How to Get a Job When You’re Homeless

A woman applies for a job while standing at a counter.

Getting a job when you’re homeless and living on the streets can be one of the most difficult things some people will have to face in life. Many people straight out of college complain that they can’t find jobs or that nobody wants to hire them without experience.

If you think this is tough, imagine how hard it is for people who don’t even have the stability that comes with having an apartment or a home they can return to each night.

But this doesn’t mean that you should just give up and panhandle or resort to desperate means to make money the rest of your life if you are homeless. There’s still options available and while not every resource will work for everyone, the following list of places you can check should help most people regardless of their situation.

In my experience, it’s best to try as many options as you can because the more times you swing for the ball, the more you increase your chances of hitting a home run. In other words, the more places you apply and inquire about jobs, the more likely you will be to find something that will work for you and that might even turn into a lifelong career.


Social Services

If you’re truly desperate for a job and would like to get one quickly aren’t too picky about where you work or what you’ll be doing, one of the first places where you should apply and register is at your local county’s social services department.

This is where you’d sometimes go to file for EBT benefits (food stamps), or to find get information on homeless shelters and charity food services in your local area.

But in addition to services like these, many social services departments actually help people find jobs as well, and they often have job programs specifically designed for homeless and low income individuals and families.

They often call these “work opportunity” programs and the best way to find out about them is to simply visit their website or drop-in one day and speak to a social services worker in person. Often times, the department will be working with various non-profit organizations and will call you or contact you when they find an organization that is looking to hire people.

This could take awhile, but most of the time they will be able to find you something within a few days if you’re living near a large city or urban center. Sometimes, although it’s rare, they themselves may have work for you to do right there in their office, but it might not be something you enjoy doing and the pay will almost always be lower than what you’d make on a regular job you find yourself.

When I was in California, many of the people I was homeless with worked for our local social services department on certain days within their office. They told me that most of the work was very low paid and the types of jobs they did were easy clerical or light manual labor jobs that almost anybody could do, such as putting letters into envelopes and sealing them for a few hours at a time.


Labor Contractors

These types of staffing companies, known as labor contractors, can often be your best bet in finding a job if you’re looking for daily pay or something you can start immediately. Sometimes they may require you to register with them the day before you start work, but most of the time you can start working for them the same day you first visit them.

Labor Finders, PeopleReady, Tradesmen International, and Manpower are the most well-known companies in this industry, but there’s literally hundreds of thousands of other agencies as well.

When you go through labor contractors, the process can be different depending on the company or even the specific branch you visit, so it’s best to contact all the ones you can find in your area by phone and ask them how you can apply or start work.

Many of them will tell you to simply show up at their location early in the morning and to have a pair of steel toe boots with you since this is often a requirement for people working on any type of construction site. They will normally provide all the other safety equipment you may need to use, depending on the job.


Temp Agencies

Tempory agencies, more commonly referred to as “temp” agencies, are similar to the labor contractors I mentioned above, but are a different type of staffing as they typically have more jobs that are focused on light manual labor work and clerical or administrative jobs.

If you’re looking for an office job, for example, you’d be better off going through a temp agency than through a labor contractor. They typically pay better as well and you’ll have more chance of being hired by whichever company they send you to as a regular full-time employee.

Many temp agencies hire people for short term assignments that have no possibility of ever becoming longer than just a short stint, such as jobs that will last only a week or two. However, there’s still a lot of them that hire for temp-to-perm jobs, which means they start out as temporary but have a possibility of becoming permanent after you pass a certain probation period.

When they are temp-to-perm, it’s common for you to start making an even higher hourly rate after the job becomes permanent, as it means the client that the temp agency sent you to would like to hire you permanently to be their employee and to get paid what most of their other employees are paid.

Before this point, the client company can’t afford to pay you the same wages as their regular employees, because they will normally already be paying the temp agency those wages. The temp agency will be paying you only a portion of those wages and taking their cut the whole time for finding and referring you to their client, which is how they make their money.

