First Person Account: Homeless and Looking for Work

Chris Hazen
www.street-papers.org
Denver Voice

You will never know how strong you are until you become homeless. Serious adversity challenges you to an extent that you whole being excels. You will get sick on the streets. I don’t mean a cold or a sniffle. I mean a lung infection that drags on for weeks. A lung infection that rises from your lungs into your ears and makes you head feel like as if it were sculpted out of concrete. You go to a doctor who flatly refuses to treat you because you are homeless!

You keep moving, trying to find work while every step costs you valuable energy. You go to interviews barely able to hear because your ears are blocked with mucus. You try not to look desperate at the interview, but you really need this job… any job. You know you can do the job. The interviewer reviews your application.

Quickly you know you made a critical mistake. You put the address of the shelter on your application. You are told that at this time they no longer are hiring. You know your mistake. You can’t take it back. You go back out into the freezing cold.

You have no money for the bus to get back to the shelter. It is an eight-mile walk. You have three hours. If you don’t make it back, you are going to spend the night out in the cold. This is the reality of being homeless. It is a long walk when there is really no one at the end of you walk to comfort you. There is no hot chocolate, no ginger ale with toast and all its healing properties waiting for you at the end.

But you go on, thinking that tomorrow you will go to another interview. You won’t give them the address to the shelter. But what address do I give them? How will you get there? Your feet are blistered and cold. You try and pick up the pace. Luckily it is all downhill. You fall a couple of times. The falls seem to hurt more in the cold. It’s getting dark.

The next morning you get up and are told that your time is running out at the shelter. You have to find a job or get out in the next two weeks. You go to a church to see if they could help you to get a bus pass to your next interview. Transportation is always an issue. They agree, but they want to call the company where I would be interviewing to verify that I am actually going to the interview. You politely refuse and say, “thank you.” You say to yourself, “I am an adult trying to find a job. If they call the company to verify my interview time, I definitely don’t have the slightest chance in Hell of getting the job.”

You start the long six-mile trek up the hill. Why can’t the sun come out? Why don’t my boots keep me warm? I’m hungry. Then you start to talk to yourself, readying yourself for another interview. You pray a little along the way, bargaining with God. You really want to hear a voice call down from Heaven and tell you that everything is going to work out.

You get to the interview early. You can’t go in 45 minutes early. It’s cold! “Where can I wait?” you ask yourself. One dollar and eight cents is the fortune you have in your pocket. It can’t buy a bus ticket, but it can get you a small coffee. You go into the diner. You get the coffee. It feels so wonderful in your cold hand. The waitress is kind; knowing that you are homeless and poorly dressed, and offers you a doughnut. You refuse, and thank her. Your pride got in the way, but you really appreciated that she offered you the doughnut. It felt good, but your pride was still as strong as ever. You do not want anything given to you … you want to work!

You leave the diner and get to the interview 10 minutes early. You look around the room. Everyone in the room was at least 20 years younger than you are. You wait. And wait. After two hours, a lady comes and introduces herself as your interviewer. She looks you up and down. She seems to focus on the grey in your hair, but maybe you are being self-conscience. Your suspicions quickly turn into reality.

The third question she asks is, “Why at this juncture in your life are you choosing to change professions?” It seemed like a somewhat loaded question. You knew you were not going to get the job at that moment. Before you can start to answer the question, the interviewer tells you that, “At this time we are not looking for someone with your experience, but we will keep you application on file if a future job should come available that better suit your qualifications.”

It is still early in the day. You have a long walk ahead of you. The sun is starting to warm your back. You start the long trek, again, down the hill. A few tears stream down your cheeks. You stop to blow your nose. You are angry and upset at the same time. You continue on down the hill. You cross the big bridge. You feel alone.

You trudge along hoping that tomorrow will be the day that someone will say, “Yes,” and you can finally get back to work. It seems like a long road so far. Forty-three applications filled out this month. Three interviews. Three rejections. Many emails.

Finally you reach the soup kitchen. The line is short. You ate something that filled you up. You were happy. You were thankful that for a moment someone had thought enough about you to cook you a meal. They don’t know your name, but they were up early planning this meal just for you. If they can get up and prepare a meal for someone they don’t know, you can certainly push forward no matter how many people say, “No.”

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