Why Don't Homeless People Just Get Jobs?
It seems like any homeless person could easily get a job and get a home, right? So why don't they just get jobs and get apartments?
There are many assumptions about homeless people. Perhaps the most common is that all of them are too lazy to work. Having been there myself and having worked with many others in the same situation, I have to say that for the vast majority of homeless people, the assumption that they are lazy is dead wrong.
Many homed people look at the horrible lives of people living on the streets and ask why on earth a person wouldn't do something to help themselves in that situation. They ask the question, "Why don't homeless people just get jobs?" Oddly enough, they don't usually seem to also wonder if jobs are available and if there are any barriers to getting a job without having a home or an address.
I built this page to answer that question, to dispel a few more myths, and to drive home the reality that it is something that happens which no one deserves or asks for.
Many Homeless People Have Jobs Already
Despite having a job, people still can still lose their homes or be unable to afford housing.
One reason someone without housing may not be looking for a job is that he or she may already have one or more already. Normally, from one third to one half of the homeless population is employed. During the current economic situation (and due most likely to many recently un-housed due to mortgage foreclosures), in some cities well over half of their homeless population has jobs. Nationwide, employment rate is about 44% for people without homes. Keeping in mind how many are elderly, children, disabled, or mentally ill that's a pretty high percentage.
This might lead you to ask why these people are without housing if they have jobs. Many are working at minimum wage jobs, jobs which don't provide enough to pay for basic living expenses in many parts of the country. Also, many of them are underemployed; they don't get enough hours of work to pay the bills. In fact, some people who work for low wages lose their homes when company cutbacks cut their hours. There are working people all around you who are living in cars, in shelters, or in no housing at all. In some cities, like New York City, even having full time work is not a guarantee that one can afford housing.
So why don't they just get more work, work two or three jobs at a time? Many of them do. But a cluster of minimum wage jobs at a few hours a week doesn't generally get them very far. Getting enough hours with multiple jobs can be very difficult as well. To make multiple jobs work, employers have to be willing to work with a schedule which accommodates their employee's other jobs. Finding two (much less more) employers willing to work around other work schedules is difficult enough, but each added job makes finding and keeping a balance even more difficult. It is an extremely rare employer who is willing to schedule an employee around that employee's schedule at another job.
I've worked as many as five part time jobs at a time, which averaged me around a 65-70 hour work week. I had a home and a phone and it was still difficult to keep up the schedule juggling. Eventually, I was forced to cut back to three jobs because of employers unwilling to work around other work schedules. I only worked one full time position plus odd jobs when I was without housing, though not from lack of looking for additional work, which brings me to my next point. It's hard for homeless people to get hired, for multiple reasons.
Homeless People Don't Have Regular Addresses
This is pretty much the definition of being homeless.
A large number of things make homeless people less likely to get hired. Lack of an address can be a huge factor. Many do not have a mailing address they can use on job applications or have the address to a PO Box, Church, or mission to use. Employers are put off by irregular addresses on job applications. Don't kid yourself; many employers would never consider a homeless person for a job opening. They have the same misconceptions about them that everyone else does.
To get past this problem, some people lie on applications or find a homed friend to provide an address for them. But this presents its own problems. Once caught in this lie, some employers are less than understanding.
Some Employers Will Not Consider Unemployed Job Applicants - ...not even those with homes
If your company downsizes and you become unemployed, you may be unable to find a job that accepts applications from people not currently working. Obviously, don't assume this is the case.
- Out-of-work job applicants told unemployed need not apply
Businesses are screening out unemployed applicants under the perception that anyone who has been laid off must have been let go for performance issues.
- Unemployed Need Not Apply
More and more businesses require job applicants to already be employed to be considered for employment.
Many Don't Have Reliable Phones
It's hard to even have a charged mobile phone without somewhere to plug it in
When choosing between applicants that can be contacted by phone and those who can't, most employers won't even bother to contact those who can't for an interview. This makes having a $25 pay-as-you-go phone a life saver for many.
I've seen a number of people on the Internet "loudly" complaining about homeless people with cell phones. Perhaps if they knew that a cell phone is often a their only way to get a job, they might stop the complaining. Then again, maybe not.
The Poor Economy Affects Everyone
And creates tougher competition for jobs
With America's unemployment rate still pretty high while coming out of a recession, this should come as no surprise.
With job openings being rare (and often requiring advanced degrees for even general labor jobs) and many people being available to fill them, employers will understandably be choosier than during better times. Applications from homeless people will go to the bottom of the application pile for numerous reasons.
Not only that, but many businesses have become less flexible in scheduling because they know they can get away with it when people are desperate for employment. A business can require employees to have unlimited availability even if those employees are not full time when jobs are scarce. That means employees of such businesses cannot get another job to work in addition to the one they already have.
No One Can Get What Doesn't Exist
There are more people than jobs. Where are all these jobs for homeless people supposed to come from?
It's Hard to Stay Clean and Neat
The standard of cleanliness required of job applicants can be unattainable for some
I can almost hear the objections now. I've seen the suggestion that people just don't try hard enough to stay clean and well groomed. But ponder this - do you honestly think that you could show up to a job interview with a tidy haircut, a pressed suit and tie, shined shoes, a shower fresh smell and a clean shave without a barber, a bathroom, an iron and a closet? For women it's also complicated by social requirements to wear make-up to an interview.
Many Homeless People Have Gaps in Their Employment History
This is pretty unsurprising considering that such gaps in employment are often the cause of their situation.
