Safe At Home? Be Grateful

I did a fair bit of driving this weekend. Saturday it was the trip from Lindsay to Toronto and home again, then Sunday the drive from Lindsay to Mississauga and back again. As I made the final turn onto our Crescent both evenings, the Christmas lights on the front lawn and house itself brought me a measure of both happiness and relief; we were home.

Home is sanctuary; the place with which within I am calm, protected and at peace. It’s where I recharge, relax, settle back with a blanket and at this time of year, enjoy the festive decorations, the Christmas tree, and perhaps a cup of tea. Yes, every time I make that last turn in the road and ascend the hill to our home, the promise of such sanctuary awaits me.

I imagine many of you might have similar feelings as you travel home from both near and far, whether it’s a house, condominium or apartment you return to. Once inside, it’s your space; your private sanctuary from everything beyond your door.

Of course it’s not the case for everyone. I can’t truly imagine what it must be like to live without that promise of a safe and secure place to take my rest at the end of a day. When temperatures outside are below zero degrees Celsius, not only does being homeless rob a person of much of their physical energy, it has to be incredibly taxing on the mind to constantly have to focus on finding a place to spend the night. Can you picture having to spend much of your day scrounging for shelter and then when you wake up the following day from a restless sleep, you have to move on and repeat the same process; wondering again where your head will rest that night?

Now were it you or I, we likely believe we wouldn’t be in such a predicament long. We’d likely use our resources acquired over time, including our interpersonal skills to locate and secure some place of safety and warmth. We’d turn quickly to finding work, then use our earned money to rent a place and begin to improve our lot.

The difference I suppose though is were we truly homeless, the mind that we rely and trust to make good decisions each day would be adversely affected. The mental strain upon us is not something I believe we would be prepared for. The lack of a place to shower and clean ourselves would be an eye opener, then even if we had such a basic resource, how upset would we be putting on the same garments, unwashed themselves and thus carry with us the grime, the odour? Without money, how would we feed ourselves? How might the quality of the food we do consume when we find it differ from what we eat now?

You and I, we not be rich, but we are rich by comparison. We can not only close our doors to the world each night, we sleep in comfortable beds, we eat without having to guard our plates; when thirsty we find options in our fridges. We don clean clothes each day, we snuggle in against the bitter cold, raise a thermostat if we so choose. Lucky? Well, yes I suppose we are.

Now yes, we do make our own luck I’ll affirm, but what we make our luck with is an educated mind. We have had resources our entire lives some never will have. If you grew up with a mother and father, lived in a house, had three meals a day and went to school, you likely took much of that for granted. As a child,  perhaps this is how you believed we all started out. Not so. If you’ve never had to visit a foodbank other than to drop off a donation, or never had to leave some items at the checkout because you haven’t got enough money to pay for them, you’re lucky indeed.

The nights are dark and cold, the daylight shorter at this time of year in my part of the world where winter is upon us. The streets are often slushy, which makes it trickier to walk for some in heels and harder still to push those shopping carts and buggies with worldly possessions in them for others.

If you think the simple solution is to get a job and be self-supporting, think of what herculean effort that must take. A homeless person has to concentrate on where to sleep, where to eat. They have few items to improve their personal hygiene and fewer to clean and maintain the cleanliness of their clothes. They are often shunned for their appearance, their smell, their cleanliness and much of the time lack personal identification such as birth certificates, health cards and social insurance numbers.

Luxuries are things like haircuts, dental visits, prescription glasses, non-processed foods, undamaged fruits and vegetables. Families are typically dysfunctional, relationships hard to establish and harder still to maintain. Without an address, services are hard to get, being always on the move, they have no sanctuary at the close of a day, sleeping with one eye open out of fear until absolutely exhausted.

Enjoy your home as do I, but be benevolent when you can. Consider a donation, be it a used article of warmth, food, toiletries, or your time. Be grateful, be humble.

Hey Google! Hey Micosoft! A Fix Please

Last week I discovered that Google and Microsoft have changed their requirements for creating an email address. They now insist on a user to include their phone number or a secondary email address. So if you have no other email to add and cannot afford the luxury of a cell phone, you effectively cannot create an email. In short, Google and Microsoft would appear to be excluding the poor from communicating digitally in 2019.

