Why Can’t the Homeless Just Get a Job? (Part 1 of 2)

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9

We’ve all been there… stuck in Charlotte’s rush hour traffic, podcast on, eyes strained from too many hours in front of a computer screen or talking to other people or children. As you exit 485 or 77 or your interstate of choice, wonderfully close to home, you stop beside a homeless man or woman standing on the corner with a cardboard sign asking for any help you may have to offer.

Maybe you lock your door or turn your attention to your phone or to pick something up off the floor… anything to avoid eye contact with that neighbor in need and praying for the light to change quickly. On one hand, your heart aches for this resident standing in the heat or cold or rain, just looking for a handout. On the other hand, you hear the thought flit across your mind, “Why can’t he just get a job like the rest of us?”

The question is valid, but the answer is complex. The circumstances that led a person into homelessness are as varying as the number of people on the street. For some, it was addiction, or jail time, or eviction, or fleeing from domestic abuse. For others, they are simply the next generation of an ongoing cycle of poverty.

As much as we’d like to admit it, we don’t all start with the same playing field. For those in Charlotte who have grown up watching the social structure within gangs or the income generated by the drug trade, it makes sense to follow on that path. Just as it’s common for those of us who have college as an understood step after high school to graduate and find a well-paying and well-suited job.

The barriers to entry are many:
1. a convicted felon will have a much more difficult time securing long term employment.
2. many employment applications require a permanent home address, which, for a neighbor on the street who shuttles among shelters, motels, benches and friends’ homes, is challenging, to say the least.
3. A government-issued ID. Many of us take for granted that we have had a photo ID since receiving our learner’s permits (no matter how many times it may have taken us to pass the test). Military IDs, driver’s licenses, passports, birth certificates, social security cards, and the like are not only difficult to keep up with on the streets, but for those coming out of prison, it may be starting at ground zero to even get them.
4. It’s common to find our homeless neighbors struggle with literacy, including reading and writing as well as computer and technology literacy. The ability to read or sign a job application is an enormous barrier for those looking to secure employment. While the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library offers computers and internet, tracking down every resource needed to find, apply, and interview for a job is a vast task.
5. Transportation to an interview is just the tip of the iceberg. Without dependable transportation to a job site, many job seekers face the reality of remaining unemployed or quickly losing the jobs they do find.
A look at the landscape is bleak, at best, but the Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center offers GED courses, financial training, mentorship, job training and job placement services to begin to offer hope to those ready to transform their lives. We believe in abiding by the truth found in Scripture. Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
We’ll explore more about this topic in part 2, but in the meantime, we invite you to join us as we join hands with those looking for ways to overcome their current reality.