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Just Get a Job

Here’s a thing about just getting out there and getting a job.


I’m tempted to bitch about my family situation but I’m not going to go there, because when all is said and done we’re luckier than many – or most.


In my job I deal with a lot of people just looking for a meal. Due to a new church program, we provide sack lunches for anyone who asks. Can’t get you a job or a room or gas or medical care, but if you’re hungry you can always come here.


Used to be almost entirely street people, down on their luck (as has been hashed out before, most people are only a month or two away from homelessness), or most often mentally or physically disabled. More and more now it’s people trying to get a meal for their kids. What’s interesting is seeing the folks who have been living rough a while basically mentor the newbies and show them the survival tricks. 


I offer two examples.


One day on of my regulars came in, very proud of her new work uniform. She got a job as a bus driver. So I never saw her again, right? Wrong, Months later she’s still employed but still homeless, because saving enough for first and last is a bitch, and because it’s not just her – she responsible for a whole bunch of other people and food, shelter, medicine drains her. And because she’s working she “earns too much” for assistance. As a result she still has to come in for a meal. 


Her choice is still to work. Call that lazy?


Here’s another of my regulars, someone I might assume is on the streets by choice. Turns out he’s finished training to be an in-home caregiver. This is what’s holding him back – he’s got a friend likewise on the streets, who’s as he puts it, simple. He feels responsible for him because he encouraged him to come with him from Oklahoma to California, back when there were actual jobs here. If he gets an in-home job his friend can’t come, and he worries that he wouldn’t survive the streets on his own. 


I could go on about the woman who telemarkets from her home base in the park, or the homeless teenager looking to volunteer for a meal and a good rec, and on and on.


And yeah, some people who come in are lazy and greedy, I suppose. But don’t, please, assume that just because it looks that way it’s necessarily so. 


( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 17th, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
The response I want to give to someone who says, "Get a job," to a homeless person is just as succinct: "Get a brain." However, I know that's not productive.

Excellent post, Sam.

Edited at 2009-06-17 09:30 pm (UTC)
Jun. 17th, 2009 09:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Eric. : )
Jun. 17th, 2009 09:50 pm (UTC)
Great post, Sam!

I could go on about the woman who telemarkets from her home base in the park

Telemarketing is a job few choose to do. This woman does it in the park. Now that takes guts!

Edited at 2009-06-18 01:02 pm (UTC)
Jun. 20th, 2009 03:57 am (UTC)
Thanks, Marshall -- she is a very brave person!
Jun. 17th, 2009 09:53 pm (UTC)
How does the bus driver do it? I'm amazed.
Jun. 20th, 2009 03:58 am (UTC)
I don't know, I really don't. Dogged perseverance, I guess.
Jun. 17th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing these stories!
Jun. 20th, 2009 03:58 am (UTC)
You are very welcome!
Jun. 17th, 2009 10:15 pm (UTC)
Jun. 20th, 2009 03:59 am (UTC)
Thank you, sweetheart.
::hugs back::
Jun. 17th, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing this, Sam. It's a wonderful thing you do, too.
Jun. 20th, 2009 04:00 am (UTC)
I just hand them out -- fortunately it's a cause people are willing to donate too. We put the kids in charge of asking for donations -- manipulative, but it works.
Jun. 18th, 2009 03:03 am (UTC)
Once a person is homeless, it's hard to ever get back on their feet.

It was difficult for us when we lived out of a motel. I could barely scrape up the week to week rent on welfare and managed to get food that wasn't healthy on my food stamps. Occasionally, we could get something decent from a church food bank if we were lucky.

I couldn't go back to work because I had no money for daycare and my deadbeat husband at that time, wouldn't watch the kids. He knew if I had money, I'd leave him.

Finally, someone where my kids went to school paid for me to take the CBEST and I could substitute teach. The catch? I had no car. I couldn't afford bus money. I had to walk MILES each way just to teach...and pretend that everything was okay and my life situation was normal.

However, then I had no insurance or public assistance and could still hardly make it on my own.

It took a long time to ultimately get back on my feet where I could work a regular job.

So, Sam, I feel so much for those people you see on a daily basis. I'm sure the food the church provides them and the kind words I'm sure you provide them go a long way to ease some of the suffering they endure.
Jun. 20th, 2009 04:03 am (UTC)
Wow. It's very impressive that you just didn't give up.
Sometimes it's hard to understand how difficult it is without a car -- going to the Dr. or a job interview becomes an all-day project.
Jun. 22nd, 2009 01:37 am (UTC)
Even recently, when my Prius died, it was an ordeal just figuring out ways to get everyone to work/school/etc.

Took me three buses to get Mark to school in Azusa. Took me four buses to get to work. That was a lot of hours to and from that we could have been doing something else. And there was still walking involved, too.

