Stuck In Neutral

Posted: September 9, 2008 in Discrimination, Employment, Homelessness, Misconceptions

Like most folks, I have my share of pet peeves.

Usually my pet peeves come to surface because of folks who are arrogant or who are pseudo-intellectuals. You know the type: they look down upon those who have less than themselves or they believe that they have a proper solution for anything and everything.  

Of course, because I blog about homelessness, it tends to bother me when I receive angry emails in response to something I’ve written from folks who think that they have the perfect solution for ending homelessness. And, most of the time, the solutions they postulate include the idea that the homeless should "… stop being lazy, get jobs and stop living off the rest of us."

I’ll be the first to agree that those homeless who are able bodied and capable of working should do everything they can to find steady employment. After all, having an income is a necessity for maintaining a place to live. However, just having a job doesn’t guarantee an escape from living life on the streets. Just slightly over 1 in 4 of America’s homeless are employed and still remain homeless. And, I’m pretty certain, that working and still continuing to remain homeless is not their goal in life.

Shouting at a homeless person to "get a job" is not a solution for a myriad of reasons – primarily, because jobs are hard to come by. And, it’s getting worse.

This past Friday, many of the nation’s new media outlets reported on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics official press release:

The unemployment rate rose from 5.7 to 6.1 percent in August, and non-farm payroll employment continued to trend down (-84,000), the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. In August, employment fell in manufacturing and employment services, while mining and health care continued to add jobs. Average hourly earnings rose by 7 cents, or 0.4 percent, over the month.

The number of unemployed persons rose by 592,000 to 9.4 million in August, and the unemployment rate increased by 0.4 percentage point to 6.1 percent. Over the past 12 months, the number of unemployed persons has increased by 2.2 million and the unemployment rate has risen by 1.4 percentage points, with most of the increase occurring over the past 4 months.

9.4 million American’s are unemployed!

These are folks who have places to live – although some of them may eventually find themselves homeless due to having become unemployed. They have the ability to "dress" appropriately. They "look" employable. Yet, they are still unable to find a job.

So, how in the world, can a person who is homeless, who may not have the ability to dress in such a manner as to "look" employable, stand a chance?

The truth is that they don’t stand a chance. The odds are stacked against them. And because they don’t "look" employable, they are "passed over" by employers. And, before someone is foolish enough to pretend that discrimination against the homeless doesn’t exist when it comes to finding work let me say this: just because it is illegal to discriminate against person for any reason when it comes to hiring practices, does not mean it doesn’t occur. It most certainly does occur. I know this for fact.

I have personally met numerous homeless who have been "passed over" for jobs openings simply because they aren’t able to "dress the part," despite their being qualified for the position. Additionally, those jobs which the homeless might be able to acquire are certainly not the types of jobs which will provide them with gainful employment, and subsequently does not afford them the opportunity to move beyond living on the streets.

There are no easy solutions to ending homelessness. In fact, I seriously doubt that homelessness will ever be a thing of the past, despite city after city all across the nation adopting 10 year plans to end homelessness – particularly since those 10 year plans are specifically targeted at providing assistance only to the chronically homeless.

Just as there are numerous reasons why folks become homeless, there are numerous methods that should be implemented in assisting them. Having a "one size fits all" mentality is not an effective way of trying to address and remedy homelessness in our communities. And, until such a time as we recognize this reality, we are going to continue to fail at reducing the numbers of homeless.

To be sure, finding viable methods of helping the homeless help themselves is an up hill battle. But, if we are willing to see beyond the disheveled appearances and, at the very least, be willing to view the homeless are being worthy of our compassion, I believe that will be a step in the right direction.

If not, when it comes to reducing the numbers of homeless, we’ll just continue to be stuck in neutral.

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