Why do homeless people have a hard time getting jobs? 

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The Soapbox

Stand up. Speak up. It’s Yout Turn.

I was nearly homeless once because of illness and no medical insurance that ate up all my savings. For over a year in 1991, it led me to activism involving homelessness. 

Most people with compassion have feelings and opinions about this issue. But facts matter more if we are to get our city out of this mess. 

When it comes to how we do it, comparing the Queen City of Manchester’s population of 120,000 at most, with cities like Seattle, WA,  at 724,000, or San Diego and San Francisco at over 1 million each and Los Angeles, at 4 million – is not a true comparison at all. Our needs and concerns have the same root causes, but scale, culture, and location are important. Each individual city has its own major issues.  If we don’t deal with the facts on the major issues, then we can’t begin to identify the causes at the core of our city’s problems.

Why ending homelessness isn’t as simple as just getting a job, and why homeless people have a hard time getting jobs? 

There are many assumptions about homeless people. Perhaps the most common is that they are too lazy to work. Having almost been there myself in 1991, because of medical issues and having worked with many others in the same situation for years, I have to say that for the vast majority of homeless people the assumption that they are lazy is dead wrong and your elected officials know it in this city. 

But many won’t defend them. I used to work one full- and two part-time jobs, a total of three jobs, until I got sick. It happened again a second time (almost lost my home years later) when the government made a big mistake and declared me dead because my Social Security number was recorded as someone else’s, off by one number.

Why it’s hard to deal with being homeless. 

Most employers require addresses. This is a lose-lose situation:  People can’t get a place to live until they get a job, but can’t get a job until they get a place to live. 

Many jobs require transportation.  

That can be a huge obstacle to getting to work. For some, an automobile is a home-on-wheels, (I’ve seen 30 families last winter live in their vehicles) but many don’t have even that. Many jobs require that applicants have dependable transportation. Sometimes this can be a bus, but if work hours are irregular and begin before buses start running or after they have stopped, it means owning your own vehicle. Not having a car or money to pay for a bus fare means you can’t get to work.

Working at Home Depot in Hooksett, I require transportation. It costs me $120 monthly, but I’m not allowed to claim the expense because I don’t own the car, even though they know I must pay someone to get me to and from work daily. It’s crazy.

Many Homeless People Have Criminal Records.                              

The criminal records are often a result of their homelessness and sometimes, their only crime was not having a place to sleep. Just look at our city parks. Our city officials pulled people from their tents without finding them any other shelter and did not clean up the mess in many places. So where were they supposed to go? Of course they went Downtown, as our elected officials took away the only home they knew.

The BMA has not adequately addressed this crisis. Homelessness is often a crime in the city of Manchester and it shouldn’t be. 

In many cities in America, the state of being homeless is inherently illegal, so getting a criminal record is inevitable if one has nowhere to live in those areas. While some people on the street do commit crimes, sometimes their only crime is being without a place to sleep or to find a place to go to an indoor bathroom. Did you know that the city parks public bathrooms paid for by the taxpayers are no longer available to all citizens of Manchester?

In 2018 the BMA created a segregated bathroom at Veterans Park with two portables covered by a shed, where the parks public bathrooms are closed to certain populations of the Queen City. 

(Let’s not forget the fact that the BoMA closed Veterans Park public bathrooms six years ago and still we as a city have not resolved that issue other than for them to create a segregated indoor heated and outdoor portables covered by a shed. Within 50 feet of each other are two working sets of bathrooms… One for the haves and the other for the have nots – without heat in the winter months. As unforgiving as that is, we treat our pets better. It’s a double standard. 

That is so wrong because it’s not true at all.

Now the BoMA is at it again, instead of helping them they are writing up another senseless ordinance to make it illegal to be homeless and making it a crime within our city. Another homeless ordinance being written will make it illegal to camp within the city except for those they may give a permit too. It’s all about money and less services rendered to its citizens. 

It often doesn’t take long for the homeless to get criminal records without doing anything wrong. Charges for loitering, trespassing, unauthorized camping, or for falling asleep in a place not designated as a residence are common. 

Some of the elected officials already call all the homeless variance as if it’s a bad word because only the homeless commit crimes, drug sales, and violence in our city, according to them.                           

When we as a city start treating humans worse than we treat our pets, then how can you expect respect or work toward results of solving our city problems? (One can be arrested for mistreating our pets, but not how we treat people suffering homelessness.) The BoMA has turned a $56,000 repair estimate into a nearly $200,000 budget to repair our public bathrooms downtown in the park two years later. 

