Half-Truths, Cop-Outs, and How We’re Quick to Judge Our Homeless Brothers and Sisters

Part II

by Brandy Wallner

person holding a cardboard poster
Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

Our first installment of Half-Truths, Cop-Outs, and Being Quick to Judge our Homeless Brothers and Sisters considered the significance of mental health on the issue of homelessness, as well as a more compassionate response to addiction. This final installment will discuss misconceptions like “laziness,” the idea that the unhoused just don’t want help, and laws that criminalize those without an address.

You wouldn’t be homeless if you worked a little harder

We’ve all heard someone ask different versions of the same question (or perhaps we’ve been the ones to ask it): “They look young and healthy – why doesn’t he or she just get a job? Why don’t they want to work?”

Sometimes the motive behind the question is legitimate. It does seem as if someone who looks strong and healthy should be able to get a job and get off the street — support themselves financially. But what often underlies the question is a belief that some people on the street “just don’t want to work” or are lazy.

While none of us know for sure what’s going on in someone else’s heart and mind, it’s wise to educate ourselves on the barriers that stand in the way of employment for the unhoused. Here are just a few of the factors that should be considered:

  • A criminal record
  • Lack of home address
  • Lack of identification (i.e. driver’s license, social security card)
  • Lack of reliable and affordable transportation

Each of these factors requires unpacking (which TRP will do in a future article) but when it comes to an unhoused individual securing employment, these are sobering realities. Even in the state of California, where a “Ban the Box” law has been in place since 2018 (the law prohibiting employers from discriminating based on criminal history), it remains a serious challenge for those looking for a second chance.

Then there’s the issue of identification. Housed individuals have places to store important documents that they need when applying for a job, college, a loan, or any other official application process. Still, we lose things all the time. Imagine not having a safe place to keep anything you’ll need for the future. And of course, the risk of being robbed of these things even if you did.

Again, each of the factors listed above requires a deeper dive. However, our aim here is to provide you with a cursory understanding of the things that may inhibit employment.

It’s often (almost always) not as simple as someone without a home, “just getting a job.”

Where our prejudice toward the unhoused can lead

Failing to understand all of the factors that make it hard for people whose lives are unlike are own, leads us to distance ourselves and enact laws that make things even more difficult for them. Often this is out of ignorance, but sometimes it’s out of privilege.

Either way, taking a hard look at our country’s laws gives us a better understanding of where the heart of our nation really is when it comes to serving “the least of these.”

According to the National Homelessness Law Center, since 2006, there have been “increases in the criminalization of homelessness in every measured category of prohibited conduct (emphasis is ours).”

What are those areas of prohibited conduct?

  • “Camping” in public
  • Sleeping in public
  • Sitting or lying down in public squares
  • Anti-panhandling
  • Pedestrians standing in roadways

In states like New Hampshire, it’s prohibited to seep in public. And in Tenessee, a state Pew Research called the 3rd most religious state in a 2017, it’s actually a felony to “erect or maintain a tent or furniture, store personal belongings, cook, or sleep on state property.”

Part I and II of this article were written with the goal of exposing our readers to the realities beneath the growing issue of unhoused individuals. The Restoration Project is on a mission to help those experiencing homelessness regain their identity, discover their purpose, and live empowered within their communities.

We hope you’ll join us in that!

Interested in serving with us? Contact us HERE and find out about our next Distribution Day.

P.S. For monthly updates from The Restoration Project, sign up for our newsletter, Restored. Just head to the bottom of the page and type in your contact info.

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