Why Some Homeless People Have Difficulty Finding Work -- Part 1

Due to the recent public interest in the homeless issue as a whole and employment for the homeless in particular, I decided to re-post my May 3rd blog post and then to add some recent developments in my next post.. thank you for the outpouring of support.

My May 3rd Post:

With this particular blog post I hope to educate the public about the many reasons as to why some homeless people don't work. (Many actually DO have jobs.) I hope to foster some understanding amongst those who are not homeless as to how they can better help their homeless neighbors. After all, we are all just a paycheck away from being homeless.

I am reaching out to prospective employers in hopes that they will offer jobs to the homeless community, seeing that the Fenty administration is failing to do so. Which employers and concerned citizens will rise to the challenge? That remains to be seen.....

In my previous blog post, I commended D.O.E.S. (the Dept. of Employment Services) for responding positively to the homeless advocacy community when we reached out to them and initiated discussion on how to help the homeless to find employnent. I left the April 13th meeting with a good feeling and thought that our local government had a genuine desire to assist their homeless (voting, tax paying) constituents in finding employment. It only seems logical that, if you don't want the homeless to leech off of government and to usurp more than their fair share of public funds, then you'd help those who are able to work to find employment.

Boy was I wrong about D.O.E.S.!!!!! I must admit that I was way too optimistic way too soon. (This just goes to show that all of us, myself included, are prone to making mistakes.) Since that meeting, there has been much bickering via e-mail, as many people are unclear on what was said at the meeting and what we decided to do going forward. (I personally haven't been a part of the bickering. My schedule and circumstances won't allow it. LOL.)

Nonetheless, I sat right next to Clinton LeSueur in the April 13th meeting and heard him loud and clear. He struck me as being very receptive to what we had to say and sympathetic to the plight of the homeless. He gathered the ideas of the homeless advocates and had us to clarify our ask. Everything about his demeanor made me think that we had struck gold.

As it turns out, the long arm of putrid politics has reached into the Dept. Employment Services and that monster called the mayor has reared its ugly head again. I should've known that what is said around the meeting table is never final and that those who make promises often have to answer to others who sometimes force them to go back on their word. I'm left to wonder whether it was Joseph Walsh who is the director of D.O.E.S., or the mayor himself who has influenced Mr. LeSueur to reneg.

The impression that most of us had on the 13th was that we would tailor the concept of the One Stop Employment Centers so that they could better serve the homeless community and would set up One-Stop Centers in various shelters and other places that help the homeless. Our next meeting was going to be so that we could further hash out the details of what these "homeless One-Stops" would do and which shelters and homeless services they'd be located in. They would offer unskilled jobs to unskilled homeless people, as opposed to the homeless having to compete with college-educated people who are sometimes under-employed at unskilled jobs. They would offer job training and connect people to jobs when they finish their training. They'd have literacy programs and help people with transportation to job training and eventually the job. They'd help people to assimilate into the work place and into society as a whole. They'd reach out to the homeless people who might've given up on the notion of ever doing better for themselves.

Yes, these "homeless One-Stops" would do all of this and much more, if they were to materialize. It seems that our hopes may have been thwarted. Fortunately, there is still time to salvage the situation. We, the homeless advocates plan to continue our efforts. Let's hope and pray that our efforts pay off.

I'd be remiss if I were to fail to mention the fact that there are numerous other systemic reasons as to why many homeless people remain unemployed. I'll address a few of them in this blog post.

A homeless person often needs to choose between eating and working. Places that feed breakfast to the homeless begin serving at 7:30 or even 9:30. Most people would already be at work at that time. Then there are the shelters and feeding programs that serve dinner around 3:30 or 4 in the evening, when most people wouldn't've gotten in from work yet. The homeless need to be able to acquire a bag lunch early in the morning in order to be able to go to work.

