Guest Blogger: Taylar McCoy, Our Front Porch 2017-2018 Intern
As a child, I remember riding in the back of a friend’s parent’s car on a brisk day where our breath fogged up the windows. We were driving through the heart of the city in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As we were covered in goosebumps, we pulled up to a red light where we saw a woman with a cardboard sign. After reading the sign describing her situation, and her two kids, my friend’s dad proceeded to say “why can’t she just go get a job like the rest of us? There’s no excuse to be homeless.” We drove past the woman and didn’t give her a second glance. As I grew up in the more rural outskirts of the city, I tended to start to share a similar mentality. I would often think about how if I see “now hiring” signs in windows everywhere, why are there so many homeless people?
As I was growing up, I realized that not every situation is black and white and that there are a lot of extenuating circumstances that need to be taken into account. I started working with the homeless population while I was in high school during my senior project, and continued to work with displaced people in the communities surrounding my undergraduate university. At this point, I thought that I had an understanding of how people are affected by homelessness, and how difficult it is to bounce back from the situation.
Until working with Our Front Porch, I had no idea just how difficult it is to become totally stable after living in that type of unstable environment. For example, it is especially difficult if you have a child. It isn’t realistic to just “go get a job” when you are homeless. Everything is intertwined and difficult to navigate when you are homeless, especially because a lot of homeless people are in a state of crisis and have trouble making a timeline or a plan to achieve their goals. For example:
1.) Before anything else, you have to find some type of housing or shelter. If you are lucky enough to get placed in a family shelter, such as a Salvation Army, you must learn the rules for living there. The first piece to remember is that your child/children cannot be left there alone.
2.) In order to start interviewing for jobs, you have to find an organization where you can get interviewing clothing, and possibly some outfits for your potential job. These programs usually only take referrals, so you have to get in contact with them and hope that they are able to make you an appointment.
3.) If you secure a full-time position, which is most certainly needed to help pull you out of poverty and homelessness, that leads to some more complications. If you are a single parent living in a shelter with your two children, you need to find a way to get the kids picked up from school and need a daycare center that will look after them until you arrive home from work. The children can’t stay in the shelter alone, and you leave work to pick them up from school. Since you just got hired, you have no way to pay for childcare. Now, you have to apply for a program (like CCAP in Denver) where they will use a portion of your paycheck for the childcare you need. If you are accepted, you must find a daycare that will take all of your children. This is very difficult if you have kids at different age group levels, such as a 4-year-old and a 12-year-old.
4.) Now you have childcare, a job, and a few outfits to work in. You are able to work for a few months at this point, but there are no savings. Where does all of the money go from your new job position? Well, you are buying food for your children to hold them over until a meal is served in the shelter. You buy a cheap car in order to get to work and pick up the kids without needing to ride an extra hour on the bus. Unfortunately, that cheap car needs a lot of work and you have to pay for repairs next. It’s Christmas time, and you have to buy toys for your kids because you feel bad that they are living in a shelter. The kids really deserve the toys, and you want them to be able to tell their friends what they received from Santa. At this point, you need to buy some more clothing for work because you have been working there for 2.5 months with only three professional outfits that you have been rotating. The kids get sick and need doctors’ appointments and prescription medications. At this point, you don’t have any money saved because there are so many things that you have been purchasing to keep the family afloat. You are still living in a shelter, and have no savings yet.
Searching for housing, looking for a job, trying to support your family and kids – all while trying to save a little bit of money in case you ever have endure something like this again in the future. And unfortunately, it doesn’t end there.
~Taylar McCoy, Our Front Porch 2017-2018 Intern