As an Employment Counsellor working with those in receipt of social assistance, I find myself instructing 12 recipients in the basics of computers. One of the key reasons we include such a course where I work is to empower these people with email so they can communicate for both pleasure and professionally. As most of you know, employer’s are insisting potential applicants apply online for the jobs they need to fill, thus learning to use the computer to construct resumes and apply online is critically important.

So imagine my surprise when I had all 12 create a professional address and we couldn’t circumnavigate the phone number requirement. I mean yes, I could have had them put in my work email, but then I’d either have to be the one to get verification emails moving forward on their behalf, or then show them how to change the email to a secondary one later on, overly complicating what should be a simple process.

Listen up Google; listen up Microsoft: not all the poor can afford cell phones. Your new policies are effectively denying them access to what is now a basic communication tool. I’m hoping your intent was good and just not well thought out.

This weekend I felt it ironic as I googled, ‘make an email without a phone’. The solution it gave me was to use Google Chrome and go incognito mode (this is great for those experiencing paranoia by the way) then bypass the phone field and lie about one’s age making the person under 15 years old. Apparently the big boys assume 15 and under users don’t have their own cell phones. Today all the people in my class are going to revert back to being young teens. But should we have to do this?

Now of course I’ll have to tell the people I’m teaching that in order to recover any lost email access, they’ll have to remember this fictitious date of birth too. When they write down their password and email, now they’ll also need to record their made up date of birth. I think algorithms are going to be skewed in the future when more and more people say they were born on January 1 2006. Hey, am I becoming a hacker? No, not in the sense I’m trying to sabotage a system. I’m just trying to work around a problem; a problem that shouldn’t exist.

So Microsoft and Google, I’m hoping my readers pass on my blog today to their own audiences until it reaches your attention and you address this problem of your making.

I’m open to being wrong on this one too. As I stood in the classroom with 12 people looking at me as the computer instructor – oh and with a College placement student equally lost and frustrated at trying to get a workaround on the spot, maybe I missed something. I didn’t though. The phone field is mandatory unless you have a secondary email. Someone learning how to use the computer for the first time who taps the keys with one finger and takes an introduction to computers class just doesn’t have a secondary email though.

So, on behalf of the poor, I’m advocating for you two as leaders in the tech world to get it right. Which one of you – Google or Microsoft – will amend it first and get it right?

Those living in poverty often can’t afford cell phone plans on top of paying rent, buying food and getting around. Those that do have phones often have no time on their phones or very little on their data plans. Most don’t have personal computers or laptops and those that do often can’t afford the internet. So they resort to libraries, community resource centres and the generosity of friends when they do go online.

To reach financial independence and break free of poverty, they need jobs. To get a job, one must apply online, do internet research, attach a resume to an email; you get the point. This digital world we live in has to include everyone. Most of us who are computer literate don’t fully appreciate how fortunate we are to have these basic skills. We take for granted the ability to go online, email and have conversations with distant family and friends.

Like I said, educate me and inform me of my misinterpretation of your phone/previous email requirements. How does one without either actually create an email and join in on the digital world?

This isn’t about me shaming anyone, but it is about calling you out on this practice and asking you politely to be accountable. LOVE to get not just an explanation of your motives, but rather a drop in the mandatory phone field. Get back to making it optional.

Until resolved, there’s going to be a lot of 15 year old and younger new users, suddenly exploding onto the digital world.

The impoverished already feel marginalized and excluded, and Google and Microsoft…for all your billions of dollars, you’re both better than that.

Refurbished, Low-Cost Computers. THANK YOU!

Like it or not, needing a computer to apply for jobs these days is essential. So when you live in poverty and struggle just to pay for a roof over your head and put food in your stomach, you can be at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to applying for work.

Without a computer, those on social assistance and living below the poverty line are restricted to finding locations in the community where they can use them free of charge. Public libraries are a good example where a person can go and often find one to use, however in many cases their use is restricted to an hour at a time. If you’ve been actively job searching at all in recent times, you’ll know that an hour flies by quickly. In that brief time you’ve got to log on, find a job search website, scan job boards for the right job, pick out the key qualifications and responsibilities, overhaul or tweak an existing resume and then write a targeted cover letter to match. After all of this, there may be a username and password to create as part of a profile on a company website, then upload your résumé and cover letter, answer a number of questions as part of the application and then finally click on the, ‘submit’ or ‘apply’ button. Try doing all that unaided within an hour, especially if you only use one or two fingers to key in all that information!

