Four Obstacles Facing Working Homeless People

working homeless people

In a world where jobs don’t just fall out of the sky like confetti after the one-millionth person yells “get a job!”

There are many people who fall into homelessness after losing a job. Unfortunately, it’s also possible to become homeless while working a job, or even two. That’s just the reality of living in a society where wages are low and housing costs are astronomical.

But it can be extremely difficult to hold down a steady job while you’re also dealing with the pressures of homelessness. If you’re without a car, you may have to rely on a less-than-reliable public transit system to get you where you need to go. If the bus is late more than a few times, your boss may or may not be very understanding.

And if you need to leave work by a certain time every day in order to make it to the shelter in time to get a bed, you may soon find yourself replaced by someone who can work your hours and then some.

And these are just a few of the unique obstacles working homeless people face on a daily basis as they struggle to find or keep a job.

Here are a few more:

Preparing for Interviews

Almost every job these days requires some type of interview. If you want to actually get the job, you have to be prepared for that.

By prepared, I don’t mean you’ve practiced your winning smile and rehearsed the perfect answers to commonly asked interview questions. Those are things any job seeker might do. Homeless people have a few more interview preparations to make that most other applicants don’t give much thought about.


Most of us shower every day – some of us are barely even awake during the process! But for people without homes, accessing shower facilities can be an ongoing struggle. That struggle is never more frustrating than when you’re trying to get or keep a job.

In this circumstance, a whole day can be planned around when and where you’ll be able to take a shower. Of course, you’ll want to take it before your allotted interview time. But you’ll also need to leave plenty of time to travel to the location. Oh, and speaking of getting there, it’s a pretty hot day. Maybe you should look for a place to shower that’s closer to the interview. That way you’re not a sweaty mess by the time you get there. The only place close to your interview needs you out by 7 am, leaving a 4-hour gap before your interview. You could walk to the library to keep cool, but that’s a 20-minute walk too, leaving you right back at square one.

This kind of juggling doesn’t stop once you have the job, either. Most employers don’t like to see their employees coming to work unkempt. Many places have even instituted hygiene policies that could result in you being sent home for the day or even fired if you don’t meet a certain standard of cleanliness.

Dressing the Part

Also, if you’ve heard the adage, “dress for the job you want,” you know there’s a lot more to the art of presenting yourself than just basic hygiene. You’ll also need to show up well-dressed in unwrinkled business attire that fits well and looks professional.

Now, as a homeless person living with minimal possessions, what little you have being carried around with you day to day, how are you supposed to:

a) afford a nice set of business attire and

b) keep it hung up, clean, and unwrinkled at all times?

Fortunately, a growing number of organizations supply cleaned and pressed professional clothing to homeless people who are interviewing for jobs. Of course, even if these programs are available in your area, it is much easier to pick something out of your closet, order it online, or even drive to the mall and pick up something new.

Concealing Homelessness

Even if you “look the part” as far as hygiene and attire, you may still struggle not to “give yourself away,” drawing attention to the fact you’re homeless. This is something many people prefer to hide from potential employers and coworkers. However, it can be difficult if you have nowhere to store your possessions.

Most shelters won’t allow you to store your things. So, you either risk them being stolen or drag all your bags into the interview with you. Neither is ideal.

Holding Down a Job

Once you’ve found a job as a homeless person and been hired, the battle is only half over. Now, you have to keep it. Even in the face of:

Unreliable Transportation

Whether you’re relying on the car you sleep in, your own two feet, or the whims of the city bus system, transportation is not always reliable.

People who are homeless often can’t afford to make necessary repairs on vehicles they own or keep up with scheduled maintenance. This can take its toll at the most inopportune times. If your car breaks down or just won’t start, you’ll have to scramble to make alternate arrangements. Your boss may or may not be sympathetic to your situation.

Even with those risks, a vehicle is one of the more reliable methods of transportation. If you walk everywhere, bad weather, tiredness, or unexpected encounters with police or other people can slow you down.

Public transport is also notorious for being unreliable in most American cities. There are only so many times you can blame your tardiness on a wacky bus schedule before your boss will start looking for someone else to fill your role.

Lack of Sleep

As a homeless person, it can be very difficult to get a full night’s worth of good sleep. This is especially true if you’re sleeping on the streets. The most you can really hope for is a few hours of rest with some light dozing interspersed.

Obviously, this lack of sleep is not conducive to peak performance at any sort of job. Over time it can lead to mistakes or just general poor performance that will get you fired.

These are just some of the unique obstacles that make finding and keeping jobs more difficult for homeless people. Unfortunately, there are a lot more that didn’t make this list.

A Job Isn’t Always a Ticket Out of Homelessness

The fact that wages are drastically outstripped by housing costs across the country aside, being homeless is more expensive than people realize.

Try saving up your first month’s rent and security deposit while you’re also eating out every night or buying prepared foods at the grocery store for a significantly marked up price because you don’t have the facilities to store or prepare cheaper food. It’s not easy.

You’d better hope that you can hold on to your job long enough to rent an apartment. Otherwise you must rely on whatever savings you set aside to get you through your next period of unemployment.

And so the vicious cycle repeats itself.

Kayla Robbins

Kayla Robbins


Kayla Robbins is a freelance writer who works with big-hearted brands and businesses. When she's not working, she enjoys knitting socks, rolling d20s, and binging episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

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