I spent this past weekend in downtown Chicago. Like many large cities, I was frequently approached by people who appeared to be homeless. They’d ask me for a dollar, a cigarette, or to let them shine my shoes.
It was the shoe shine guy that stood out the most. He was well spoken and had a great 30-second elevator pitch. He almost had me. If I didn’t have canvas shoes on I probably would have let him give it a try.
I told him I’d buy him lunch if he would just talk to me for a few minutes.
I asked him where he lives and he pointed over to a concrete bench across the street from the Congress Hotel. I said, “You live over there, like that’s your bed?”
He shook his head to say yes.
I asked him if that’s where he chooses to live or if he thinks he will have a roof over his head anytime soon. He said he used to have an apartment but he had a drinking problem and couldn’t hold down employment.
I asked him if he still had a drinking problem and he said now that he doesn’t have a job his drinking isn’t a problem.
I replied, “But not having a job means you have to sleep on a concrete bench.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
I said, “You seem like a smart guy, why don’t you go into a staffing agency and see if they’ll help you out? You’re certainly a decent salesperson.”
He laughed and said that they would never talk to him — that they would simply kick him out because of his body odor. I let him know that the hotel I was staying in had public restrooms that he could use to wash up. It’s not classy, but you do what you have to do.
Then he said that they wouldn’t talk to him because he hasn’t had a job in a couple years. I told him that some staffing firms — especially day labor facilities — don’t always care where he lives or what his past is as long as he shows that now he can be a good worker every day.
He said, “Yeah, maybe. I guess I could give it a try.”
Then he said something that made me feel a little sad. He said that on some days he can make between $50-100 per day panhandling. Compare that to $10/hr for hard labor and you can see how panhandling could be considered by some to be a preferred career. And it’s tax free, he said.
Then I gave him $20 and thanked him for his time. He was very happy — but I will never know what actually happened to that $20.
Many years ago I was between jobs, on the verge of eviction. I walked into a staffing company for the first time in my life. I told the staffing specialist that I would take anything. I just needed any job I could get to stay in my apartment.
She had me working within two days, literally rescuing me from potential homelessness. This is one of the main reasons why I believe so strongly in the staffing industry today.
But this conversation had me really thinking. What is your staffing firm’s policy on hiring homeless people? Have you ever hired a homeless person? Did it work out? Did you regret it? How did it all eventually end up?
Please leave your story in the comments below.