The answer to this question is common sense, as I’m sure you’re thinking. Yes, of course, Jocelyn. Unemployment causes homelessness. Of course, it does – we need a job to get money, and we need money to survive.
It is indeed true. Statistics show that one of the leading causes of homelessness is unemployment (or underemployment). People become homeless for many different reasons. However, oftentimes, people need more employable skills or access to obtaining these skills. The job market is also intensely competitive. It is not unlikely that a single opening for a position will receive hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants.
The causes of homelessness reflect an intricate interplay between structural factors, systems failures, and individual circumstances.
I had a fairly stable, cushiony position in public service, working for one of NYC’s community colleges. After five long years of service, I lost my job in July. I was laid off after a couple of months of reduced hours due to long COVID.
I contracted COVID on campus, which led to a sinus infection, then scarring in my right lung, and long-term chest pain. I continued to work through this as much as possible because, as mentioned above, we need jobs to get money and money to survive. But that job hurt me physically and, honestly, emotionally too.
The thing is, I had landed this job, against thousands of other applications, just a couple of months after I was housed again after being homeless for a year. Because I was working for the Department of Education, I had to get a full physical, get my shots, and obtain a background check.
I didn’t want to give them my prior addresses. They were all homeless shelters, and I was ashamed. I didn’t want my coworkers to know I had just gotten out of a shelter, that I was still having nightmares about it, that I hadn’t recovered yet.
I often found myself breaking down and crying in the supply closet, in the bathroom, trying so desperately to do so quietly.
The last five years were difficult. And in a way, it feels like I’m right back at the beginning. I’d like to believe that isn’t true, but now, I think to myself, it’s all about to happen again, isn’t it?
Well, those thoughts are mostly rooted in trauma. But when it comes to the causes of homelessness, the structural factors, the systemic failures, and the individual circumstances, it’s all very true for my story, too.
There’s a lot of irony in it. To think that I’d spent five years in public service because I believed in that work, only to realize the job itself was a part of the problem.
As the only staff member in my department, I was being paid minimum wage. The City of New York did not even pay me a living wage. I was receiving public benefits from the City while working for the City, and I find that quite funny.
My job was to help people just like me. The solution to poverty is not putting another individual in poverty. But here we are, and here I am.
It’s not all doom and gloom, although hardly any sunshine and rainbows are in sight. I did, thankfully, qualify for unemployment shortly after being laid off. However, I’m unsure where I was supposed to live in New York City, on the very humble $159 per week, after taxes.
Again, this is a systematic failure. And there’ve been so many of them. I remember the hundreds of organizations I called and emailed before homelessness – begging and pleading for relocation, rehousing services, even legal assistance, anything to help me with my then slumlord.
I wish I could write about the various programs that helped me. Even my case worker at one of the homeless shelters I’d been to called us parasites. I wish I could claim confidently that the system does and can work if we, I don’t know, keep voting. But that wouldn’t be very honest of me because it hasn’t been my experience at all.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. You know why? Because we exist. I know you, the reader, care about these issues because you wouldn’t be here reading this if you didn’t. Because Invisible People exists, Mark exists, and our editor, Erin, exists because all our writers and readers exist.
That’s where I see hope, where I see strength.
It’s true that I probably would become homeless again without you, without other people, without people who care. But I don’t think that’s going to happen to me.
There’s no way I can live on $159/week, but if I keep writing for you, if I keep trying my best, I’ll make it. Mutual aid and solidarity have made the most significant impact in my life, and for many other people, too, I’ve noticed.
In fact, it’s mutual aid in the form of “cups of coffee” on my Ko-fi page that has kept me going since losing my job. It’s also writing for you. Whatever happens next, I hope to keep doing it.