But, at least we had that option this time around. :)
Jun. 22nd, 2009 01:28 am (UTC)
I wonder if we'll start to see a shift in the US, if the economy stays bad a while. Americans still tend to think that a car is the only option for personal transport. One option, clearly, is to use public transit, but that only works where there's a good enough system, and in most of the US there isn't. (It also doesn't help where, as in your case, you can't pay the bus fare - but if we as a society got better at this helping thing, it is easier to subsidize bus fare than a private car.)

But also, cars aren't the only possibility for driving yourself. I've seen it in other countries. In the Netherlands, people drive bikes, and often "bromfiets" - motorized bikes. In Asia, many more people have scooters than cars. I'm not saying individuals are at fault for not rethinking their options; to be a real alternative, these still demand some societal changes, not just personal ones. In the Netherlands there are bike lanes *everywhere*, so it's much safer to commute by bike. In Asia, there are often scooter lanes, but even where there aren't, drivers expect scooters, watch out for them, know they'd better drive safely around them. It's also much more common here in Taiwan to borrow a car from family or friends, whereas I'd feel funny borrowing from anyone but immediate family.

I think in some ways, we Americans are trapped by patterns we developed as a rich country. When we don't have those riches, our patterns no longer work as well.
Jun. 22nd, 2009 01:35 am (UTC)
I think a lot of it depends where people live. Here in Los Angeles County, cars are the only means for obtaining and maintaining really good jobs.

Currently, I have a job that supports myself and my three kids, I live in a decent place, pay for college for two of my kids...and have to drive 100 miles round trip every day in order to keep my job.

There aren't buses I could take. No way I could walk or take a bike. Los Angeles is just that way. Which makes it difficult for people who are down to get back on their feet again.

It's very sad.
Jun. 22nd, 2009 02:03 am (UTC)
There's also no way a scooter would work for you (they can't really handle highway speeds). I've lived in Phoenix and Houston, which are pretty much the same way, and have had as much as an 80-mile round trip. But I still think a scooter might be an economical way to travel for people who can find jobs closer to home - if there were a way to make it safer to ride one in the US. (In my experience, Taiwan traffic is chaotic but drivers are much better at looking out for scooters and for unexpected behavior from other cars.)
Dec. 1st, 2009 08:13 am (UTC)
another pattern in this country that urban folks don't often consider... where i live, in a small town about 30 miles from a large city, there is no public transportation. none. no bus. not even a taxi. there are two grocery stores and a laundromat within walking distance, so it's possible to live a pedestrian life here. but jobs within walking distance are limited, and what IS available runs toward minimum wage sorts of things. a few miles out, into the more rural areas, and there's no where within reasonable walking distance (i'd consider 2 or 3 miles reasonable). even if someone was willing to walk 5-10 miles to the nearest grocery store or their place of employment, they may be risking their lives walking on narrow dirt shoulders with semi trucks whizzing past at 55mph. many people in the US really CAN'T manage getting to a daily job without a car.
Jun. 18th, 2009 04:06 am (UTC)
Heh. "Just get a job" is becoming one of my new most-despised things people say about other people. As if a job is magic and every problem will be solved if only one had a job, no matter how little it pays! Bah.

But thanks for this post -- it was interesting.
Jun. 20th, 2009 04:04 am (UTC)
For one thing, it has to pay more than it would cost to have it! Gas, etc.
Jun. 18th, 2009 04:34 am (UTC)
oh hell, i never assume that. stuff is always more complicated than what it looks like.
Jun. 20th, 2009 04:04 am (UTC)
Oh yeah.
Jun. 18th, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
Well said, Sam. Blessings and strength to you and those you help.
Jun. 20th, 2009 04:04 am (UTC)
Thank you, Peg!
Jun. 19th, 2009 12:16 am (UTC)
Thank you. I'm a poverty lawyer, and I've spent most of this evening angry as hell for various reasons (grazie, Janet Contreras, you judgmental asshat). This renews me.
Jun. 20th, 2009 04:05 am (UTC)
Thank you -- I'm glad it was helpful.
And thanks for what you do!
Nov. 19th, 2009 02:25 am (UTC)
hey Samantha, great post! i stumbled across it and really loved it. good stuff, good stuff. i work for an inner-city non-profit organisation and so i totally understand your sentiments. love it!

brenden the mendicant
Dec. 9th, 2009 06:09 am (UTC)
Thanks, Brenden!
Dec. 11th, 2009 10:55 pm (UTC)
Been There, Done That
Thanks for this!
"Homeless" can mean many things...
Living in motels is very, VERY expensive. Owning an old junk car is also expensive. Not everyone is physically capable of bicycling or walking, even to a bus stop. No health insurance makes things worse. Fleeing from domestic violence is another huge factor.
Just having one predictable meal a day can make a big difference.
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )

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