Over the years, we’ve heard so many assumptions and stereotypes of the homeless that we can’t even count them on one hand anymore. One of the most reoccurring ones being that the homeless are simply too lazy to work. Many people with comfortable shelter over their heads always seem to find the time to question, “How come homeless people don’t just get a job?” In saying this, they don’t ever wonder if there are actually jobs readily available, or if any barriers persist, such as being able to work without a proper home or address.
Actually, one third to one half of the homeless population are employed, with the employment rate holding around 44%- a statistic that may surprise many of you. This might raise questions as to why these people don’t have proper housing as they must earn some sort of money to be able to do so, right? Most of this population are working minimum wage jobs, ones that don’t actually provide enough money to pay for the basic living expenses in many parts of Australia. According to Janda (2015), our country still tops Deutsche Bank’s global list of expensive countries chart as the world’s most expensive country to live in. On top of this, many of the working homeless are underemployed, meaning that they don’t get enough hours to support themselves, or if they did have a home before, are lacking significantly in the ability to pay the bills. The average rent for houses increased by 75.8% between 2002 and 2012 (National Shelter, 2014), and between 2009-2010, it was found that there was a shortage of 539,000 private rental dwellings that were both affordable and available for renters with gross incomes at or below the bottom 40% of income distribution. In saying this, many people who work for low wages find themselves without a home when the company that they work for cutback their hours or staff. In such a world, there are many working people living around us in cars, shelters, or simply on the streets.
But wait, so why don’t they just get multiple jobs to get more money so that proper shelter is possible? It’s not really that simple. Getting enough hours at multiple jobs can be extremely difficult- employers have to be happy to make a schedule that accommodates the time schedule of the employee’s other jobs. Coming from personal experience, even working for jobs that pay much higher than minimum wage, I’ve certainly had difficulty maintaining multiple jobs at the same time due to conflicting schedules.
Although jobs provide money, money alone in many instances is not enough to rent an apartment. What?!… You might ask. It’s true, to get accepted as a tenant of majority of apartment complexes, one must have a stable credit history and a job that pays triple the monthly rent. Let’s put this into perspective- if a room in an apartment or house only costs $650 a month, those who rent it must earn at least $1950 to cover the costs. So although a homeless person may earn at least $650 a month, most apartment complexes won’t rent to him if he makes not much more than this.
As mentioned before, the lack of an address is an issue. Employers are put off by irregular postal addresses as they can’t properly put them on postal addresses. On top of this, many homeless people don’t own actual phones, so communication between the employer and employee will be difficult, and contacting them for interviews would be hard.
Many homeless people also don’t have cars- which makes it difficult in commuting to and from jobs. Samuel Meixueiro, a homeless man living in a church in Kansas had been walking on foot for five to six hours each way everyday to work. “I’m not a vagrant. I have a job. I’m doing the best I can”, Meixuerio said. A police officer who heard his story immediately went out and bought a bicycle for Meixueiro to help him on his journey.
Before you judge a book by its cover, please take some time to always consider the multiple layers behind it. Homeless people may look a certain way, but many of them are much more hardworking than some of us are. Like this police officer, let’s put their needs over our own.
Janda, M. (2015). Cost of living: Australia tops Deutsche Bank’s global list of expensive countries. [online] ABC News. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-17/australia-tops-the-global-charts-for-cost-of-living/6400358 [Accessed 19 Oct. 2015].
National Shelter, (2015). Housing Australia factsheet. [online] WA: Shelter WA, pp.2-12. Available at: http://www.shelternsw.org.au/publications-new/factsheets-new/226-housing-australia-factsheet/file [Accessed 22 Aug. 2015].