When dealing with temp agencies in particular, it’s important that you dress well and make it appear as if you’re not struggling, because they can easily find you a job in most cases, but may be hesitant to send you to a client if they think you won’t be professional with their client which could make them look bad.

A few of the more better known companies within the temp agency sector include Manpower, Robert Half, OfficeTeam, Adecco, and Ajilon. However, you should search the internet until you have a list of all the companies that are most common and prominent near you, as the companies I’ve mentioned aren’t everywhere and may not have the most jobs in your particular area.

I think a short anecdote of one of my experiences can explain it best. I once worked for a temp agency known as Personnel Plus, which sent me to a client company where I worked for about two months as a temporary employee. After that, they hired me on as a regular employee with a higher hourly wage, employee health benefits, and a sign-on bonus.

Later that year, the company ended up giving $5,000 bonuses to all their regular employees and I ended up getting this excellent bonus as a result. After that, I received another $2500 bonus later down the line. This was just a regular customer service position in a call center, which anybody without a college degree could do. I didn’t like being a temp at first and really had no intentions on staying longer than a month or two until I found something more stable. I was not getting medical benefits at first and felt that any temp job probably isn’t worth it in the long run.

But even though I had went through a temp agency and I wasn’t very stable with the company at first, it worked out to be one of the better jobs I’ve had in my life after I felt things out and decided to stick with it. But of course, not every situation will be like this and sometimes you will work temp jobs and decide the position is not right for you or that you can do better elsewhere.


Door to Door

Then, of course, there’s always the old fashioned way of finding a job, which means going door to door in person and simply asking different companies if they’re hiring. This is only an option normally for labor jobs or small companies that don’t hire hundreds of people for each location.

If you’re trying to get a job in a call center, or for a large corporate company that has hundreds or thousands of people at one location, then your best bet is to check their websites online as these types of companies rarely hire walk-in applicants and you’ll just be wasting your time normally.

Also, you should already know this by now and I shouldn’t even have to mention it, but it’s best to dress professionally when going to meet employers in person. This should be a no-brainer to most people and even it means spending the last bit of money you have on decent clothes, it might be a worthy investment if you’re really committed to actually finding a job.

You might get a few looks from other people at the homeless shelters if you run out of clothes to wear and have to wear your dress clothes to the chow hall one day, but it’ll be worth it in the end if it leads to getting on your feet while everybody else around you isn’t even trying.

You should also make sure to stop in at most businesses sometime in the early morning hours and it’s best if done about one hour after they’ve opened. This gives the owners or managers time to get in and wake up a little and to have their morning coffee. Some people may advise that it’s best to show up right when the businesses are opening because it shows initiative, but they’re not taking basic human emotions into mind as well.

Many people are simply not in a good mood so early in the morning until they’ve woken up a bit and had time to set up shop and get things in order to start their day. If the owner or manager is not there when you visit in the morning, it’s best to ask the employees how you can contact them as they might be able to give you the owner or manager’s phone number.

Either that, or simply return later in the day and inquire again after you’ve moved on to check other companies as well. When you return, be sure to mention to whoever is in charge that you had already stopped in earlier in the day, as this shows persistence and shows them you really want to work for them.

Some places that hire walk-ins have paper applications available, but many will prefer you bring a resume. So it wouldn’t hurt to go to the library first the day before in order to use the computers to print out a few resumes beforehand.


Online Job Boards

If you feel like finding a job on your own and would rather not go through any agencies or do things face to face until you’re sure you have an interview, you can always apply for jobs you find on online job boards. Sometimes this is the best route because you’re approaching people through emails that you specifically know are already looking to hire workers.

These are usually websites that have jobs posted online by the hour or day, which can often be searched and sorted through depending on what type of jobs you’re looking for.

A few examples of online job boards which receive the most visitor traffic on the internet include Craigslist, Indeed, CareerBuilder, and Monster. I would also rank them in that order from “best” to “worst” in regards to which ones you should probably start with or focus on more when you’re homeless.

