment rate of 9% or 10%, the real unemployment rate for lower wage jobs may
be 30% while people at the top end of the wage scale are barely affected.
Some may think that a homeless person can just go to a public shelter and get all the help
they need. In reality, even if the local area has a shelter it's probably full to capacity. If a
person is fortunate enough to get in, they may be limited to only a few nights. Even then,
the shelter isn't responsible to provide any further assistance that may be needed. Could
you get a job and save enough to rent a room simply by having a bed and a shower for a
There are some unavoidable facts to all this. Being able to get, and maintain, a job which
will pay enough to make it possible to get permanent housing usually requires having
housing and other assistance to get started. Without adequate assistance unemployed
homeless people are likely to stay that way, no matter how hard they try on their own.
These are some basic factors to consider in being able to get, and maintain, a
meaningful job while being homeless:
Comments, suggestions, or questions?
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Having Proper Identification
With increased government controls on acquiring identification, like state I.D. and birth
certificates, it's harder to get your own papers even if you were born in the US.
In order to get a copy of your own birth certificate you have to show proof of identification,
and to get identification, you need a birth certificate. For many people, it can take months
of government red tape just to prove they are an American citizen. If you can't get any
identification you can't work, even if you were born in the United States and have lived
here all your life. If your wallet with your I.D. is stolen, and you don't have other I.D. stored
elsewhere, you have to start all over again as if you were an illegal immigrant.
The state of Florida now requires three forms of identification just to get a replacement for
a lost drivers license or state I.D. To get I.D. you need to already have I.D.
Driving a taxi in urban areas is among the
most dangerous jobs, yet many people with
skills for far better paying jobs still do it as a
last resort. Working in an urban convenience
store may be even more dangerous, and for
Having nothing but a sheet of plastic in
the rain doesn't make for a good
night's sleep. Then try to perform well
on the job the next day.
If a person has been homeless for over a year some agencies will label them "chronic
homeless" and they are assumed to be an addict or disabled. How many professional
people, with substantial education, would be able to get meaningful work if they were in the
situatiion of being homeless. Would they be able to start over by digging ditches until they
saved enough to have the means to get a professional job? Would you expect a 50 year
old professional person, who has never done hard manual labor before, to be capable of
spending 40 or more hours a week at the hardest labor jobs?