Get a job! Get a life! — comments often heard from the haves to the have-nots. But the reality of what it takes to get off the streets is not as easy as going out and putting in a job application. There are multitudes of obstacles that must be overcome before a homeless person can join the workforce and live a so-called “productive life.”
First, a person has to have the appropriate education and the skills required for the job. If not, education and job training would have to be accessed before they could even consider applying. Hopefully they have no substance abuse or mental health issues that would have to be addressed. The process of getting into a treatment program can be extremely long and discouraging.
Documents also need to be gathered together. It’s common for people living on the streets to not have IDs, Social Security cards, work permits, and other papers essential for working legally in the United States. Items often get lost, or stolen, or trashed by DPW, and it can take a long time to get everything in order.
Also needed are ways to be contacted. Voicemail or some kind of message service that doesn’t let on that the person is homeless can be costly. Receiving mail via the Post Office’s General Delivery is a dead giveaway to a potential employer that the applicant is homeless and unfortunately stereotyping has led to the general belief that a homeless employee may not be dependable or trustworthy.
Another necessity needed in order to keep a job is daily showers. Showers aren’t very accessible to the homeless. There’s typically a long line and of course the hours fall right in the middle of the average workday. Surely there aren’t many employers or co-workers that are going to tolerate an unbathed person for very long.
Clothing is also needed; decent, clean clothes that are appropriate for the job. Free clothing closets are available, but it’s often slim-pickings. It’s especially difficult if you’re an odd size.
Of course, once a functional wardrobe is acquired, a safe place to keep it, along with other possessions, is necessary. The last thing a person needs is to come back the place where they stashed their belongings after work to find everything gone. Or imagine showing up to work with a huge pack, complete with a bedroll. It’s not likely to fit in an employee locker.
Most importantly, a homeless person needs somewhere to stay and not just an overnight shelter. Most shelters consist of a cot or sleeping pad in a crowded and noisy room. It can be incredibly difficult to get a good night’s sleep, which is key to being productive on the job. Also, it can be very hard to get a spot in a shelter every night; beds are assigned by a lottery system. If you don’t win, you don’t stay indoors that night.
In addition, housing would also help to resolve most of the other obstacles that a person experiencing homelessness needs to overcome. It would seem that people who are motivated to making a change in their lives could be best assisted in doing so by being provided transitional housing and ongoing support services. It’s time for everyone to make an effort towards understanding the true nature of homelessness and to start implementing real solutions.