By: Staci Wright
This is the fifth installment of the blog series “Simple Truths: debunking common stereotypes surrounding those experiencing homelessness.” You can find the introduction to this series here.
Homeless people are lazy. Why don’t they just get a job?
This question is one we often hear when discussing the issue of homelessness and potential solutions. It sounds simple: if a homeless person got a job, they would make money and could move into housing.
Problem solved, right? Not so fast…
I want to touch on this point first because it is a statistic that is often surprising. If almost half of those experiencing homelessness have jobs, then why are they without a place to call their own? There are many answers and arguments that arise with this question. One answer concerns minimum wage, which was briefly discussed on in the last blog.
Let’s break it down a bit. In Georgia the minimum wage is $7.25/hr. Thus, to afford average rent for a two-bedroom apartment, someone working a job paying minimum wage would need to work 79 hours a week. (Yes, you read that correctly!) With minimum wage so low and affordable housing hard to find, it is easy to see why even people with jobs are without homes.
Homeless families and children
Another often unseen, yet large percentage of those experiencing homelessness are families with children. This group accounts for approximately 41% of those experiencing homelessness. When you combine low minimum wages, lack of affordable housing, and a family with young children; making ends meet can be very difficult.
Let’s make up a scenario that may help explain this . . .
Imagine Jane and Derek—a married couple with 3 beautiful children: Faith (6 months), Frank (2.5), and Jason (4). Derek works a job making $7.25 an hour and puts in about 40 hours a week, while Jane runs a pet-sitting business out of the home so she can stay at home with their children. Together, they bring in approximately $1300 a month (after taxes). The family lives in a 2 bedroom apartment where all 3 children share a bedroom, which costs them $800 a month. This is over half of their monthly income leaving approximately $500 for everything else, including utilities and food to support a family of 5. For many people, this is very difficult to maintain month after month, especially when unexpected expenses arise—medical bills, for instance.
There are many “Jane and Dereks” out there struggling to make ends meet to avoid becoming homeless. For those 41% currently experiencing homelessness, the battle has been lost and they are working every day to get back on top.
Simply surviving is exhausting
Most of us don’t have to think too much about getting food, having clean clothes, finding a place to sleep, or access to other basic resources. For those experiencing chronic homelessness, though, simply surviving takes more work than we realize. Even with help, many have a hard time navigating resources and social service agencies and might spend all day trying to find food, locate resources, and make appointments. As a result, people experiencing homelessness are often sleep deprived, hungry, and exhausted. The solution to homelessness is not as simple as telling someone to just “get a job.” We must let go of our prejudices and realize how difficult life can be for someone experiencing homelessness. Homelessness is more than a problem—it’s a social justice issue we must confront. We must try to understand the complexities, the struggles, and the hard-work that goes into surviving a life of homelessness.