Myths About Homelessness and Jobs

by Bob Olander

MYTH: Why don't homeless people just get a job? They're either lazy or don't want to work.

The vast majority of homeless people are not homeless by choice. According to NEOCH, only about 5 percent say they are homeless because they “like to move around”. More than half cite economic reasons, such as a job loss or a rent increase, for their homelessness. Ninety percent of homeless people have an employment history, and about one-third have worked in the past month. At some shelters, almost one-fourth of the homeless people are currently working.

Most of these jobs, however, are part-time, temporary, or for minimum wage. Affording even a modest one-bedroom apartment requires a full-time job at almost double the minimum wage.

The problem is not laziness. The problem is a lack of affordable housing, too few jobs and, in some cases, inadequate education or training.


MYTH: Even if they got a job, most homeless people couldn’t keep it. They’re either drunks, drug abusers or mentally ill,

About one-third of homeless people suffer from a serious mental illness. State and Federal studies place the number of alcohol and drug abusers at between 20 and 40 percent. These two groups, the mentally ill and substance abusers, overlap significantly. For such homeless people, holding a job is indeed difficult or impossible.

But an even greater problem is the lack of a network of family or friends. NEOCH reports that more than 60 percent of homeless people say they do not have any relatives or friends they can count on for help.

Most homeless people are able to and willing to work. They just need a friend, or a friendly stranger, to give them a chance.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH, Issue 5, Cleveland Ohio February 1994