Homeless working Nevadans have a hard job

winter homeless
The Care Package Project collected and distributed winter items to homeless Southern Nevadans in October. Nevada Current file photo.

Brett Yadon knew he could get a call for temp work at any given moment. Being homeless and living in the shelter at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, last minute job opportunities would leave him scrambling trying to figure out how to get to where he needed to go work.

“You know they are going to be calling you, but you don’t know where you’re going to be going,” he says. “It’s hard to plan your day. But I wasn’t going to say no to a job.”

On the days he got a job offer from a temp agencies, he would have to leave the shelter around 4:30 a.m. to catch multiple buses in order to make it to wherever he needed to be by 7:30 a.m. This went on for several months while he stayed at the shelter.

“The buses aren’t very dependable so it was a lot of waiting at cold bus stops,” Yadon adds. “I would always cut it close. If you ask me what my stress level was on a scale from one to 10, it was a 10.”

Lou Lacey, who heads the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team with HELP of Southern Nevada, says having a population of people who are homeless yet still employed is nothing new. “It appears to be a trend to have people who are employed but don’t have stable housing,” he says. “We have a housing shortage and the cost housing is going up, which are all contributing factors.”

By the most recent estimate, more than 6,000 people are homeless in Southern Nevada. The overwhelming majority of them, an estimated 88 percent, are unemployed, according to the 2018 Southern Nevada Homeless Census. Another 7 percent reported being retired, and roughly 2 percent reported they were either self-employed, had seasonal work or were a student.

According to the Homeless Census, the number of those living on the streets and employed — both full-time and part-time — has dropped in the last year. People reporting full-time employment decreased from 2 percent of the homeless population in 2017 to 1 percent in 2018, and those with part-time employment fell from 5.7 percent to 1.5 percent.

But those are estimates, and may be an undercount. For instance, surveys in California have estimated 10 percent of San Diego’s homeless population is working, 13 percent in San Francisco, and 27 percent in Los Angeles County. According to the Urban Institute, a D.C.-based think tank, an estimated 25 percent of homeless people nationally could be employed — but it’s hard to pinpoint since many programs and shelters aren’t required to track a homeless client’s employment status.

‘After they lost their housing, they struggle to maintain employment’

Lacey says he often sees clients without housing struggle to keep their jobs. “We are working with a family right now and both the mother and father were employed,” he says. “After they lost their housing, they struggle to maintain employment. It was a struggle to get to work everyday and keep up their hygiene.”

Both parents, he says, eventually lost their jobs.

Melissa Nolan, a case manager at Catholic Charities, also sees the toll living on the streets takes on a person with a job. “If they aren’t able to get shelter, and that happens twice in a week, that is usually the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” she says. “It’s what makes them want to throw their hands up and quit.”

Leslie Carmine, a spokeswoman with Catholic Charities, adds if people are employed they can talk with the shelter manager to try to make arrangements.

Yadon’s story isn’t new, and elements of it will ring familiar with countless working Nevadans who do have a roof over their heads.

The now 58-year-old man moved out to Southern Nevada in 2011 determined to start a new life and find a job — he had family living in Las Vegas at the time. He first went to dealer school, but soon realized he hated working in that industry.

With a background in the medical field, he said he got a job as a live-in home care worker. After four years, in 2016 the family he was assisting moved abruptly, leaving Yadon without a job or a place to live. “I didn’t have a place to go, so went to Catholic Charities to put a roof over my head,” he says. “I got another job from there, but that was difficult.”

He was able to get work through a temp service, which meant a lot of customer service jobs, as a greeter, for instance, that didn’t have a finite schedule or end date.

Despite difficulties finding bus passes or struggling to master the transportation schedule, he made it work. He was eventually able to save enough to move into a weekly motel in Henderson. “Finding housing was another problem,” he says. “Weeklies are very expensive.”

Barrier to getting a job: No job

According to the Homeless Census, those experiencing homelessness said the lack of a permanent address, transportation, clothing and even a phone were the top barriers to obtaining employment. In 2017, transportation was the leading barrier to employment — 32 percent cited that as the reason — while the lack of clothing is the current highest reason.

Chart from 2018 Southern Nevada Homeless Census and Survey Comprehensive Report.

Lacey says when he was homeless and living in sober living and transitional housing, he would also rely on public transportation. HELP gives out bus passes, and tends to give more out to those who are employed and need a way to get to work.

Though it’s not listed as a reason in the Homeless Census, Nolan says not having a place to store belongings can also hinder people from getting or maintaining jobs. “We can’t keep bags beyond a certain point” at Catholic Charities, she says. “So if they are having to take their bags with them to a new job, that isn’t a nice image.”

Communications issues, such as cell phone problems or access to a computer, was another obstacle. Once, Yadon’s phone was stolen and it hindered his job search until he could get another one. “I do everything on my phone,” he says.

When it comes to hygiene, Lacey says some clients rely on gym memberships to use showers. The nonprofit Clean the World launched a mobile shower unit that travels around town throughout the week and sets up near the homeless corridor or downtown Las Vegas.

Swing shift and graveyard workers have their own set of obstacles, such as the absence of shelter beds when their shift ends. “We have clients who have used bus passes to stay on buses all night to sleep,” Carmine says. “Or those who get off after a graveyard shift might use our daytime shelters, but can’t really sleep there.”

While navigating the complexities of working while homeless, Yadon’s temp work eventually dried up. He then turned to drinking as a coping mechanism and joined a program at Las Vegas Rescue Mission in 2017 to get sober.

The program ended and Yadon was able to get a job doing security and also Lyft — even though he paid $1,000 a month to rent a car, he said he made good enough money to rely on that job full-time. Again, he was able to find a place to live with a roommate, but eventually had to leave to escape his roommate’s lifestyle, which included alcohol.

After a few bad ratings — Yadon says customers made false claims about him being rude resulting in his account being suspended — he also stop working for Lyft. Yadon returned to Las Vegas Rescue Mission about a month ago and is relying on a transitional housing program while he trains for a new job in surveillance.

“Starting a new job is already stressful,” Yadon says, but trying to make it work while not permanently housed or without reliable transportation adds to the stress.

“I get (to work) an hour and a half or two hours early every day,” he says. “Then I get out at 5, but don’t get back to (the rescue mission) until 7:15 p.m. That’s just the way you have to plan the day.”

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.


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