If you don’t have much experience with anything, then you could always just search for the phrase “no experience” on these job sites or try searching for “customer service representative”. You’ll often find many call center jobs or other positions that are entry level for people with or without degrees.

The way it works normally is you’ll send your resume to employers who post their help wanted listings online with job descriptions and what they’re looking for. You can sometimes send your resume directly through the website’s interface on some sites, while other sites will require you to email it to the employers and will simply provide you with their email address.

The only major downside about finding jobs this way is that you may be putting yourself at risk of being scammed, since there’s many scammers that frequent these sites and know how to trick people into thinking they’re employers.

A good rule of thumb to follow when using online job boards is to never provide any confidential or private information about yourself which most employers would not need to know until the formal application process, such as your social security number or date of birth.

Some employers may not want your resume and may just want people to fill out applications first by redirecting you to their own websites from the job board site. In this case, you should follow the same rule of thumb, unless you strongly believe that you are providing your information to a legitimate employer that you would trust with that information.

You should ask yourself if you’re on the employer’s actual website and whether it appears secure or not. Another way to protect yourself against online scammers is to follow the idiom “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is”. Offers from employers that sound like something out of a dream should probably be examined closely for authenticity and legitimacy.

Sales positions can often end up being scams, so if you’re not specifically a salesperson or have experience in that field, you may want to avoid it until you’re more stable and in more of a position to possibly waste time.

Listings that tell you that you can make money online by taking surveys are often scams as well, which are a form of affiliate scam. It actually is possible to make some money online taking surveys if you go to legitimate websites, and I’ll cover that later in this guide, but it’s very low paying and you aren’t normally going to find anything that’s actually legit relating to this on a job search site. The people who post these listings are actually making money by referring others to the survey sites through an affiliate program, and are not normally making money from taking the surveys on the sites they’re referring to in most cases.


Construction Companies

Construction companies are often hiring people who have no experience because they need people quickly for certain jobs and they often have labor jobs available with varying degrees of difficulty. For example, let’s say a construction company has a roofing job they need to do on a building.

They may have all the skilled employees they need to tear a roof off and replace it with a more new roof, but they may still need unskilled workers to carry away the debris and load it into nearby dumpsters. So even if you don’t feel you’re particularly skilled at building things or doing construction jobs, there’s still a good chance they can find something to do that just about anyone can do.

The best way to find construction companies is first check online job boards, as I’ve previously mentioned, or to apply to them directly by looking for all the websites for construction companies in your area. You can also visit them in-person and ask to fill out an application in their office.

Your last resort should be to simply wait outside construction supply companies such as Home Depot or Lowe’s and hope that an owner of a construction company finds you out there and offers you a job they’re doing that day. You’ll often see other people waiting outside the entrances to stores like these as well, so don’t be surprised if you’re competing for these jobs with other people just as desperate as you.

My advice is to only resort to doing this if you’ve tried every other option in this guide, because this is really one of the worst ways to get a construction job as many people end up standing there for hours each day and still can’t get a job.


Recycling Centers

Many recycling centers have people who visit them each day to recycle cans, bottles, and other things for money (tin, aluminum, and other metals as well). Sometimes these people who are recycling large amounts of things work in teams or employ people to actually help them. They often know where the best spots are to pick up recyclable goods and have the transportation to get to these places, but might need a little help with collecting things.

This is a risky way to try to make money simply because you could end up wasting a lot of time trying to find the right person. But once you do find the right person, you may have a daily job that will at least pay you enough to where you can start putting a little money away each month and eventually get on your feet.

Either that or it could be something to tide you over until you find something with more hours that pays better. The best way to meet the people who recycle things is to simply research online or in the phone book to find where your nearest recycling centers are, go there, and then wait nearby until you notice people in large trucks or with hauling vehicles who are unloading large amounts of recycled goods.

You can then approach them (in a friendly and non-aggressive way of course), and then simply ask them if they need any workers and tell them what hourly wage you’re willing to work for.

