A Job Means Dignity, Even If You're Homeless

09/08/2011 11:19 am ET | Updated Nov 08, 2011

Everyone is talking about jobs, from Steve Jobs resigning from Apple to the dearth of jobs last month.

The end of the summer, Labor Day weekend season results in political leaders touting their employment success or promoting some sort of new jobs program because of declining employment numbers. This year is no different.

Unemployment in this country usually conjures up images of out-of-work automakers or laid off teachers. People like you and me who have worked most of our lives, but because of a downturn in the economy are receiving pink slips instead of paychecks.

We sometimes forget that the 9.1 percent unemployment rate in this country also includes people who are homeless.

In recent years, the solution to ending homelessness has become all about housing -- experts call this "Housing First." Give a homeless neighbor a home first, and then let him or her work on the personal issues that caused his or her homelessness. This certainly works for those people who struggle with chronic homelessness, people who have been on the streets for years grappling with some sort of chronic health condition.

But giving a person a free house, alone, does not always instill a sense of personal dignity. Certainly, if a person is so debilitated by a physical or mental health condition that employment is just out of the question, providing a home, rent-free, is a compassionate response by a society that embraces justice.

Housing is the solution to chronic homelessness. But let's not forget the fact that chronic joblessness also persists on America's homeless streets.

I was raised in a family that embraced the notion that working for a living was part of the American dream. The goal of part-time jobs as a teenager and more than a decade of education was to obtain full-time employment that would lead to the ability to afford housing, food on the table, and a lifestyle beyond poverty.

For people who have fallen into homelessness, this inability to work toward a self-sufficient, dignified lifestyle is beyond their reach. Chronic joblessness can handcuff a person into chronic homelessness indefinitely.

If this country is serious about putting its citizens back to work, we need to also include our homeless neighbors in any proposed jobs program.

Providing tax credits to companies who hire persons who are homeless is a good start. Providing serious job training that is linked to full-time jobs is even better. How about for every person who receives federally-funded subsidized rental assistance, they also receive subsidized job training? How about small business loans to start-up companies that employ homeless persons? The ideas are limitless.

Employment is the solution to chronic joblessness.

There are too many homeless Americans who are like Job, in the Bible, who lost everything -- his family, his wealth, and his health. For these homeless neighbors like Job, they need a home, and for those who are able, they need a job.