The other major drawback of walking into a library to do your independent job search is that you won’t find an Employment Counsellor or Coach to sit down with you and help navigate all that technology. Nor will you find help to proofread your documents, help you answer some of those questions you don’t entirely understand or sit down with you for more than a few seconds. This isn’t a knock against library staff, it’s just a statement of fact. To be fair, this isn’t their job, and even if they had the skills, they don’t have the time to give to each person coming in. The library is an excellent place to sit quietly and do an independent job search if you know exactly what you’re doing and have all the required to skills to job search using their computer.

The better alternative is dropping in to a community employment agency. Many of these resource centres have computers with internet access just like the libraries, but they are staffed by people who will sit down with you and support your job search. These folks are employment specialists with various titles, and they’ve got the skills to help with your online applications. Some are better than others just as in any field of work, and you may find you get the help you’re after at one over another. The synergy, or connection you make with an person or a collective group of people is important to feeling welcomed, getting served as you’d like and so trying out a few places is a good idea.

There’s one key drawback to using a computer outside your own home however, and it doesn’t matter if you’re at the library or an Employment Resource Centre. You are of course limited to dropping in during their working hours. This is a problem for a couple of reasons; your schedule might not jive with that of these facilities, and if you find a job you really want to apply to and today is the deadline, it might be you became aware of it after hours and your lost without your own personal computer to use.

I am so grateful to those organizations who when upgrading their employee computers, give their older models for refurbishing and distributing to the poor and disadvantaged. When a personal computer or laptop makes its way into such a person’s hands, you do so much more than just give them a computer. A recipient gains some independence, they now have a tool that somewhat levels the playing field and gives them a better shot at applying for jobs, and if they have children in the family, those children now have the resource in their homes to do their school homework.

If you’re living in poverty, you might not know about such resources. It would be a conversation worth having with a few social services organizations in your community to find out if such a resource exists. Essentially, companies donate their old technology which in turn gets wiped clean and often comes with a word processing application such as MS Word on it to help a person get going. These computers are refurbished (overhauled) and made available to the poor who otherwise couldn’t afford them. The only cost to such people would be paying for internet services and perhaps a shipping fee if they can’t get to where they are available.

If you’ve used a computer and have had the internet for what seems like forever, don’t take it for granted it exists for everyone. There are many places around the world where it doesn’t exist – and I’m talking 1st world countries here. Some rural communities in Canada and North America still haven’t got full internet connections; some that do have slower, less reliable connections. A personal computer is a must when you live on some isolated property, 28 kilometers from a town, you’ve no transportation and you want to work!


Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs And The Hotdog Guy

“I don’t know why the City doesn’t do something about them. They just lie there all month until their welfare cheques come. Just get a job!”

The above words were spoken to me only yesterday around noon as I chatted with a hotdog vendor while out on a walk. He was referring to the 4 or 5 people who have taken to occupying a patch of grass on the fringes of a public trail adjoining a downtown mall and parking lot. I’ve noticed them too; one or two sound asleep while a few others sit and chat watching over them and out for them.

The hotdog vendor operates about 5 feet away from them, and while we were there one of the guys came over and gave him the $3.50 for a hotdog. Interesting to hear how the topic changed immediately as he took the change and threw a hotdog on the grill.

I suppose many people see panhandlers and people living rough and feel the same feelings as the hotdog guy. “Just get a job!” But it’s far from that simple. To test that out, I actually asked him when the guy buying the hotdog had walked away, “Would you hire one of them yourself?” and he said, “No way! Nada! Never! Shiftless layabouts.”

That’s probably the case with a lot of others too; they want these people working and contributing and not taking from the tax base, but at the same time they don’t want to be the employer taking them on. Why? Presumably they come with a lot of headaches; reliability, trustworthiness, mental health problems and low motivation.

To an entrepreneur like my hotdog vendor, they are the epitome of everything he’s not. He’s self-reliant, having no one else to rely on to make his income. He can’t just walk away from the job on his lunch, and if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid – no sick days or paid vacations.

Way back in my College days I recall Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  Does that ring a bell? You know, the pyramid with basic physiological needs at the bottom and way up at the top you’d find self-actualization; things like creativity, problem-solving and these just above self-esteem. Here’s your living proof of that pyramid. The hotdog guy expects people to just get up off the grass and function at the top of that pyramid and is angry and frustrated that the system doesn’t punish them for anything less by withholding their money. I suppose he sees that money as his money via his tax contributions.