There are many people who have found small gigs working for others by doing this, and you never know, it could always turn into something full-time if they do other hauling work if you find the right group of people.


Shelters, Churches, and Outreach Programs

It wouldn’t hurt to ask around at your local homeless shelters who sometimes have work they can have you do for an hourly rate or in exchange for free stay there if you’ve already used up all your free nights to sleep there.

Many shelters either hire people directly, or more commonly, they’ll outsource your work by referring you to various other organizations that have jobs for homeless people.

There’s lots of churches and outreach programs that do the same or sometimes have jobs themselves that they’ll hire you for. The best way to go about finding jobs this way is to start by calling or visiting your local shelters and ask if they assist with finding jobs for the homeless.

If you’re unsuccessful going that route, and have tried other options listed in this guide, then you should next try searching the internet for all outreach or charity programs in your area and contact them. Even if they don’t list any information on their websites about jobs, chances are they know a person or organization that can help with that.

Lastly, you can try contacting churches directly in your area and asking them for job assistance as well, although this should be your last resort as it’s sometimes rare to find churches that are in need of employees, temporary or otherwise, but they still may know someone who does since they often work with various charities.


Online Gigs

Lastly, there’s always the possibility of making money online, at least until you find something more stable and that brings in more income. If you don’t have your own laptop, cell phone, or a decent device for working online, you can always visit a public library that has computers, at least for an hour or two, if not longer.

Making money from the internet can be extremely difficult for some people and to be honest, most people fail at it when they initially try. So that’s why I saved this option for last on the list, because it will only work for some people, depending on your skills, your personality, and your drive.

While most people do fail at this, there’s still millions of people around the world that have managed to make a living from their earnings online, and even more people who have at least found a way to pull in a few hundred each month. I myself have made money from the internet through various methods over the years, so I know as much as anyone that it is a viable option, but doesn’t come easy.

So while I’m not familiar with every single method there is (otherwise I’d be filthy rich), I do know of a few ways that are tried and true ways that have worked for other people. One of those ways is by doing small gigs for people online, which will mainly pay off if you have some type of skill and have the motivation and drive to create many listings to advertise your skills.

Websites like Fiverr allow people to post almost any gig or job they’re willing to do online for someone else, as long as they’re willing to do the gig for a starting price of $5 or up. Examples of gigs people have had success doing for other people on Fiverr includes writing articles for website owners who need content, creating graphic designs, and even rewriting articles based on customer specifications of how they want them rewritten. Each one of these jobs can bring in $5 or more and many people make a part-time or even full-time living doing this.

You can also write articles for people on many different websites, or approach websites directly by emailing them and asking them if they need content or writers and offer to write them a few sample articles for free.

If they like your work, you can offer to write for them, and if you lowball yourself, you may actually get a lot of work, because someone who’s struggling is going to be hungrier for success and work for lower wages than most of the other people advertising their services online. This doesn’t mean that you should lowball the amount you’re willing to work for, but it might be the best route for certain people depending on how desperate you are to get work.

Other options to make money online could include taking surveys online or doing work for micro task websites such as Amazon Mturk. As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of survey sites that are actually scams online or wastes of time, and others that don’t pay in cash and will instead pay in gift cards.

Amazon Mturk is a micro task site that allows you to do different types of small tasks or “HITS” as they call them, and one type of HIT is taking surveys there as well. You won’t typically be making good money on a site like this, but I’ve used it for part-time income and can usually average about $4-$6 per hour by working during daytime hours when many of the HITS are posted.

When I first started out, I was averaging only about $2 an hour on the site, and there’s a lot to learn about how to be proficient with it at first, which includes the use of browser scripts or software that allow many people to work more productively. Just keep in mind that there’s literally millions of ways to make money from the internet, and the ways I’ve listed are just some of the more dependable ways that I’m familiar with.

But if you’re not a tech-savvy person or don’t have the drive to really sit down and work hard or learn new things, you may be better off trying to find physical work. The last thing you’ll want to do when homeless is waste time on the wrong thing and end up holding yourself back over time.