Many applications require an explanation for all gaps in employment. So the homeless person can either lie or tell the truth. If he or she tells the truth, the cat is out of the bag and the prospective employer will know the applicant is homeless with all of the baggage and potential for discrimination that entails. If the job applicant lies, he will eventually get caught in the lie and have to face the consequences.
Even if the period of unemployment was caused by corporate downsizing, very few employers care to hear explanations.
Jobs Provide Money but Money Alone Isn't Enough to Rent an Apartment
What?!? That's right, money alone is not enough to rent most apartments. To get into most apartment complexes in the United States, applicants must have a good credit history and have a job at which they earn at least three times as much as the monthly rent.
So while a person might be able to afford to rent an apartment working a minimum wage job by sticking to a very strict budget, most apartment complexes will not rent to him. A very modest one bedroom apartment might only cost $650 a month in budget housing but those who rent it must earn at least $1950 a month in most cases. Here in Michigan, a person earning the new, higher minimum wage of $8.50 an hour would fall short of earning enough per month by $590.
I recently helped friends fill out paperwork to move into a budget apartment complex and the requirement on their paperwork read that the rent must not exceed 30% of the applicants' combined income. So their $700 a month apartment requires them to earn at least $2,333 per month to be allowed to rent it.
Co-signers could be of help, unfortunately, the combined income of the renter and the cosigner usually have to equal at least five times the monthly rent and the co-signer must not have a high debt-to-income ratio.
Yep, You Read That Last Bit Correctly.
That's right, money alone is not enough to rent most apartments.
Homeless People Have Lousy Credit Ratings
Maintaining a great debt to income ratio is not easy when you live in a tent or other unconventional places.
In many states, it's perfectly legal for employers to run a credit check on job applicants and disqualify those with poor credit ratings. As you can imagine, not having an address nor recent income, and probably past evictions and medical bankruptcies or past due bills on your record destroys your credit rating.
I doubt there are many, if any, homeless people with sterling credit ratings.
Many Homeless People Don't Have Cars
For some, it's a home on wheels but many don't have even that
Many job applications state up front that applicants must have their own, dependable transportation. Sometimes this can be the bus but if work hours are irregular and begin before buses start running or after they have stopped, it means owning your own vehicle.
And even for those public transportation such as the bus would work for, they may not have the money to pay for the fare.
Are All Homeless People Just Lazy?
Do you believe that homeless people choose to be without housing by not being employed and that they could all have homes if they just got jobs?
Please remain civil and avoid swearing in your comments.
Homelessness, itself, is often a crime
While homeless people do commit crimes, sometimes their only crime is being without a place to sleep. It often doesn't take long for them to get criminal records without doing anything wrong. The charges can be loitering, trespassing or unauthorized camping for falling asleep in a place not designated as a residence. Oddly enough, people with a house or an apartment who fall asleep in public are rarely charged with anything.
In many cities in America, the state of being homeless is inherently illegal so getting a criminal record is pretty much inevitable if one has nowhere to live in those areas.
Employers are turned off by criminal records and few will care to listen to explanations. Applicants without criminal records will almost always get preference.
Even if a someone lucks out and avoids getting a criminal record, he or she will often be assumed to be a criminal and an addict if the applicant's un-housed status is discovered.
Many are Disabled
Disability is the inability to perform substantial work
Whether physically or mentally ill, many homeless people are disabled by their illnesses. I've read the criticisms and assertions that those with mental illness just need to straighten up and get a job. The problem is that anyone mentally ill enough to be sleeping in a cardboard box isn't fit to work a job until he or she gets at least a little better. They aren't faking; they aren't just being too lazy to work. Mentally ill homeless people are just that - mentally ill.
How could anyone possibly think that sleeping outside, getting frequently beaten and abused and suffering humiliation after humiliation is preferable to working and having a safe, comfortable place to sleep, protection from assault, and respect from your fellow man? If a person really thought that the horror of homelessness was better than working a job, wouldn't that be pretty insane in itself? It's not a choice. That strange, smelly homeless guy yelling nonsense at passersby is disabled by his mental illness.
Some are physically too ill to hold down a job, too.
So, if these people are disabled then why aren't they living in a cheap little apartment somewhere supported by Social Security Disability?
They are often still in the process of applying for it. The first denial can take up to six months and the first appeal takes around 500 days. During that time the physically disabled with nowhere to live are both unable to work and not getting any income. Also, to get Disability, applicants must be available to be contacted and able to make it to appointments, sometimes hundreds of miles away. Sometimes those aren't even possible for homeless people. Being without an address might cause them to experience a delay too great in mail delivery making them disqualified to receive assistance for missing an appointment. Food assistance is often pretty much all they can get. That covers some of why the physically disabled homeless are out on the streets.
Many of the mentally disabled who are living on the street are too messed up to get or hold down a job or sometimes even understand what is going on around them. If they are too disconnected or disaffected from reality to work a job how on earth are they going to navigate the process of filing for Disability?
Addiction, Both Real and Imaginary, Keeps Homeless from Employment
Not all are addicted to drugs but most people believe that they are, including employers
Most people think this is the major reason homeless people don't get jobs and that may be true for many chronically homeless people. Addictions prevent them from looking for work and from getting hired if they do. The perception that all homeless people are drug-addicted criminals is possibly a greater barrier to their employment than actual drug addiction is.
There's no doubt that addiction causes many people to remain homeless but it is by no means the reason all homeless people are without homes or why they are not working.
Do you now have a better idea of why those living on the streets don't just get jobs?
Did you learn anything about why people don't just get jobs and stop being homeless?
© 2009 Kylyssa Shay