Before a person can go out and find work they’ll be able to keep, certain things have to be in place. Those basic needs of Maslow’s like food, water and sleep. When you don’t know where you’re next meal is coming from, when it’s coming, where you can sleep in safety for example, a job is hardly your first priority. I know of course that the hotdog guy would argue that the income from a job would provide food and water plus a secure place to live. This is the chicken or the egg problem though, and we’d come down on opposite sides of what needs to happen first.

Without a secure place to live, there’s no income for luxuries like a razor for a shave, and where on earth would a person secure any personal possessions when they have no safe storage place? Moving from area to area around town to avoid charges of loitering and worse, where are they to keep their personal ID? ID that’s needed for so many things we take for granted in society.

If you look up an image of Maslow’s Hierarchy, you’ll find employment and the safety it brings to a person is just above the basic physiological needs. It doesn’t seem like much is need to make it to level 2. Get your food and water, air to breathe and you’re on to stage 2. So if it’s that simple, why are people stuck forever in some cases at stage 1? That answer would take more time than I’ve got here to share.

Recall a time when you were stressed about something and couldn’t turn off your thoughts; that sleepless night worrying over something. If you’ve had a time like this that went on for a few days, your performance at work might have slipped a bit, you may have reduced your social calendar until you felt better, and while you were out of sorts, you probably did your best to work things out. Eventually, you did get out of that bad place, your mood improved and you carried on.

Now magnify that if you will. Imagine multiple problems; anxiety, low self-worth, family dysfunction, vulnerable relationships, poor resolution skills, unable to multi-task, hygiene issues, homelessness, judgement from others, financial dependence, chronic sleeplessness, no family doctor, poor social supports (being others in the same predicament), poor nutrition, lack of shelter, clean clothes, good footwear. Can you picture one person with these issues? What if that person were you? Got that image? Okay, now go get a job.

This piece is going to end without a nice solution. Societies have been struggling to resolve this very problem for thousands of years and have different models of trying to do so. Until they do, some compassion and understanding at the least would be nice if we’re unable to truly empathize at best.

Gratitude For That Which We Receive

How grateful are you for the things you receive and I believe more importantly, the people you interact with that put them into your hands? Here’s a brief tale of two men with whom I had a short interaction with yesterday; both of whom reminded me to be grateful to others but for different reasons.

I found myself covering the mid-morning break of a colleague in our drop-in Employment Resource Centre; a place exclusively reserved for those in receipt of social assistance; welfare or disability support. Here those in receipt of either can come in and either work independently or receive support for the asking with respect to looking for housing, jobs, general advice, community resources or maybe just have someone listen. For some it’s their outing of the day; time to be surrounded by others and connect.

At the start of the day I had gathered a number of winter clothing items such as scarves, hats, gloves, throws and socks; all new and newly arrived. I brought them there for my colleagues to get into the hands of those that need them – free for the asking and the taking. So there I was when one gentleman approached me and asked if he might be allowed to have a pair of socks.

“Absolutely” I replied. The fellow was grateful, expressed his thanks and said that these made his day. There were two pair actually in the bundle and being winter socks for the outdoors, they are thick, warm and the kind I myself wouldn’t mind finding under my own tree this Christmas. It struck me how much happiness he visibly showed on his face; again the gratitude he expressed and the words, “Thank you”.

As he was standing there before me, there was a second fellow within earshot of this brief conversation and I suspected that a similar transaction was about to occur. Sure enough, when the first man turned and left, the second stepped up.

“I’ll have a pair of socks. What else you got?” Quite a different tone in the voice, a change in approach from a request and gratefulness to a statement of fact and entitlement. Now less you feel I’m being judgemental and that I don’t understand or know the second man’s background, upbringing or the harshness he experiences day to day, I’ve worked long enough in the field to comprehend and ‘get’ that at both an intellectual and experiential level.

What I’m sharing is the two approaches and the impact of both on me as the common denominator; the receiver of both their messages. While my reaction may not be your reaction, the approach they each made is what I draw your attention to.

When I gave the second man the new socks he put moved them from the outstretched hand to the other and then extended his hand a second time waiting to receive more. In response to his question about what other items I had available, I asked him what he needed pointing out gloves, hats,  throws and scarves. I then asked, “Would you like a scarf?” “Give me gloves” he answered.

