“Rick, can’t your guests just get a job?” (Part 1)

“Rick, can’t your guests just get a job?” (Part 1)

Dear friend,

Homelessness is a complicated tragedy, affecting a range of individuals and families. The causes are seemingly endless, and appropriate solutions vary person to person.

At Wheeler, I get lots of questions about our guests and their needs. One of the most common being, “Rick, can’t your guests just get a job?”

The truth of the matter:

The best solution to ending homelessness often isn’t though employment. In fact, there are several barriers that make securing sustainable employment—and earning a living wage—problematic. Here’s just a few:

1. Age
Can you imagine stepping into the workforce as folks your age are stepping out? The National Coalition for the Homeless states that there’s been a steady increase in people aged 50-64 facing homelessness. In December, 110 guests at Wheeler were aged 60+. Instead of stepping into retirement, more men and women are spending what should be their “golden years” on the streets. The hard conditions of homelessness (minimal healthcare, malnutrition, possible substance abuse, etc.) significantly accelerate the aging process. That makes working even more unrealistic.

2. Lack of education
A study by Georgetown University showed that by 2020, it’s projected that only 36% of job openings won’t require education beyond a high school diploma. But in 2018, 42% of Wheeler Mission’s guests never finished high school. For these men and women, there’s no guarantee for full-time, competitive, and permanent employment. With that level of education and a spotty work history, minimal jobs are available…and even fewer of those jobs offer a livable wage.

3. Rising costs of childcare
This news report from theindychannel.com caught my eye: In Indiana, average childcare cost for just one infant is nearly $9,000 per year—on par with the tuition costs of a public 4-year college! Now picture this: you’re a single mom who never finished high school. You have an unreliable support system. And you have two young, preschool-aged children. How can you afford daycare?

MIT’s Living Wage Calculator for Marion County indicates that a living wage for one adult and two children is $27.92/hour. Is it realistic to expect that you, a single mother without a high school education, can approach that income bracket? The tragic reality here is that a mother without her diploma may only earn minimum wage, a yearly salary of $15,080. Even with possible low-income vouchers and assistance, how can she pay for rent, food, transportation, and then factor in childcare? Her meager paycheck can’t even begin to cover her costs.

These are just three examples of employment barriers, but list goes on. Consider also:

        • Lack of transportation
        • No prior work experience
        • Continued substance abuse
        • Mental health concerns
        • Criminal records
        • Rising costs of living/gentrification

    What a dismal picture.

    But friends, I assure you there IS hope. There ARE solutions. The journey just takes time.

    More to the story.

    Stay tuned, as in a future blog post, I’ll unpack how Wheeler Mission tackles these hurdles and provides lasting solutions for the individuals in our care. The team at Wheeler knows that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for homelessness, and that a person can rarely change their trajectory on their own. That’s why our team of staff and volunteers surrounds every person in our care with love, support, wisdom, patience, and whole lot of resources.

    I can’t wait to share how we do that.

    Working together,