Why Don’t They Just Get a Job?
Debunking Myths About Homelessness

“There were a lot of things I thought being homeless was, until I was in that situation. Homelessness is no one’s fault in particular, but it REALLY takes a village to stop it!”

This is a quote from an individual in the Rochester community who has experienced homelessness. Here are four common assumptions and more information.

Why don’t homeless people just get a job?

Anyone who has experienced homelessness has dealt with trauma. Trauma can put a person’s brain into survival mode and make tasks that the general population thinks of as simple very difficult. If you are unsure of where your next meal is coming from, where you’re sleeping that evening or when you’ll have your next shower, it’s almost impossible to use the planning part of your brain to focus on all the logistics of applying for and getting a job. What to wear, how to get clean, how to get to an interview—these are all things that are easier for anyone with a roof over their head, not to mention access to a computer and the internet.

People experiencing homelessness have dealt with really challenging obstacles, obstacles that would result in homelessness for just about anybody in that situation. There are so many complicated factors that would lead to a family being homeless, it’s never as simple as needing to be more responsible, budgeting or getting a job.” 

Amy Carey, MSW, LICSW, 

Director

AMAR Wellness Services, LLC 

Homeless people are scary and harass others.

While this does happen from time to time, most often individuals experiencing homelessness just want to be treated with respect and kindness. Oftentimes they are more likely to be a victim of a violent crime than that of the general population.

“When others speak about those who experience homelessness, they tend to shine a light on a small group of people who cause problems. [They] are no different than any other group. A small portion of any group can cause issues, whether it is coworkers, students, etc. But the vast majority are kind wonderful people who if people took the time to know them would feel blessed to know them. Unfortunately, they have fallen on hard times, and it is our duty to help pick them back up.”

Steve Friederich

Program Director

Salvation Army

Homeless people are people you see begging on the streets.

Sadly, the homeless crisis encompasses way more than “street people.” Many individuals are chronically homeless, doubled up and living with family or friends or in crises or transitional homelessness such as a women’s shelter. Olmsted County found at one point in 2022 that 204 families and 269 individuals reported being homeless. 

“Homelessness is a complex and multifaceted issue. The truth is that any of us could find ourselves in that situation as a result of our own choices or as a result of factors completely out of our control. Natural disasters, financial stress due to unforeseen medical bills, loss of employment, eviction, divorce, mental health crisis and substance misuse can all contribute to homelessness. The number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Rochester is growing at an alarming rate. It is imperative that a system is created to respond effectively.”

Holly Fiefeld

Co-Founder of The Landing MN

Homeless people are lazy and always looking for a handout.

The majority of individuals experiencing homelessness want to work and are not choosing to be homeless. According to Katlynn Combs, program director at Family Promise Rochester, the primary cause of homelessness of families they’ve had at the shelter in 2023 is lack of affordable housing. 

“The majority of our families in our shelter have jobs, sometimes even two jobs, but affordable housing in Rochester is limited. You would have to work more than 40 hours a week making minimum wage to be able to afford an apartment in Rochester.”  

Katlynn Combs

Program Director

Family Promise Rochester

“Unfortunately we too often fight poor people instead of fighting poverty. If we accept that struggling isn’t just a consequence of bad choices, it can be scary to realize many of us are one bad situation from being in poverty and possibly homeless ourselves. We need to recognize homelessness and poverty as a systemic issue if we want to truly make a difference for those left out of the sunshine of opportunity. There is too much talent trapped in shelters and living in cars. Solving that requires accepting the fact that poverty is a circumstance, not a character flaw.” 

Chad Dull

CEO

Poverty Informed Practice

Thank you to the following organizations that provided information for this piece. There is a way for everyone to help fight poverty. Visit their websites to find out how to help. 

Family Promise has three bedrooms for families experiencing homelessness. They provide case management, shelter, meals and education for up to four months for families. To learn more about them go to www.fprochestermn.org

The Dorothy Day house has 23 shelter beds for those experiencing homelessness. Clients can be at the shelter from 4 p.m. to 9 a.m. for up to 14 days at a time. The house provides showers, shelter and meals during those hours. To learn more go to http://dorothydayrochestermn.org/index.html

The Landing MN provides space for individuals to go during the day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. They have on-site social workers and twice a week general health care. Clients will receive food and meals during their open hours. To learn more please go to https://www.thelandingmn.org/

The Women’s Shelter provides advocacy, support and shelter to individuals and families experiencing domestic violence. https://www.womens-shelter.org/

The Warming Center (Catholic Charities) The Rochester Community Warming Center (RCWC) provides emergency shelter for Rochester, Minnesota, area adults, 18 and older, experiencing homelessness. They are open between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. and have 45 beds available. 

The Salvation Army provides a day center for anyone in need from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Lunch is provided daily, along with a food shelf twice a week, emergency assistance, apartments and health care. To learn more please go to https://www.rochestersa.org/

Echo Center The ECHO Center is staffed with members of the Housing Stability Team and is open during Olmsted County government office hours, Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The ECHO Center provides a location for people who are struggling with housing to connect with the resources available to them. https://www.olmstedcounty.gov/residents/services-individuals-families/housing/homelessness/echo-center

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