So I gave him a pair of gloves which he tried on and I asked if they fit him okay or whether he needed a larger size. The next words he answered were, “Got any hoodies or shirts?” Now I didn’t have either item he asked for and after saying so he took one final look and walked out of the building without another word. No thanks whatsoever.

Now you make what you want from this encounter and contrast it as you wish or not with the earlier one just moments before with the first fellow. You nor I know the circumstances which these two gentlemen exist in. We don’t know their past upbringing, how easy or tough their lives have been to this point. We don’t know if they learned about please and thank you, and we certainly don’t know… well…we just don’t have much information to go on beyond the information I’ve shared.

The items don’t come with strings attached; there is no requirement to say thank you. At other times when I’m in the area myself for the day, I typically put a few items at a time out for people to hep themselves; most do turn and ask just the same if they can help themselves and say then say thank you, others don’t.

I was raised to say please, to ask before taking and to express my thanks when I received something. I know that this is largely why I was struck with the difference in the two encounters. The need may be exactly the same for each fellow, or even greater for the second. Does it matter?

If you donate new items to those less fortunate, I’d like you to know that whether they say it or not, your generosity matters; goods end up in the hands of those that need them. They are glad to have them when the biting winds blow and the temperatures drop and gratitude may not hit them until they are huddled up against a wall up against a howling wind on a dark winter’s eve.

Maybe there’s a lesson here for me and for you to show our own gratitude in those we deal with be it Cashiers, the Newspaper Carrier etc. See if it doesn’t make a difference.

Think You Can’t Help The Poor? Yes You Can

Let’s face facts okay? Some of us are socially conscious and empathetic to the plight of those in need and others (I’m hoping a small percentage) wish the poor would just disappear completely from view.

One of the things I’ve come to understand and realize is that as we age, Life has a way of changing the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and we get multiple opportunities to change our outlook. Eventually, many people shift their opinions away from their previous held viewpoints, and adopt new ways of thinking; it’s called growing and maturing. Not everyone changes their attitude or outlook of course, but I can bet that most people as they grow, think differently on many subjects as they spend more time on the planet and interact with people on it.

So, the poor. Well, they’re not invisible; you can spot them on the streets in cities, you can see them at food banks, cooling centres on days when there are heat alerts. You can see them hanging around shelters, rooming houses, lining up for jobs outside temporary agencies, in discount stores, cheque-cashing outlets, and sometimes outside coffee shops. Look for the soup kitchens and you’ll find them there, the clothing giveaways and of course the social assistance buildings in communities all over. You might even note the odd person standing at a set of lights with a coffee cup in their hand asking for a handout of whatever you can afford.

Well like I said, some of us are socially conscious, or at least empathetic. One thing you can do that would be appreciated by many is to think about the clothes you own that you’re never going to get back into. Whether too big or too small, that clothing is only taking up space in your closet. I call these, ‘someday clothes’. Someday you might fit into them again so they hang around – literally and figuratively. Do yourself and the less fortunate a favour and bundle these up and donate them to a second-hand clothing store, a charitable organization or give them to the next organization who phones you at home and asks if you have clothing to donate – like the Diabetes Association. You’ll feel good and do good at the same time.

Another thing you can do that doesn’t involve making a donation of any kind is think about the words you use in general conversations about those marginalized folks living in poverty. Be mindful of putting them down, nodding your head when a buddy makes some wisecrack about the bum blocking the sidewalk or who says to someone panhandling, “Just get a job!” Maybe you can start a conversation just by saying in return, “Hey man give the guy a break. Not cool.” Sometimes just a short comment will be enough to get someone else thinking about their own words.

Now of course you can make a donation – or donations. It needn’t be big to make a difference. In fact, you can start small. See someone on the sidewalk either sleeping or living rough? Walk up and put down a bottle of water or a piece of fruit. You don’t even have to stop and talk or say anything. Even if you don’t get a thanks, that gesture will be appreciated more than not. And if you’re an animal lover and the person has a dog with them, some dry dog food could be more appreciated by the person than food for themselves.

So all my columns and blogs focus on job searching, getting ahead and tips for getting and keeping work. Why a blog about the poor? Good question. Poor people are often people who have either been born into poverty and through no fault of their own didn’t benefit from good parenting, and weren’t supported in their schoolwork; their parents beliefs about education and what is important in life passed on through them as children. Poor people can also be those who have had circumstances in life happen to them which were beyond their control and they haven’t got the skills to overcome those barriers.

