Opinion: Helping the homeless find employment should be a priority

Kenny Robbins was homeless, but after help from the community he found a home. Not all of our homeless residents are as fortunate.

Sadie Larios

Kenny Robbins was homeless, but after help from the community he found a home. Not all of our homeless residents are as fortunate.

By Sadie Larios, Colton High School - CA

In 2019, Kenny Robbins, who most Colton residents know as the man who sells San Bernardino County Sun newspapers every morning on the corner of Valley and Rancho, moved into a permanent home. He was a homeless man who, because of the support of a community that raised money to help him, finally got a home to call his own.

Kenny got his chance because he was well-loved by his community. But out of the 151,000 homeless people in California, 57% to 90% are unemployed. Who is giving them chances? 

According to Homelessness Policy Research Institute, “People experiencing homelessness are unemployed or underemployed at disproportionately high rates, but many want to work.”

In California, there is a law prohibiting employers from discriminating against applicants if they are homeless. 

Still, that number hasn’t changed: 57%-90% of the homeless population in California are unemployed.

This number is so high because employers are deciding not to hire homeless people because of the risk.

Risks include having no permanent address, reliable contact information, transportation, limited access to clothing or showers, a criminal record, disability, addiction, and gaps in employment history.

To continue my research, I reached out to homeless shelters near me.

I quickly found out there are no homeless shelters in Colton. 

The nearest shelter is in San Bernardino. They informed me that helping the homeless with job placement is “not one of their focuses”.

After calling number after number, the nearest homeless shelter that could possibly offer help with jobs is 5.8 miles away from Colton. 

While I made these calls from the safety of my classroom, the homeless in our community are not so fortunate. On the streets alone, it is almost impossible to find this information and support.

Like Kenny, my brother was homeless and alone, until he was given a chance.

My brother, BJ, was homeless for months and struggled to find a job.

He struggled because he had no food, no access to showers, no phone, no new clothes, no money, and issues with addiction.

He was lucky enough to find a community. After some help, he was able to get a job.

He would not have found employment while homeless without a community.

There are laws and regulations to prevent this discrimination, yet it is still happening at a large rate within our homeless community. 

Impacting many of our loved ones.

There are risks to hiring homeless people, but it doesn’t make it right not to hire someone based on their current home situation.

The risks should be considered when hiring the homeless, of course, but consideration should also be given to the reality that hiring them could be taking them off the streets and putting them into a home.

It is commonly said that “if you don’t want to become homeless, get a job,” but this mentality fundamentally misses the point and perpetuates an attitude that contributes to the discrimination of the homeless.

One way to break this cycle is by creating a community and helping the homeless. This can include donating money, giving food or supplies, offering shelter, or just being there for emotional support.

 As it was for Kenny and my brother, helping out can give someone a chance at a better life.

This story was originally published on The Pepper Bough on September 18, 2021.