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Homelessness and Employment

Many people are under the belief that people who live in shelters or on the streets could easily improve their situation if they took the initiative to find employment, or used the money they received in aid from donations or other sources to meet their basic needs only. Yet, in 2022, there has been increased awareness around the subject of homelessness and the truth is, there are many factors that cause homelessness and even more obstacles to overcome in order to get back on your feet.

Here in Western New York, it is estimated that there are more than 2,100 people living on the street or are staying in temporary housing on any given night. The Erie County Commission on Homelessness has found that 44% of people experiencing homelessness in Erie County are either employed or involved in a job training program, not including the chronic homeless that Hearts serves. This leads to an obvious question; if they are employed, why are they homeless? Let’s explore what causes homelessness and how it can be difficult to get a job while experiencing homelessness.

What Causes Homelessness?

  1. Lack of affordable housing – The local housing market is more expensive than it has ever been, with signs that it will continue to rise. When housing is unaffordable, oftentimes individuals choose to forgo housing security in order to meet their other basic needs, such as food and clothing.
  2. Unemployment – Although it has decreased since 2021, the current unemployment rate in Buffalo has a long-term average of 8.31%.
  3. Poverty – The Buffalo-Niagara Falls metro area has the highest share of extreme poverty in New York, with 26 out of 291 neighborhoods affected by extreme poverty.
  4. Mental health and lack of needed services – One in four of America’s homeless population suffer from some form of severe mental illness. With the high cost of medical care in this country, those with financial insecurity often cannot afford to seek treatment for their mental health issues.
  5. Substance abuse – Affecting 30% of Western New York’s homeless adults, substance abuse is the second most common disability type behind mental health.

Why Can’t the Homeless Get A Job?

  1. Without a permanent place of residence in which to receive mail, applying for jobs can be a difficult task. Many employers look for an applicant’s permanent residence for tax purposes, and not having one clearly stated could be a deterrent to getting an interview.
  2. Essential tools for job hunting are unavailable or unreliable:
    1. If they cannot afford a working car, they have to rely on public transportation.
    2. They may not have a phone or a guaranteed place to charge their phone, making it difficult to contact them.
    3. Basic hygiene may be difficult to maintain without access to a shower or laundry room.
  3. The stigma of being homeless keeps many employers from giving someone an opportunity to improve their life.
  4. Health and wellness can be difficult to improve upon with the stability of a safe place to rest every day, and it can be hard to focus on work.
    1. Mental Health
    2. Substance Abuse
    3. Disabled
  5. Many people experiencing homelessness are past the age of retirement and have no savings of which they could depend on to meet their basic needs.

Learn how you can help those in need in your community by exploring our volunteer opportunities, signing up for our newsletter, or shopping at the Hearts Thrift Store.