By Avrum Rosensweig

A highly intelligent man I know, who has experienced homelessness and near homelessness for many years, has not worked steadily in a long time. And here’s the thing: when he did work, he was a superstar in his industry making a decent living.  

So, what happened? Why do so many people we meet on the street not work?  


Well, in this fellow’s case, he rose through the ranks without having a strong inner compass. He came from a very abusive home so when he reached the apex of his career, and failure started to rear its head, my buddy fell apart. He had no parents to ask for advice. No mentors. He was alone in his stress and was unable to get help.  

Things spiraled downward. His wife left him. He lost custody of his children and was thrown out of his house. My friend became depressed and began sleeping in a bank foyer and on park benches. He was constantly tired and stressed. At night, all he thought of was protecting his stuff from bad guys and thieves. Such a lifestyle was not conducive to employment, as you might imagine.

On top of that, homelessness is not conducive to personal hygiene. My friend couldn’t shave in the morning or dress appropriately for work. Colleagues began to notice. Embarrassment set in, as did illness. His depression got worse. And then he became absent more and more and more. He just couldn’t hide the cracks any longer. Guess what? He was fired.


While that may be true, doing interviews became impossible for my buddy. They were because this poor fellow couldn’t smile. He didn’t have the wherewithal to fit in any longer with others, let alone do eight hours of work, five days a week. He was humiliated and his confidence crashed.

Consider, there are many individuals out there who have it even worse. First off, they: a) are hungry, therefore weak, therefore get tired easily; b) don’t have an education and therefore, their opportunities are limited; b) likely don’t have a resume. If they do, the gaps on their resume may be difficult and embarrassing to explain; c) don’t have, identification, an address or a bank account. Try to get a job without one of those; d) have a child and can’t afford day-care. Securing a job if you are homeless can be next to impossible.

(Considering all these barriers, what’s surprising is the individuals who work despite experiencing homelessness. There are people living in shelters in Toronto who get up every day to go to a job; they just cannot afford a place to live. According to the Toronto Street Needs Assessment, 5% of people who are experiencing homelessness have full-time jobs; 7% have part-time jobs or casual work and 4% have informal work.)

If one does get a job, keeping it becomes an issue. So next time you hear someone ask: “WHY CAN’T THEY GET A JOB?” consider that living on the street is survival at a very basic level. It consumes a person’s life when the elements are their walls, and a scrap of half eaten food out of a trashcan is their nutrition. Simply put, we do not all have the same blessings, chances or tools to make life work for us.  

What you can do to help:

Donate to Ve’ahavta and help us continue to offer programs and support for those experiencing homelessness in Toronto.




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