On May 14, 2014, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) released its Results and Analysis from the 2014 Point-in-Time Count of Homeless Persons in the Metropolitan Washington Region. For the past 14 years the COG has conducted an annual count of the Washington DC area’s homeless population and formerly homeless population. The study defined “homelessness” as “people who reside in emergency shelters, transitional housing, domestic violence shelters, runaway youth shelters, safe havens, or places not meant for human habitation, such as streets, parks, alleys, abandoned buildings, and stairways”. According to this definition there are approximately 11,946 homeless individuals living in the region.
Unfortunately there is a laundry list of negative stereotypes that are associated with the homeless and how they became displaced. Some assume that all individuals who are homeless are criminals. Others believe that they are all alcoholics and drug addicts. Maybe the most prevalent misconception is that they are simply too lazy to work. These inaccurate portrayals can make it extremely difficult for homeless individuals to improve their difficult situations. Studies have found that a majority of homelessness is actually caused by traumatic events or economic factors (insufficient income, job loss, loss of loved ones, etc.).
Long term, living wage earning employment is absolutely vital, if not the paramount factor, to achieving self-sufficiency. Giving homeless individuals the opportunities and the means to obtain such employment can be a permanent solution if approached with an open mind. Naturally, along with stereotypical assumptions come stereotypical questions. Is someone homeless, reliable? Will they be able to handle a “normal” workload? Can they get to and from work? Are they clean and presentable? The list goes on. While these questions in and of themselves are not inappropriate, as they should be asked of any potential employee; the problem is the presumption that the answers are going to be “no” when being asked of someone who is homeless.
The truth is that available information indicates that substantial percentages of individuals who are homeless not only have a strong desire to work but often have impressive academic backgrounds and previous work histories. 34% have a high school diploma and over a 25% have a post high school education. An even larger portion wishes to return to school in order to complete the education that is needed to obtain full time employment. If it is a question of work ethic consider this: Many of these individuals walk many miles per day from shelters to food banks just for a meal. Those who are fortunate enough to find some temporary work usually find it in extremely labor intensive environments like construction, farming, manufacturing, and service industries. They are constantly exposed to living conditions that are not only stressful but in many cases hostile and violent. Their profession is survival – and yet many employers still assume they are lazy.
With free job training and employment services and assistance initiatives such as travel stipends, community organizations like Goodwill of Greater Washington seek to support individuals, like those who are homeless, in getting back into the workforce. These actions also aim to give potential employers more confidence in hiring individuals who may have struggled in the past. Many of these individuals have talents and skills that may not be apparent upon a first look. If given the proper opportunities they will excel well beyond what is expected of them.
For more information on Goodwill of Greater Washington’s job training and education programs for individuals with disadvantages please visit here.