HELSTON: Why it's not so easy for homeless people to 'just get a job’

Charlotte Helston is the Vernon reporter for InfoNews.

The stereotype that all homeless people are lazy alcoholics and drug addicts —  and that ‘just getting a job’ will solve all their problems — has to stop.

Let’s break this down. Imagine you are homeless. For the moment, we’re going to put aside all the possible reasons leading to this state of affairs, because that’s another story altogether (read this week’s story out of Vernon for just some of the factors outreach workers say are causing homelessness.)

Imagine the things many of us take for granted — a computer and printer to produce a resume, a hot shower before a job interview, a car to get there and a phone to wait by for a call back — are all gone. Consider that without a home address, you can’t get on the payroll. There are some logistics here that before you even mix in the possibility of mental health and addictions issues make the prospect of ‘just getting a job’ pretty overwhelming.

Last summer, I spoke to a young man who had once been homeless. He described sleeping with his back against building vents to keep warm, faking an address by whiting out old mail in order to apply for jobs, and cleaning himself up in rivers and gas station bathrooms.

In the end, what turned things around for him wasn’t getting a job, not immediately anyways; it was getting a place to live. With the help of the John Howard Society, he found a clean, safe and affordable place and from there, he’s been able to pursue a dream of working with small motors and being a better dad. It’s a prime example of what homelessness prevention workers call the ‘housing first’ strategy, and it’s why we should stop telling people to just get a job, and instead work on just getting them a place to live, simple as that.

For that to happen, local agencies say we need more funding for affordable and supported housing where people can rebuild their lives and get the treatment and resources they need. We need more landlords to step up and see past the stigma of homelessness and give people a chance. The John Howard Society will help you with that.

Let’s not be so naive as to think homelessness could never happen to us, or to someone we love. I was shocked this week to hear outreach workers talk of homeless families living in campgrounds, teenagers sleeping on tarps in the park, and seniors with no place to go other than the street. It’s heartbreaking.

To shrug that tragedy off with a statement like ‘just go get a job’ is not only ignorant, it’s insulting.

— Charlotte Helston is the Vernon reporter for iNFOnews.ca 

letters-to-the-editor
Vernon RCMP Supt. responds to 'RISK IT OUT'
Editor,   I am concerned by significant inaccuracies that could compromise both officer and public safety, in the November 30th Infonews article by Charlotte Helston on RCMP staffing in Vernon. To set the record straight, I do
Editor's Note in response to allegations from Vernon RCMP Supt. Jim McNamara
Editor’s note: • Watch shifts at the Vernon detachment have fallen as low as three roadable officers. • The department suffers from chronic understaffing. • Sources, who we trust and who have knowledge of the situ

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