Homeless people in Oklahoma City want jobs. It’s easier said than done (2024)

Scott, one of the regulars at Joe’s Addiction coffee shop, comes to me and asks if I can help him with his online job application. Like many of our guests, he is unemployed and homeless, but he wants to find work.

He says the lady told him he has the job if he will just fill out the application. He was trying to do it on his government phone and was having trouble.

Imagine what it’s like, trying to fill out an application on a phone.

Homeless people in Oklahoma City want jobs. It’s easier said than done (1)

We go to the website. Look for “careers.” Put in the ZIP code of the location where he wants to work. It brings up available positions. Manager. Stocker. Maintenance. Cashier.

He says, “The guy who unloads trucks.” We choose "Stocker." We have to create an account.

“Do you have an email address?” I ask him. “Can you access that email address?”

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Our guests have countless email addresses, because they lose their phone or their phone gets stolen. (Phones are a currency on the street.) When they get a new phone, they can’t remember what their email and password were, so they create a new one.

We eventually figure out what email address to use. Then we have to create a password. Will he remember this password to be able to get back into this account? Will he know how to do it?

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We finally get to the application, and he starts entering his personal info. I tell him he can use Joe’s Addiction’s address. He hands the phone to me to type because his fingers are too big and he keeps making mistakes. He is frustrated.

When it comes to the questions about personal work history, he just makes up the dates because he doesn’t remember what years he worked where.

Next comes an assessment test.

Here are examples of questions on the test:

1. You are serving a customer at the store when your colleague interrupts and says that a customer is on the phone asking to speak with you specifically. What would be the least effective response to this situation?

  • Ask your colleague to help the customer on the phone and continue serving the customer in the store.
  • Ask your colleague to help the customer in the store and go answer the phone.
  • Excuse yourself, answer the phone and ask the customer if you can call them back.
  • Excuse yourself and ask your customer to wait; answer the phone and help the customer who called, and only then return to the customer in the store.

2. You observe a coworker stealing a package of toilet paper and putting it in their own bag. Do you …?

  • Confront your coworker and tell them it’s not okay to steal.
  • Tell your manager what you saw.
  • Do nothing. It is not your business.
  • Buy a package of toilet paper and give it to your coworker, hoping they get the message.

Would you know the correct answers to these questions?

Imagine living in street culture where everyone fends for themselves and live in fight-or-flight survival mode 24/7. As they say, “Snitches get stitches.”

Homeless people in Oklahoma City want jobs. It’s easier said than done (2)

The test has 65 questions, and many of them are worded like the first example, in the negative ― “What should you not do?” Or, “Which of these would be the most unhelpful?”

Once, I was helping a man to take this kind of test for a job at The Home Depot. I read the questions and answers aloud to him, hoping that hearing them would help him recognize the reverse aspect of some of the questions. After pausing a long while, he said, “I think they’re trying to trick me.”

Yes. Yes, they are.

Recently, one of our younger guests announced very excitedly that she had gotten a job at Walmart. I was thrilled for her. She said, “I took that damn test four times and couldn’t pass it, but this time I found a website with the answers to the test.” She grinned from ear to ear.

People have to cheat to make it through the application process for a job at Walmart.

Perhaps you’ve seen a person holding a sign on a street corner and wondered, “Why don’t they just get a job?”

Scott’s story is also Harold’s story, and Fred’s story, and Mary’s story. It’s not for lack of trying.

Homeless people in Oklahoma City want jobs. It’s easier said than done (3)

Jamie West Zumwalt is founder of Joe's Addiction coffee shop and day shelter in southeast Oklahoma City.

Homeless people in Oklahoma City want jobs. It’s easier said than done (2024)

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