Can Homeless People Get Jobs?

Homeless people in line at a job fair.

If you’re wondering if homeless people can get jobs because you’re homeless, about to be homeless, or just curious, then I can fill you in on that and let you know that they can definitely still get jobs. You’re probably wondering how I know this for sure. Well I’m a 30 year old male who lived in Florida and California most of my life and while I was living in California last year I became homeless and it took me about 6 months to get back on my feet. While I was out there living on the streets I got to know many other homeless people who were in a similar situation and many of them, to my surprise, actually worked jobs.


Before I was homeless I had all these misconceptions about those who are homeless because I had never gotten to know any of them and just figured they were all too crazy to work jobs or to even pass the interview process to get a job. But what I found out that is majority of homeless people look, talk, and act just like everybody else. If you see a person on the corner who looks homeless, then this is not a good representation of what homeless people look like or how they all act. Majority of homeless people are persons that you would not recognize as being homeless. But because we see this occasional person on the street who looks homeless and pushes a shopping cart with lots of trash or cans in it, our minds tell us that this is what most homeless people look like and how they all act.


Employed and Homeless
Many of the people who slept outside the shelter that I was at actually worked jobs and went to work during the day. Their employers probably didn’t even know they were sleeping on the streets. They would wake up in the morning, store their tent or belongings somewhere hidden, such as in some bushes, and then use the bathroom at the shelter to clean up. Then they would go to work just like everybody else in society by taking a bus or train to work (or walked or used a bicycle if their place of employment was close enough).


When they got off the job, they would take the same mode of transportation back. For their lunches, they would have food stamps (Calfresh EBT card) which they would keep on them and which they could use at local stores to buy food, or they would bring food from the shelter with them to work. So it is possible for a homeless person to work a job, it’s just more difficult since getting to sleep can be an obstacle with all the noisy people around you at night. Even inside a shelter the people can be a little rowdy sometimes and loud when they should be sleeping.


A homeless person’s biggest obstacle when looking for a job is probably keeping in contact with potential employers and interviewers and allowing a line of communication to be there. When you apply for a job and fill out an application or send in a resume, the employer will usually want you to list a way for them to contact you. They will often ask for your phone number, your email, or both. In this case it can be very difficult for some people to get a phone and keep it connected. In this case, some people who have family members or friends can have them relay messages somehow. Some shelters will even take messages, but this should not be used for potential employers because if they call a homeless person’s contact number and find out they stay at a shelter then this will often make them think the applicant has some type of mental problems or other problems that can affect their ability to work a job and stay on the job without causing problems.


So if a person needs to use a shelter as a message relay service, then they should probably only use it for friends or family to call. For example, a person sleeping on the streets could apply for a job and put their friend or family member’s phone number down on the application or resume. Then when the employer calls the friend or family member, they could ask to take a message for the homeless person and tell the employer they’re not presently home at the moment. Then this friend or family member could call the shelter and leave a message for the homeless person and they could get the message at the shelter and call the employer back.


This could also work if a homeless person can check their emails. I’ll cover the topic of emails next but basically the family member or friend could receive a call for an employer asking for the homeless person to call them back, then the family member or friend could go online and email a message to the homeless person and let them know to call the employer back. The homeless person could then use a payphone to make the call to the employer. The only problem with all of these methods is that this person would have to have family or friends that they could really trust to actually deliver the message and not forget or make mistakes.


Cell Phone
As far as getting a phone, many of them are very cheap nowadays. It’s a misconception that homeless people don’t own electronics or possessions. A study conducted at the University of Southern California that appeared in the Journal of Urban Health found that 62% of homeless teens owned cell phones, and 40% of them currently had the cell phones in service and working when the study was conducted. When I was homeless I still owned a laptop which I carried in my backpack and most people I knew on the streets had cell phones.


So it’s not impossible to own a cell phone if a person is homeless and it’s actually quite common. If somebody is homeless and doesn’t already have a cell phone and no income to buy a new one, what they can do is apply for General Assistance in most counties and states or a similar program, and this allows them to do work for the county or city or state and to be paid a certain amount each month, though this is never enough to actually get an apartment or live on. But it would be enough to purchase a cell phone and pay the bill each month. So homeless people can apply for a job and just get a cell phone and when the employer calls them they don’t have to mention they are homeless, they can just go in for the interview just like any other person and hopefully they’ll get the job.


Now when it comes to emails, it’s pretty simple for most homeless people to get an email address registered and to check it every day, or at least every other day. If a person doesn’t have friends or family nearby who will let them use their computer on a regular basis, then majority of libraries in the United States and many other developed countries have computers with internet access for use. Some areas also have internet cafes though these can be expensive for some people and the last thing you need when you’re homeless is more expenses.


When I was on the streets I would walk to the library every morning and use my laptop, but sometimes I used their public computers too if I didn’t feel like using my laptop for whatever reasons. So if a homeless person needs to check emails or set up an account, this should be quite simple as long as they have a library nearby. Having an email and listing it on an application or resume where it asks for it can help in some situations and may even look more professional than not listing one. The only thing that should be kept in mind is that some people at libraries or public places can be dishonest or scammers, so they may try to put keyloggers on public computers so they can hack people’s email accounts after the passwords are recorded and jotted down or sent to them through the connection.


So in this case, anyone using a public computer should not use emails for real important things such as logging into bank accounts or things involving their social security numbers or other personal information that can be used. I had two email accounts when I was homeless, and one of them I would only check from my laptop because I used that same email address to register on many websites such as online banking accounts and PayPal accounts. The other email I used for unimportant stuff and this is the only email account I would ever login to on a public computer.


Mailing and Physical Address
When we’re talking about mail and an address you can give an employer, it may not be too professional for someone to list a P.O. box (post office box) as their address on a resume or job application, though the company may need to send mail for whatever reason and so an applicant should always list an address anyways so it looks more professional and not so suspicious. Listing a shelter’s address is definitely not recommended. The best thing someone should do in this situation is to rely on a family member or friend and use their address and just hope they are trustworthy and won’t throw out the mail.


But for those who don’t have this as an option, then some churches will let homeless people pick up their mail there and use it as an address for this purpose. In most cases an employer probably won’t go checking the address listed on the resume in a background check or on Google maps to verify that it’s the applicant’s address and that it’s not a shelter or church, but in case they do, it’d probably be better they see a church than a homeless shelter. But this is entirely up to the person who applies and I can’t recommend that either of which is a better option to use.


Most people I knew used a local church though since that’s where they were already picking up their mail every day. Some people I knew actually just chose random houses and used those as their addresses on applications, but not only can this be dangerous because their mail could end up in a stranger’s hands, but it may also be against the law, though I haven’t verified that, so I wouldn’t recommend doing this.