“So why don’t they just get a job?”
We hear this a lot. Homelessness is a complex and multifaceted issue that affects millions of people around the world. Among the many challenges that people experiencing homelessness face, finding and maintaining employment can be especially difficult. Without a stable home address, access to basic resources, and the support of a social network, individuals often encounter significant barriers to employment that can make it difficult to secure a job and sustain long-term employment.
One of the most obvious challenges that individuals experiencing homelessness face when it comes to finding and maintaining employment is the lack of a fixed address. Many job applications require applicants to provide a mailing address or a phone number where they can be reached, which can be difficult for people who may not have a consistent address or phone number.
Even when people are able to provide contact information, potential employers may be hesitant to hire someone who lacks a permanent address, which can be seen as a sign of instability or unreliability. Although some places are available to use as an address for mail, it isn’t always easy for someone with no means of transport to get there regularly to collect their mail.
Another significant obstacle caused by homelessness when it comes to employment is the lack of access to basic resources. Without a home, individuals may not have access to a computer or the internet, which can make it difficult to search for job openings or complete online applications. We also need to remember that with technology changing at such a fast pace, many people do not have the level of technological literacy needed to keep up with how jobs are applied for. Additionally, without a consistent source of income, individuals may struggle to afford basic necessities such as transportation, clothing, and hygiene supplies, all of which are necessary for maintaining a professional appearance and attending job interviews.
Even when people experiencing homelessness are able to secure employment, maintaining that employment can be challenging. Individuals may face a number of barriers that often make it difficult to show up to work consistently and perform well on the job. For example, they may struggle to find safe and reliable transportation to work, or they may face health problems that make it difficult to maintain a regular work schedule. Additionally, without a stable home environment, people rough sleeping may struggle to get enough rest or maintain a healthy diet, which can affect their ability to perform well on the job.
Imagine sleeping on cold concrete all night, then having to get up, get ready for work, get there, and be on top of your game all day. Knowing full well that when you leave, your bed will be a sidewalk and your pillow will be your jacket if it’s warm enough to take it off.
Perhaps most significantly, individuals living with homelessness often lack the support of a social network that can help them find and maintain employment. Without family or friends to provide emotional and financial support, people may struggle to stay motivated and maintain a positive outlook. Additionally, homelessness causes a lack of social connections that can help people learn about job opportunities or connect with potential employers.
Despite these many challenges, there are organisations and programs that exist to support people experiencing homelessness in finding and maintaining employment. Many shelters and community organisations offer job training programs, resume building workshops, and other resources to help individuals prepare for and secure employment. But they are rarely if ever funded adequately.
Additionally, some employers such as National Homeless Collective are committed to hiring individuals who have experienced homelessness and may be willing to overlook some of the barriers that homeless individuals face when applying for jobs.
It is always important to keep in mind that finding and maintaining employment can be extremely difficult for people experiencing homelessness. Without a stable home address, access to basic resources, and the support of a social network, individuals not only face severe psychological barriers to employment, they also face other significant barriers that can make it difficult to secure and maintain long-term employment.
What is needed is more support of community organisations, employers, and advocates who can connect with individuals who want to work and can work, but need the support to overcome these barriers and build a stable and fulfilling life for themselves.
A significant policy potential employers can offer is to reduce the strict start and finish times expected from employees and allow those without stable accommodation the freedom and flexibility to start and finish their working day at times more suitable to engage in and maintain employment.
More understanding and empathy towards the difficulties of employment through homelessness is needed across the entire employment landscape in general.
When we know better, we can do better.