While this question hasn’t come up as much lately because of the pandemic, it is one I frequently hear: “Why doesn’t that homeless person just go and get a job?”
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions around homelessness and employment, which can influence how people treat them.
Let’s start with the most obvious problem: someone who is experiencing homelessness doesn’t have a home address.
Every job application has a line for a home address. Leaving it blank will likely raise all kinds of questions from potential employers. While it would be nice to think each person has the same opportunity for a job, the reality is if someone doesn’t have a permanent address, many employers will not hire them.
The lack of a home address also raises several other questions in the mind of some employers.
How will this person get to work? Will they be presentable? Will they be reliable?
Many employers would prefer to avoid asking these questions and hire someone else.
Believe it or not, homelessness can also inadvertently give you a criminal record. Since a person without a home has nowhere else to go, they may spend their days walking and wandering. In many cases, they may find themselves in places where they are not wanted. This often leads to a charge of criminal trespassing. When that happens, the person is arrested, charged, and eventually released. But in the process, the arrest goes on their record.
Many employers will not hire someone with a criminal record, regardless of the circumstances of the charge.
Thankfully, some employers are willing to give a person struggling with homelessness a second chance. But you may be shocked to learn that being homeless can also be expensive. The lack of a permanent address means no place to store things like food, work clothes, toiletries, etc. This leads a person to purchase one-off or single-use versions of items, which is costly and makes it difficult for them to save for a first month’s rent or other fees associated with getting a place.