Opinion: Why the homeless can’t always help themselves

Show This To Everyone

by Ashley Frechette

As a nation, America severely lacks empathy towards homeless people. One of the most common sentiments you hear spewed is “why don’t they just get a job?” But for the millions of Americans lacking permanent housing, it’s not as simple as just walking into an establishment and obtaining employment.

Think back to the last job application you filled out. Almost every application for employment requires an address. Have you ever thought about the ramifications of leaving that spot blank? What would happen if, as a hiring manager, you saw the address was left off? Would you automatically put it in the “no” pile or pay no attention to it?

Sadly, in today’s digital climate, paper applications are mostly a thing of the past. Very few employers offer and accept paper applications, and with the digital applications they can set requirements for fields that must be entered. Target, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, McDonalds, and Wegmans all required addresses to submit an application online. One retailer we checked, Kohls, did not require it.

The National Coalition for the Homeless reported in 2014 that 70.4% of people surveyed felt that private businesses had discriminated against them due to their lack of permanent housing. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, some employers have noticed the address of local shelters and have automatically placed the applicant in the “no” pile.

The need for an address at the inquiry stage is simply absurd. An employee whose address is in the most expensive neighborhood does not make a better employee than the one whose address is at the local shelter. Requiring this is either an archaic practice; or one meant to purposefully keep out those who need it.

As a nation, we must overcome the inability to even make eye contact with homeless individuals and instead offer a helping hand. The door has been closed and locked before they even asked who was on the other side.

If an applicant is lucky to get past the first screening barrier and get hired, their next trouble comes at the I-9 form. The I-9, required for employment by the Department of Homeland Security, checks the citizenship and immigration status of new hires.

The Immigration and Reform Control Act of 1986 mandated the form be completed to verify employment eligibility, it also includes an anti-discrimination clause. However being discriminated against based on a lack of housing is not covered.

Until 2016, new hires were not allowed to use PO Boxes as their address on their I-9 form. This hindered potential employees who lacked permanent housing, those in protective custody, and domestic violence victims. In 2016, DHS released a new version of the I-9 form that lifted the requirement, however this information is not openly discussed on their website. In fact, it took a deep search into legal resources to even uncover this.

The I-9 instruction document provided by the USCIS states: “If your residence does not have a physical address, enter a description of the location of your residence, such as ‘3 miles southwest of Anytown post office near water tower.’” While this is useful, someone with transient housing who does not always have a place to stay day to day would not be able to use this accurately.

There is also no clear definition of a “residence” on the form which could mean that simply saying “the third tent in the row behind the gym” would not count. However the PO Box restriction has been lifted.

With the new form, it is possible to break through the barriers of entry into the employment field. In order to get a PO Box, the interested party can apply online, or in person. In our area, an extra small box runs roughly $15 a month and can be paid with cash in person. This may not be the easiest task for those who are struggling to make ends meet, however non-profits and those just looking to help could offer to provide money to rent these boxes for those who need it to obtain a job.


Looking to help? Here are some organizations in our area you can help:


HomeAgain: http://homeagainrichmond.org/

Homeward: http://homewardva.org/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *