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Being Homeless and Employed: Understanding the Struggles of the Working Poor

Homeless and employed sounds like an oxymoron, right? Many people believe the solution to homelessness is employment.

The truth is that many factors contribute to an individual's homelessness. Some of those factors include lack of comprehensive physical and mental health care, unstable living environment, and gainful employment. These are not problems caused by the homeless individual but by systemic and economic issues that plague communities worldwide.

50% of the homeless are unemployed

While it’s difficult to get accurate numbers, experts estimate that unemployment among homeless people in America is about 50 percent. What does that number mean? It means half of all homeless individuals are actively looking for work, but can’t find any. One contributing factor is low minimum wage rates.

In some cities, like Tampa, FL. The minimum wage is unlivable.

In 2021, Florida's minimum wages were raised from $8.65 to $10.00 per hour, which will continue to rise until 2026, when wages must meet the minimum mandate of $15 per hour.

$10 is not enough to sustain even the smallest of living quarters in the city. Working 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year and bringing home less than $20k is not sustainable for an individual, let alone an entire family.

To rent an efficiency style apartment in Tampa, it'll cost you $795 per month. Add a cell phone bill of $60, a monthly bus pass for $62, $50 for utilities, groceries for around $150. The total for basic living essentials is $1117.00 per month. Leaving you with $263.00 per month for disposable income to be used to pay a cable bill, medical and dental care, hair care, entertainment, and other unexpected expenses. On this income you can't afford a car and insurance payment, children, or anything else requiring a financial commitment.

So when you hear people within your community insulting homeless community members because they are unhoused, think about this.

They may have a steady job, but don't earn enough to maintain suitable living quarters.

They may have a higher education but don't have reliable transportation to seek out gainful employment.

They may have children to feed, but cannot afford the cost of child care so opt out of working.

A common misconception about minimum wage jobs is that it’s a stepping stone towards a higher-paying job. In reality, it’s a dead-end job for millions of Americans.

These low-paying jobs have been proven to create more poor Americans while barely lifting them out of poverty. In some states, the minimum wage can be as low as $7.25 an hour or $2.13 with tips per hour, which means someone could work full time for an entire year and still not break even on rent costs alone in some areas.

For these workers, paying rent and getting food can sometimes mean skipping meals or working additional hours just to cover basic necessities. For people living paycheck-to-paycheck with no safety net, losing their job or getting sick suddenly puts them at high risk of homelessness.

Have you heard the saying, "don't judge my story by the chapter you walked in" (Unknown)?

This message is true. You have no idea what a homeless person's past looked like. Their best decision may have resulted in homelessness but saved their life. You have no idea what their future looks like; their homelessness could lead to the advancement in studies of systemic issues that assist in preventing and eliminating homelessness in America.

I challenge you to look beyond the surface of an individual's circumstance. Go deeper by listening, reading, and increasing awareness about homelessness and how it can be solved, because it can be solved.

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