Several years ago, I used to work at labor halls (day labor). I've had days when I worked 8 hours on an empty stomach. I didn't have a bag lunch or any money. Therefore, if it were my first time working at that particular labor hall or I just hadn't gotten any work in a few days, I had to either work hungry or not work at all, due to not having any lunch money. In some cases, I was able to find someone on the job who'd share their food with me. (I've never been very good at asking for favors.) I know first hand what it's like to lack lunch money or a bag lunch while working 8 hours or more. Most of my day labor was done in Florida (where there are 9 months of summer) and most of my work has been construction clean-up, demolition and other jobs that involve much manual labor and sweat. Working such jobs while hungry is not easy (or recommended by doctors). Once the day laborer gets paid at the end of the work day, holding a few dollars for lunch the next day is not difficult (unless they have an expensive habit). It's just making it through that first day of work that's hard.

Many shelters begin check-in around 4 PM and don't reserve beds for those with jobs. This forces the homeless to choose between work and a bed at a shelter. I know of only 1 "Work shelter" in DC -- Emery -- and it's all male. All shelters should be work shelters that accommodate the homeless people who have jobs. That is to say that all shelters should make provisions for a homeless person to sleep during the day if they have a night job, reserve beds for regular clients who can't be there during an early check-in because they haven't gotten off of work yet and do other things to help the working homeless who are trying to better themselves.

This problem, like most of those which I'll mention, is not confined to Washington, DC. At the Orlando Union Rescue Mission in Orlando, Florida, men begin lining up at 1 PM for a 3 PM check-in. In Miami, Florida, a homeless person must go to a central referral office at Camillus House in order to gain entry to a shelter. That office is open from 9 AM until 3 PM. This means that a person must take off from work once a week to get a weekly refferal for shelter.

One of the biggest barriers to employment for the homeless is the fact that some shelters don't have anywhere for them to store their belongings during the day. They are forced to carry everything that they own in the world with them as they apply for jobs. When a person enters the office of a prospective employer while lugging multiple backpacks and pulling a travel bag and they stack their belongings in the corner, the odds are already stacked (no pun intended) against them. The employer doesn't want to hire someone who looks homeless.

Add to that the fact that many of the homeless are afraid to give the shelter number to an employer while seeking a job. If the employer were to call that number and hear the person on the other end say something like,"Hello, CCNV Shelter....." he might hang up and decide against hiring the applicant. Fortunately, there is some salvation for those who have this particular concern. There are some free voicemail services that a homeless person can use to get messages from employers. This way, the employer doesn't need to know that the person seeking employment is homeless.

All in all, people are homeless because they can't get a job and they can't get a job because they're homeless. It's a catch-22. Therefore, I am, slowly but surely, losing faith in our local government and reaching out to the larger DC community for help with ending homelessness -- by employing the homeless. Who will answer the call????? Who will rise to the challenge?????

Some concerned citizens may be able to help the homeless with bag lunches that can be delivered early, thus enabling a person to go to work, possibly at day labor until they can find permanent employment.

Others might be able to help with storage issues, at least for those who are seriously seeking employment. (Assisting people in this area might prove to be expensive, if you were to try to help too many people.)

However, there are some things that don't require any money out of pocket. Prospective employers can make it a point to lay aside stereotypes about the homeless. The larger community can do the same. We can all adopt an attitude of wanting to help someone, rather than put them down. we can bear in mind that the homeless person who is seeking work is trying to better themselves and not add insult to injury by refusing to hire them because they "look homeless" with all of their luggage. We can engage in conversation with the homeless so as to gain a better understanding of their plight. Then again, we can just extend some common courtesy to our homeles neighbors while remembering that "we're all just a paycheck away".

ALSO: See the April 7th video (on the right side of your screen) of me speaking with my new boss who seems to understand all of the afforementioned issues.....

FINALLY: In my next blog post I will explain some details of how I got my job and how my situation compares and contrasts with those of other homeless people. Hopefully i'll be able to shed more light on how to effectively help the homeless to find work.


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