They created this crisis, now’s the time to fix it.

They claim homelessness is the source of most crime. They are wrong and it doesn’t reflect their opinions in the crimes recorded by our own MPD. That is so wrong, because it’s not true at all. 

In 2018 it was reported by the MPD Chief and City Solicitor that 76 people were arrested between Bridge and Granite streets off of Elm Street. Yet, only 13 of those arrested were homeless – the remaining 63 arrests were people doing business on Elm Street establishments who created those crimes and not the homeless population. 

That is so wrong, because it’s not true at all.

By definition, disability is the inability to perform substantial work. This is why many disabled people are homeless.

Of the disabled, many people with mental or physical disabilities end up on the street.

Whether physically or mentally ill, many homeless people are disabled by their illnesses. 

The problem is that anyone mentally ill enough to be sleeping in a cardboard box or banging their heads against a building with blood running down their head isn’t fit to work a job until he or she gets at least a little better. They aren’t faking; they aren’t just being too lazy to work. Mental ill homeless people are just that — ill and we need to care for them if they are to get well enough to rejoin our society – if they are to get a job and contribute to our community, but until then we care for them – they are the victims.

Do homeless people choose to be homeless?

How could anyone possibly think that sleeping outside, getting beaten and abused, and suffering humiliation after humiliation is preferable to working and having a safe, comfortable place to sleep and going to the bathroom, protection from assault, and respect from your fellow man? If a person really thought that the horror of homelessness was better than working a job, wouldn’t that be pretty insane in itself? It’s not a choice.

That strange, smelly homeless guy or gal yelling nonsense at passersby or banging their heads against a building are disabled by his or her mental illness. Some are physically too ill to hold down a job too, let alone dealing with the everyday things to do.                                                                                 

Here in the City of Manchester, we have not built any affordable housing in the last two years and the city’s 10-year plan wants to eliminate workforce affordable housing altogether. Can you imagine all the seniors on Social Security losing their rents due to unaffordable housing – doubling if not tripling – if that happens anytime soon? How many seniors – low-income earners – mentally Ill – disabled and children would become homeless? Unacceptable. You think we have lots of homeless now. That would be a crisis that only our elected officials could create without using common sense policies.

Addiction (and the Assumption of Addiction) Is an Obstacle to Employment.

Addiction might play a part. Addictions prevent them from looking for work and from getting hired at times, but not always. (It depends how out of control your addiction is.) Many employers assume the homeless citizens are all addicts because here in Manchester that’s what some elected officials want you to believe is true. They are not!  But it’s not damn close JKL and you are not doing anyone a favor as an Alderman-at-Large spreading such misinformation for your political gains to get re-elected.

JKL taking their pictures to show on his TV23 show does a disservice to our community by humiliating men and women. It does nothing to help anyone other than to make them targeted victims of violence and bullying. Many of the mentally ill aren’t even able to withstand watching TV, so they don’t get to see your discriminatory vindictiveness of you victimizing them. And you call yourself a leader – I call you a bully. You should be ashamed of yourself as an Alderman-at-Large, who is supposed to represent all its citizens within Manchester without discriminating against any citizen.

Despite having a job, people can still lose their homes or be unable to afford housing.

One reason someone without housing may not be looking for a job is that he or she may have a job or two already. Approximately a third to one-half of the homeless population is employed. 

Here in the Queen City of Manchester, a third to half of our homeless population are fully employed or have more than one, if not two, part-time working jobs and still not meeting their family’s needs to earn and provide affordable housing. 

There are working people all around us here within the Queen City who are living in their cars, in our shelters, or on the street. In some citiesand Manchester is no different –  even having worked a full-time job is no longer a guarantee of affordable housing. (Here in Manchester as ours rents rise up at 5 percent a year. Who gets a yearly 5 percent increase in wages anymore?)

So why don’t they just get more work and work two or three jobs at a time? 

Many of them do. But a cluster of minimum-wage jobs at a few hours a week doesn’t generally get them very far. Getting enough hours with multiple jobs can be very difficult as well. To make multiple jobs work, employers have to be willing to work with a schedule that accommodates their employee’s other jobs. Finding employers willing to work around other work schedules is difficult enough, but each added job makes finding and keeping a balance even more difficult. I know, I’ve seen it too often.