Either way you look at things, poor people are – well – people first and foremost; they just don’t have the financials resources to support themselves. Sure, I’d go so far as to say the decisions we make also impact our futures; and some people do make repeated questionable decisions and fail to learn from the consequences of those choices.

There are many however who just need a small break. Some kindness that comes unexpected can re-inspire a distrustful soul, or provide some measure of hope to a disgruntled job seeker. Pass on some clothing, makeup, the donation of your haircutting skills – even a smile instead of a scowl; it’s all in the little things we can do that can make a difference between giving up on looking for work or being encouraged enough to stick at it or start again.

A special word for employers too; think beyond your bottom line. No seriously. If you set out to use and abuse poor folks who don’t know their rights, you may get by paying minimum wage to people and regularly firing them just before the pass probation and starting all over again. Please remember you’re dealing with real people who often do their best just to learn simple routines having not had structure employers look for in their recent past.

Any kindness you can do makes us all better.

Justice For The Marginalized

Go back in your memories to your early years when you were in primary school and you might recall the times the bell would ring and you’d run outside for recess. With only 15 minutes or so of this time, you’d quickly run to some pre-determined spot and meet up with your best friends to socialize, play a game of skipping, soccer, or just talk. Whether you remember it or not, I’m guessing there were other kids who loathed that ‘free’ time for mingling because it was a daily reminder that they didn’t fit in with anyone.

Be it our days in High School, College or University, the same kind patterns of inclusiveness or isolation probably occurred. You might invite certain people to your dorm for a party; hang out with the same people on weekends, etc. That to me is just human nature; gravitating to certain people you enjoy being around who enjoy being around you.

The difficulty comes when others get isolated and excluded from social gatherings not based on their personal characteristics but due to their socio-economic status. Some don’t come from old money, some don’t come from money at all, they have to work hard for any break they get, and if they don’t get a break they have to work harder to manufacture their success.

On the fringe of our modern societies, we can easily spot those who are disadvantaged, architects of their own demise, poor decision-makers and the socially isolated. They are outside mainstream or ‘normal’ society, (whatever ‘normal’ infers) and much of the time their hopes and dreams are centered on inclusiveness and acceptance. When they say they want a job, as undefined as that statement is, what they mean by it is to rise to a level of normalcy.

Why do they settle on a job as something desirable often without even defining clearly what that job in fact would be? To them the job itself represents what they consider to be ‘normal’ acceptable behaviour to aspire to. This identification as a worker doing something productive is like punching a ticket and gaining access to a group they want to be part of.

The label of ‘unemployed’, or ‘out of work’ marginalizes them and they know it. We so often ask in conversations what someone does for a living, as our way of both identification and then categorization. We have our tradespeople, our administrative professionals, front-line, middle and upper management types, our decision-makers etc. Each and every time we gather information on what it is someone does for their work, we make a mental file card on the person and file that information in some kind of class and value Rolodex. “Oh you’re a Secretary? How interesting.” How you view that profession will shape where you initially ‘file’ that person based on your value system borne out of many past interactions with Secretaries you’ve encountered.

It’s when someone says, “I’m unemployed at the moment”, “I’m job searching actually”, or “I don’t have a job but I’m hoping to” that many of us immediately make up a mental file card sometimes to the person’s disadvantage. Why is that? Is it because we assume they aren’t people we want to be associated with or know? Do we make a leap in opinion or judgement and assume because they aren’t working they aren’t motivated, they are somehow less valuable as people or maybe even if they are unemployed any relationship we might have with them would be all give on our point and no take in return?

I wonder what might happen if someone with a job – perhaps a very well-respected job, went to a group of people and concealed that fact and introduced her or himself as being unemployed or between jobs at the moment. If they announced this, while they might initially get dismissive looks, I actually suspect their people skills and social skills would save them. They’d likely be able to articulate what they are seeking, and through the choice of words they use and their interpersonal skills would actually become included rather than excluded. They might even generate offers of help and leads in the days to come.

Unfortunately socio-economically marginalized people often present with mental challenges, lower self-esteem, insecurities, poorer interpersonal skills and as a result make some questionable decisions affecting their circumstances both present and future. Just a prolonged job search alone is mentally taxing and assaults one’s self-worth. Without employment, those interpersonal skills get rusty, and all of this impacts on adverse decisions made.

