Jobs for the Homeless: Walking a Mile in Their Shoes

The story (and resume) of of Mark Harrity, who is currently homeless in Orlando, Florida, has been making the rounds on social media.

In brief: Mark was seen on a street corner, handing out his resume as he searches for a job. His background includes positions in warehouses, trucking and bus driving. On the surface, he should have little trouble getting any number of available jobs. But he is homeless. And getting a job becomes infinitely more difficult for any number of reasons.

Fortunately, many of the shares and comments on social media were positive, and Mark appears to have many, promising leads.

Regretfully, I was surprised by the negative comments. They include statements about why Mark is standing on a street corner, handing out resumes instead of pursuing more mainstream application methods.

Before you cast the first stone, perhaps you should walk a mile in Mark’s shoes. He has a story. You have a story. Everyone has a story.

Many of the homeless (I do not know Mark; I have never met him. I am making some general observations) suffer barriers to jobs and housing. They include:

  • Difficulty accessing the tools for job applications, such as computers, phones and mail. Mark has a phone number and an e-mail address listed. Unlike you or I, he may lack real-time access to these resources and can only check them periodically. If you have housing, they are commodities; if you are homeless, they are luxuries;
  • Lack of appropriate attire and access to hygiene;
  • Lack of transportation to/from job interviews;
  • The stigma of homelessness: Central Florida teacher Thomas Rebman went undercover as a homeless person for over 90 days. He applied for over 150 jobs using his real resume (his is a retired Naval officer and has two masters degrees). He was unsuccessful in his job search, certainly not due to lack of qualifications;
  • Poor life skills: You and I take applying for jobs or opening a bank account as a normal part of life. What if you don’t know how to do these?

Will giving Mark a job end his homelessness? Directly, no; indirectly, perhaps (as you know, housing is the only known cure for homelessness).

In a recent blog post “Street Cleaning Does Not End Homelessness“, Orgcode CEO Iain De Jong observes that employment initiatives do not end homelessness. He is absolutely correct. 

But what if lower-acuity clients could earn an income and start climbing the housing ladder, perhaps starting out with shared housing? They could stay off coordinated entry waitlists and minimize the need for social service interventions, saving them for higher-need clients. 

In summary, before you cast the first stone, why don’t you stop and talk to Mark. Or even offer him a job?