Nationwide, the employment rate is about 44 percent for people without homes. Again the city of Manchester is no different, as about a third of our population meets that 35 percent of Families in Poverty within our 12 Wards and 32 neighborhoods; many of them homeless within our Queen City. Keeping in mind how many are elderly, children, disabled, or mentally ill, that’s a pretty high percentage when you think of it. It must be dealt with soon if we are to turn things around rather than the continued increases seen year after year.

Lots of people get addicted to drugs and not only because they become homeless. Addictions prevent them from looking for work and from getting hired. However, the perception that all homeless people are drug-addicted criminals is possibly a greater barrier to their employment than actual drug addiction is. There’s no doubt that addiction causes many people to remain homeless, but it is by no means the only reason all homeless people without homes or why they are not working.

While the other third or half are either retired seniors or disabled veterans with little to no income and the other having mental health issues bad enough not being able to work and that is why they remain homeless having no clue how to get out of this mess. There is a small adult population of young people who claim to be homeless but aren’t. They are the lazy ones who want us to give them everything for FREE and not pay taxes or give back at all to our community.

They are the ones mostly addicted to drugs and the problem makers when it comes to crimes to support their habits. Our violent crime increases this summer have shown that.

Then there are the innocent children – being homeless – because parents don’t either know how to handle their behavior or don’t want them in their household. About 1,044 students of Manchester School District are struggling to find their next meal or where they may find a place to lay their heads each night, while couch-surfing instead of focusing on their daily educational duties. Of that large number, 248 of them are in critical need of services daily and 150 of these are teenagers right here in Manchester who are homeless just due to the fact that they came out of the closet and their parents have shunned their responsibilities of caring for them because of it. 

I’ve worked as many as one full-time and two part-time jobs at a time, which averaged me around an 80-hour work week just to make ends meet. I had a home and a phone and it was still difficult to juggle the schedule. 

Eventually, I was forced to cut back to three jobs because of employers unwilling to work around other work schedules. But that made me less of an income and housing became unaffordable again. So one is homeless again, living in a car or shelter.

Homeless people can’t get a place to live until they get a job, but can’t get a job until they get a place to live.

Money Alone Isn’t Enough to Rent an Apartment! 

That’s right, money alone is not enough to rent most apartments. To get into most apartment complexes in the United States, applicants must have a good credit score, good references, and have a job at which they earn at least three times as much as the monthly rent. (Manchester is no different…)

How much money do you need to make to rent an apartment? 

While a person might be able to afford to rent an apartment working a minimum wage job by sticking to a very strict budget, still, most apartment complexes will not rent to them knowing that there are other bills needed to pay to survive. Like food – medical – electricity – vehicle – cable – phone – heat and other necessary living expenses.  A very modest one-bedroom apartment might have cost only $600 a month in the year 2000, but in today’s housing costs with an average increase of 5 percent per year, the average one-bedroom apartment goes for $1,200 those who rent it must now earn at least between $1,952 to $3,600 a month in most cases. If you rent a two or three-bedroom you can add another $200 to $300 more in rent. That takes the income needed two rent a 2 or 3 Bedroom apartment between  $2,150 to $4,200 or $2,250 to $4,500 depending on monthly bills. 

Homeless Employment Statistics

Here in Manchester, New Hampshire a person needs to earn at least a minimum wage of $12.20 per hour o rmore to rent a one bedroom or $13.45 for a 2 BR and $14.10 for a 3 BM to even be considered as an acceptable applicant for the apartment.

I recently tried to help a family of five to fill out paperwork to move into a low-income apartment complex and the requirement on their paperwork read that the rent must not exceed 30 percent of the applicants’ combined income. So their $700 a month of income does not pay for the apartment which requires them to earn at least $2,350 per month to be allowed to rent it, (and that was an affordable low-income housing program.) So they slept in their vehicle since June, so they can at least afford food for the five of them (the two parents and three children.) There are at least 30 other families this past winter that were living in their vehicles with similar situations. 

How Easy Is It to Become Homeless?                                                 

 If you ask how many people in the U.S. are homeless now or how many people lose their homes each month, you won’t be able to find firm figures. That’s because most studies get their numbers by sporadically counting people who are in shelters or on specific streets at specific times, so those surveys underestimate the total number of people who are couch-surfing or living on the street of Manchester today: 4 million Homeless in the USA.

In MSD schools we’ve gone from 601 two years ago to today 1,044 students in need of some kind of housing within a school year’s time, of those 248 Students are in need of emergency housing daily. That’s double in two years alone, so we are not making progress. We’ve gone from 57 percent of students in poverty to 67 percent, a 10 percent increase in two years. Today 67 percent of students qualify for free or reduced school lunches because of the 35 percent poverty in the Queen City of Manchester.