So to justice and the marginalized. Perhaps we ourselves – you and I; we could make the required effort to defer our initial categorization of others, attempt some effort of inclusiveness, and understand someone’s desire for improvement which may have to occur first before the necessary skills are there to support that wish. In short, hold off on adverse judgement of the person and separate them from the circumstances in which they are currently in. See the person in other words.

Maybe it’s a small thing; this social engagement of people rather than classifying them based on their present circumstances. I’ve met some fantastic individuals who are on social assistance. The struggles they deal with daily and overcome would surprise you, impress you and have you wondering how you yourself might fare if in their shoes. They have great stories of hardship, challenges, failures and victories. But you have to listen to them to hear them.

Job Searching Without Technology

Here’s a question for you. How long has it been since people were unable to use computers and the internet to job search? What about for you personally? Depending on your age, you may have never had a time when you didn’t use a computer to job search. So would you know how to go about looking for work if you had all your technology devices taken away and you didn’t have the means to replace them?

You probably know many people in 2014 who cannot seem to go more than a few minutes without checking in on their phones with others, networking and chatting on Twitter and Facebook, using some App to quickly get some information. Even getting around in cars these days to go places you can see driver’s using computer navigation aids which draw on the internet.

So imagine the disadvantage for the person who has no access to a computer or skills to use the technology available. These people are restricted to conventional methods of reading job boards in Employment Centres, scanning want ads in storefronts and newspapers, and word of mouth with those they can reach in person or on the phone. They can drop in at local libraries perhaps and use a computer, but in the neighbouring communities where I work, those libraries allow people a single hour of access per day and then they are terminated for the day. How much do you think they can accomplish in one hour using only a finger or two on the keyboard at a time, and with a limited knowledge on how to access job boards online and conduct employer research?

For a number of people, the cost of having access to what many of us take for granted is staggering. Not only is the initial cost of a laptop or computer out of reach, but monthly internet costs, anti-virus software and maintenance fees are all prohibitive. Now there are some programs in some cities that come and go whereby computers are refurbished and made available for people who cannot afford to buy one on their own, and I applaud those programs. But consider that if those same people who receive one gratefully now stay in their apartments instead of using Employment Centres to get help, how successful do you imagine they are, going about job searching with their limited knowledge of how to target resumes, write cover letters and safely navigate the internet?

Where I work on a daily basis, we have 20 computers that social assistance recipients can access off the street. They come and sign in, and can sit at a PC anytime from 9:00a.m. – 4:00p.m. Monday to Friday. If they are open to some help, they have a minimum of one Employment Counsellor at the ready, and sometimes more, who can provide feedback, help navigate to job search websites, locate an employer, help write a resume, plot out the transit route and the time to get there and back, help locate a contact number etc.
And it’s not just the one Employment Centre where I work that offers this help, there are others making similar services accessible.

I would guess you’ve got some anti-virus protection on your computer and run regular scans, update your computer etc., and hopefully can tell the difference between legitimate email and scams. What would life be like if you used your computer with no such protection whatsoever because you couldn’t afford it, didn’t know how to run the software even if it came installed, and because computers aren’t your thing, you never deleted any emails at all but just let them build up on your inbox and deleted box because you don’t know about storage capacities etc.? See the problems looming from these accumulated actions?

I am reminded daily how fortunate I am, and how grateful I am, that I am in the position of being able to both afford and use the technology available. The internet has opened up dialogue not only with family and friends from afar, but also with people whom I’d never have been introduced to otherwise. In my job, one of the things I quite enjoy is showing people one or two things that make their lives easier. Be it a website that meets their interest, using the tab key to move to the next field on an application instead of reaching for the mouse, setting up an email account, it’s sometimes the little things that people can learn and then master that promotes more exploration, and increasing confidence.

So whether you are an older job seeker who didn’t have the advantage of being introduced to the computer at an early age and is now faced with a world that moved too fast in that direction, or you are young and haven’t got the advantage of having had some computer training, we can all learn from each other. Here’s something to try as an experiment. No matter your level of experience on the computer, ask someone you come into contact with to show you one thing – just one thing – that they’d be willing to teach you today using technology. If you know next to nothing or absolutely nothing, one thing might be all you can actually handle and remember and it might be just how to safely turn it on and get past the login screen. Whatever you are shown, be thankful; at least you have the technology.