The working homeless I see

With holiday season upon us, I wanted to remind folks that the holidays can overshadow many folks who are doing so much with so little. I volunteer to help with working homeless families as they climb a ladder back to self-sufficiency. We help them along the way, but they are the ones who must climb the rungs of the ladder.

When I speak to groups of people about the folks we help, whether it is a Sunday school class, church service, United Way function, business group or company community relations effort, the audience is always surprised when I say our homeless families work. I usually let that sink in before proceeding.

In fact, 85% – 95% of our families are parented by a single working mother, the fastest growing population of homeless people nationwide. And, about a third of those mothers are escaping a domestic violence situation. Think about that for a second. A woman and family has the additional trauma of being homeless on top of the physical and mental abuse. Our social workers have a process they use with our families called Trauma Informed Care. They understand what the mother and family is going through, while still helping them be more accountable.

Our families are homeless because of reduced hours, a lost job from several, a healthcare crisis, a car issue, daycare costs or because of the domestic violence issues noted above. We help our families by providing temporary shelter for about 60 – 90 days as they get their sea legs underneath them. Then, we help them move to an apartment where we subsidize the rent with the family paying 30% of their income toward rent and utilities. We pair them with a clinical social worker and, if they desire, a Hope Team which is a group of one or more couples that help mentor the family.

Our families exit our program, on average, after twenty-one months with 80% – 90% being self-sufficient, meaning they no longer need our subsidy. And, we measure success after they leave, so we know that 80% – 90% of the families who left housed are still housed on their own after two years of leaving our program. This shows that people need a helping hand to get back on their feet, but truly want to be on their own. I mention this as there are some in our country that believe everyone needing help is a malingerer.

My experience shatters many of those misconceptions. Here are three:

  • People in poverty are lazy. Not true. The people I work with tend to work their fannies off in one or more jobs.
  • People in poverty are less virtuous and are being punished. Not true. The people I see tend to cling to their faith and are more pious than the church members who help them. These volunteers take away more than give.
  • People in poverty are substance abusers. No more than anyone else and in fact to a lesser degree. The State of Florida drug tested welfare recipients until the policy was ruled unconstitutional. The data from this short lived process revealed that people on welfare had less than 1/2 the rate of substance abuse than general society’s rate.

Poverty is merely the lack of money, period.

So, as we celebrate Christmas and other holidays, let’s remember that many are not so lucky. They are doing the best they can. The hole is deep, but they can climb out of it, with a little help. Let’s help them climb the ladder.



15 thoughts on “The working homeless I see

  1. That sounds like a great thing you’re doing. The cost of living is so high if you fall it is hard climbing back up. It’s hard just maintaining a day to day existence. Then when life throw you a curve you struggle to get back on top. I struggled my whole adult life then as I started getting on top of water I got sick and can’t work. It’s the strong that survives. Sorry to pour out my thoughts. Bottom line I appreciate the help you give in your community.

  2. The truth will never overtake the quick sound bite of the politicians speaking to audiences who couldnt recognize it if it slapped them up side the head. You are doing great work and your results prove it. Never stop speaking the message, and never stop believing. Thanks for an inspiring post

    • Thanks Debra. As I mentioned to Barney, we have a lot of good folks who have a hand in helping others. Our social workers, housing coordinators, resident staff, development team and leadership are all about the client and measuring success.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I too was surprised to learn that homeless people work. It’s nice to know there are people like you helping them find their way. Thank you for all the work that you do for the homeless families.

    • Thanks Toby. As I mention, that invariably surprises people. A living wage for one person is just over $10 per hour and just under $20 for two people and around $25 for three. So, a working mother with two children with a twenty hour a week job making $9 per hour and another working 25 hours at $11 per hour can’t keep her head above water.

  4. Thank you for the reminder to look beyond our initial prejudices and easy compartmentalization of others. Many people are just a paycheck away from living on the streets. It sounds like you are doing great work to help these families climb the ladder out of homelessness.

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