We need to fix this by bringing the numbers down –  not up. 

We do know that homelessness is increasing at an alarming rate. Every day, it’s getting easier and easier to lose everything and find yourself on the street. But if you fall into any of the following categories, your chance of becoming homeless increases:

  • If your wages don’t keep up with inflation and cost of living increases. In the ‘60s, a minimum-wage job could support a family of three, but that’s no longer true today.
  • If you get laid off, downsized, or fired. Loss of employment is one of the most common ways to lose housing. (Our wages in Manchester and throughout NH are still at the Federal Minimum-Wage of $7.25 per hr.) The only New England State left.
  • If you lose your home. In the last 10 years, home foreclosures have increased by over 30 percent, which also leads to an increase in evictions for renters. Yet our wages are not meeting up with the cost of living that is mostly to blame for the rise in homelessness within the Queen City.)
  • If you get too old. 50 percent of the homeless population are over the age of 50, many in their 60s – 70s and even 80s. (Yet our present Mayor keeps reciting that the City’s Homeless Senior Population can return to work.) Many of our homeless people are over the age of 68 and growing in that category. Most of them are too sick or too frail to return to work. They have illnesses that prevent them from returning to work. That is the reality and we should be finding them a place to stay that is stable. This is the easy part of our homeless demographic population problems, as they are not high maintenance troubled citizens.)
  • If you serve in the military. About 8 percent of the homeless population are veterans. (The same goes for the Disabled Veterans that deserve better from us.)
  • If you can’t afford healthcare. Medical costs a common reason for bankruptcy and poverty, and health problems or disabilities lead to homelessness. 
  • If you are disabled. More than 40 percent of the homeless population are people with disabilities, and this number keeps rising. 
  • If you have mental health issues or issues with substance abuse. Half of the people in shelters have either a substance use disorder, a psychiatric disorder, or both. 
  • If you are a victim of domestic violence. More than 80 percent of homeless mothers with children have experienced domestic violence.
  • If you don’t conform to gender or sexual norms, you risk being kicked out of your home and losing familial support. In the US, more than 110,000 LGBTQ youth are homeless. 

That is why ending homelessness isn’t as simple as just getting a job.

Plus, the City of Manchester’s Homeless Vision should not be to eradicate homelessness altogether. This is not an achievable goal ever. There have been homeless people living on the streets of this earth from the very beginning of time. The city’s vision should be to how to maintain homelessness to find housing for those who want a better life and there are plenty if not most that would welcome finding a place to stay indoors vs. outdoors especially since winter in on our doorsteps here in New England.

It’s time to uplift our city – It’s time for a new vision – it’s time for new leadership that will work for this middle-income working-class city and include the 36 percent in poverty if we are to move Manchester forward once again. It’s time to inspire our city to do better for our citizens. 

It’s time for our children to play in safety again in our city parks. It’s time to refocus and rebuild our way to solving the major problems with long-term solutions that work to show lasting results, not this short-term gimmicks that do nothing but patch away the problem for a little time till they return with a vengeance. 

It’s time for all our school students to learn equally and allow all those  level-4 classes to be taught to all who can achieve them well. It’s time bet to work together again with one goal in mind. That is to double up on our resources and that means state and federal funding brants that we don’t apply for to be put to better use. Instead, we allow other NH communities to take our funding. It’s time for real bhange throughout the Queen City of Manchester and I am up to the plate to get the job done right as your next mayor – the People’s Mayor.

Homelessness in America and in the City of Manchester, NH., where mental illness – domestic violence – prostitution – violent crimes – poverty – unaffordable housing and other issues are the root problem causing this rapid increase of drug addiction in our city. All this and more has caused the high rates of homelessness. It’s time to put our foot down and tell our leaders to do better, but in this case ‘It’s time to elect new leadership on September 17, 2019, Mayoral – Aldermanic & School Committee Primary Elections.

The Real Manchester is a city of energy – an old city trying to rebuild itself to a new and vibrant city, including a new generation of citizens in moving the Queen City Forward once again – Not backward.

Vote for me, Glenn RJ Ouellette on election day. For more information contact me at 603-289-6835, ouelletteformayor@gmail.com

Written with the help of Kylyssa Shay.

Glenn RJ Ouellette is running for mayor in the Sept. 17 municipal primary election.