The View from Someone Else’s Boots: "Addressing the Issue of Homelessness During the Job Hiring Process”

Addressing the Issue of Homelessness

Homelessness among military veterans is a growing problem and a prominent national issue that is widely viewed as shameful and preventable to most Americans. The 2012 Annual Homeless Assessment report (prepared by HUD) estimates that there were more than 62,619 homeless veterans on a single night during January in the United States. In fact, veterans represent about 13% of the nations total homeless population, this includes the growing number of homeless female veterans (8%), increasing numbers of veterans with children and those with substance abuse challenges and/or some form of mental illness. 

Roughly 40% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 10.4% and 3.4% of the U.S. veteran population, respectively. In 2010, 12,700 homeless veterans had served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and/or Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF.) 

Although there are many programs and several well-known national initiatives designed to strategically end homeless conditions for veterans, the situation remains a challenge. Since 1987, Veterans Affairs (VA) has provided programs for homeless veterans that emphasize collaborative partnerships with numerous community service providers that offer help to those in crisis. To date, the VA and its partners, have secured nearly 15,000 residential rehabilitative shelters and 30,000 transitional beds for homeless veterans throughout the nation. These and other efforts are credited with reducing the number of homeless veterans by 70% since 2005.

With many employer organizations that are now looking to hire deserving transitioning veterans, the questions of how to properly help homeless veteran job candidates continues to be problematic. Many veterans that are ready to work and anxious to help themselves, may be very reluctant to fully disclose their homeless situation to employers for a number of personal reasons.

Many fear the possible repercussions of scaring some employers from hiring them, automatically being labeled as unstable or inconsistent and/or receiving the dubious distinction of being stigmatized by other employees. Further complicating the matter, a large number of displaced and 'at-risk' veterans live with the lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support, along with a lack of understanding by some employers. Military sexual assault is also a factor that indirectly increases homeless conditions for many veterans that now struggle with consequential psychological issues, substance abuse and impaired social functioning.

Additionally, many military occupations and training are not easily transferable to most civilian occupations, thus leaving some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment. Many veteran job candidates may lack the necessary resources of simply developing and printing resumes, as well as properly dressing for job interviews. A lack of phone communication or permanent residence may also pose some problems with employers, as well as explaining major employment gaps with work experience.

What to do if you are a homeless veteran job candidate?

If you are a homeless job candidate, there are a number of things that you can do to help your situation. It is always a good idea to first report your living situation to the local VA. The VA commonly addresses these types of situations and can refer you to the right resources for obtaining safe shelter, professional clothing, job training, receiving nutritious meals, accommodating children of homeless parents and getting proper help for substance abuse and/or hidden and physical conditions.

Other social programs such as National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the American Legion and US VETS can provide housing solutions and support for those in need. Organizations such as Wounded Warriors and other groups can help provide resources and training for job and interview preparation, and have a list of local 'veteran-friendly' employers that are very sensitive to your situation and have vast experience dealing with people in similar circumstances. Also, it is important to notify elected officials of your specific dilemmas. Many politicians are extremely sensitive to helping homeless veterans in their jurisdictions and will personally act on your behalf to assist in helping you become a productive citizen once again.

It is always recommended that you be honest and forthright about your living, social and health conditions with employment recruiters. Many have been trained to help prospective employees in these situations and are happy to apply various corporate resources for those with a willingness to work hard and prove themselves. Many will share success stories of other employees that have begun their careers under precarious circumstances, that are now (thanks to help from the organization) socially stable and over time, have established themselves as leaders and role-models for other employees.

In contrast, hiding issues such as constant hunger, living in a one's car or squatting, may ultimately subject you to suspicion from other employees or may in some ways create trouble with certain municipalities. These situations can complicate matters once receiving a job and perhaps may lead to punishment for chronic tardiness, poor job performance and other work-related problems. It is always best to be completely honest with your recruiter and work supervisor of your personal situation. You will find that people in these positions can aptly assist you and provide some flexibility, if they are intimately aware of your particular situation.

Most importantly, never be totally discouraged about your financial or social situation.  Many successful people have prospered by simply making the personal decision toapply themselves towards positive change and properly asking for help.

As a sympathetic and caring veteran, I am always wishing you the best of luck!    

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Ed Crenshaw is a US Navy veteran, diversity practitioner, disability subject matter expert and creator of the innovative “Preparing Employers to Reintegrate Combat Exposed Veterans with Disabilities” (P.E.R.C.E.V.D.) diversity training program. He is also the author of the books, “The P.E.R.C.E.V.D. Principles” and “The Employers Guide to Understanding Hidden Conditions Related to Suicide.” As a well-renown professional speaker, Ed is a passionate champion and respected advocate for people with disabilities.