Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Teach How to Fish Revisited

Probably the most popular blog post here is the article by Pam Wilson of Operation Mercy about the phrase "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."  It's a great article you can read here if you like.

Even though I have a lot of questions about this proverb, people have been quoting it a lot to me lately.  A friend of mine recently posted on my Facebook page, "We need to teach the homeless how to fish."  This is a summary statement, which really means, "We need to train the homeless so they can get jobs."   Getting the homeless work is essential, no question. Labor is a big issue among the homeless, especially with the increased competition as many people are losing jobs.

But do the homeless need to be retrained?  Sure, some could benefit from some training.  But frankly, almost all of the homeless have skills that could be used in jobs today.  I know mechanics, landscapers, carpenters, roofers, painters, bike mechanics, general handymen, and many other occupations.  These are jobs that need to be done and there is a lot of work for this kind of work.  Perhaps having regular work this way takes some time, but our folks are ready to build up a clientele.  They've got time and aren't in a hurry.  But they'd like work.  Today, if possible.

So why don't they work?  Because no one will hire a homeless person.  Employers are looking for people who are already settled.  They don't want to hire someone who might be difficult.  Even people looking for work for a day are nervous about hiring a homeless person to do work.  Or perhaps they think that a homeless person would do shoddy work.

Let's face it, the homeless don't need to "learn to fish." They need to be given a chance.  They need to be given jobs, or at least some day labor.  

If you have ever even thought about a homeless person, "That person needs to get a job," then stop and reprimand yourself for your hypocrisy unless you have hired and paid a homeless person for work. Do you want to have a church ministry? Hire the homeless to care for your church property, even if only for a day.

Don't know where to find homeless people to hire to do work for you?  If you are in the Portland area, contact me.  I'll get you a worker.  They can clean your house.  They can clean up your yard.  They can repair.  They can build wood tables.  Don't think that the homeless are inadequate.  Most of them aren't.  They just need a chance.  And maybe a little patience.

1 comment:

Michael M. said...

Hello. My name is Michael. I'm homeless. I'm very skilled in many areas. I understand the issues brought up in this post. I differ, somewhat, in my assessment and prescription of the problem, however. It's true that people are reluctant about hiring the homeless. I'm a case in point. I can't even find a place to live, even though I can pay modest rent for a room. I'm an ex-schoolteacher, a brain-based learning/behavior change specialist (NLP Practitioner/hypnotherapist), a computer repair systems technician, and... well.. just figure I can organize, manage and fix just about anything. And... I couldn't get a job in this economy if I paid you to hire me. The core of the problem you are writing about isn't whether anyone will give someone, homeless or otherwise, a job to do. No one will give you anything, even a chance. A job has to be won in competition with others. You must sell your services to the person who wants the work done. It comes down to whether the person's criteria are met for hiring the people you represent. With respect to the jobs you say they can do, these criteria would be some/all/and more of the following: belief in the ability of the person to do the job properly, safely, without any personal risk and with the understanding that if something goes wrong, it will get fixed without question or hassle.
A homeless person can rarely satisfy the above criteria, since most require that some organization take the responsibility to certify that the job will go well. This is why most work is contracted from a company. The company stands behind the worker so the customer can feel secure. This is the solution, and the path for growth for the homeless. They have to begin to see themselves as a tribe, not as individuals. As a group of cooperating, connected and mutually supportive individuals, they can market themselves the same as any other in society and, additionally have the ability to qualify for formal organization and insurance, which will give them access to a growth path far beyond their present state.
There is more, but this is the beginning. Instead of expecting society to give us a hand here and there, now and then, we need to start seeing ourselves as a community and get organized. Then we can compete with anyone for work, for a life with a future, for the satisfaction and self respect that doing good work will bring us. -Michael