Saturday, January 3, 2009

Job Reference

Back when I first started blogging, back in 2002, I mentioned how difficult it was for homeless people to keep their feet healthy. And I suggested to people wanting to help, to pass out new pairs of socks to the homeless. Socks are something most people take for granted, and never really considered the need among the homeless. Socks are inexpensive and easy to distribute. And so people started making socks a part of their homeless ministries. Now, there are whole organizations focused on caring for the feet of homeless people. And foot care professionals (doctors and nurses) are now being employed by homeless shelters. You bet, I'm taking a lot of credit for this.

A month ago, Rachel Hester, Director of The Campus for Human Development asked me what other services should be provided for the homeless, that are currently being overlooked. Well, I never imagined the attention that homeless feet would get after my prompting. It's really hard for me to think on such large scale services. Just how often does a person request only a clean pair of socks and receive in return a full foot check up by a podiatrist?

Well, there is something I have thought about for a few years, but never really mentioned, believing it beyond the scope of the homeless reality. And it has to do with employment - talk about a hobgoblin!

I have seen posted at a homeless shelter, a list of employers willing to hire a person with a Felony record. That's a really good service, but for the homeless, something more is needed.

I once read that the majority of people get new jobs by way of references by friends or relatives. And, that only about 20% of jobs are obtained through want ads newspapers.

So, why not have a reference program available for the homeless? Currently, job services for the homeless operate like every other job service for the general public. And, they throw the homeless to the wolves. Sure, they'll help a homeless person write a resume, and help him get to a job interview with a bus pass. But, once st the interview, the homeless person is completely on his own.

Even in the best of circumstances, job hunting is no fun, and often scary. Rejection is the order of the day. Being that homeless people deal with so much rejection to begin with, it would be incredibly helpful if homeless people knew that half the battle of getting the job was won.

Knowing how employers screen job applicants, homeless people fear the interview process more than most people. Especially for chronically homeless people, who have to convince an employer that a homeless person is worth hiring. I have always resorted to lying on job applications because of my homelessness. And have only been hired by companies that didn't check my references.

There are companies that would be willing to give homeless people a chance, at least I have to believe that such companies exist. But, how are homeless people going to find them? A list, like that for Felons is a good idea. But I would suggest even more help.

First, collect all those employers willing to hire homeless people, and then train them on how to deal with homeless people and their special needs. That way they would know better what to expect of a homeless person, the would know how to create a work schedule so that the homeless person could still get into a shelter each night, and to create arrangements that help a homeless person save his money and not blow it on drugs, etc. And there could be a homeless representative, like a union rep., who could advocate on the behalf of employed homeless people, when problems arise.

I believe you would find many more homeless people employed at decent jobs, if the homeless person knew first that the ground work had already been laid. That even before his interview with the employer, the employer had been advised of his homelessness, history and work skills. And that the employer was still willing to give the homeless person a chance.