In Why Don’t You Just Get a Job? Homeless Youth, Social Exclusion and Employment Training authors Gaetz and O'Grady examine causation for youth homelessness and explore the role of employment training programs in the effort to make homeless youth more employable (p 244).
In the article, they begin by debunking the widespread belief that people are poor because they are lazy, and that people are homeless because of their own life choices. This problematic narrative gives an erroneous “explanation” for homelessness, which is met with ineffective policies such as the “tough on crime” position. In his corresponding lecture, Gaetz called these policies “flawed and cruel”, and explained that they only stand to perpetuate the problems of the disadvantaged individuals. For example, cracking down on panhandling by ticketing homeless offenders who can’t pay the tickets, is only making poor people more poor.
In many cases of homeless youth, the individuals have experienced physical and sexual abuse, neglect, foster care and other types of trauma. These traumas have been found to cause lowered self-esteem, drug use/abuse, high-risk sexual behaviour and other situations that lead to joblessness and homelessness (p 254). So, a government investment in policing the effects of poverty and homelessness is poor use of resources as it does not work to solve the fundamental problem, or support people who need it. If resources are channeled into programs that encourage prevention, we can reduce the number of young people who become homeless in the first place.
Based on their research, Gaetz and O'Grady assert that employment training is an effective strategy to address youth homelessness. They examine existing effective programs and provide a framework for an employment training program for marginalized youth “that are effective, and produce desired and long lasting outcomes.” (p 261)
So, what does this mean for us future teachers about practically dealing with student homelessness? I believe teachers should research and learn about resources, programs and support we can connect students with. Homeless and/or marginalized students are working against so much to simply attend school. We should focus on creating an equitable learning environment by giving them validation and encouragement, and accommodating them according to their situation.
Gaetz’s and O'Grady’s framework emphasizes a focus on “real, marketable skills” (pg 263). This component is the identifiable parallel between their framework and the content I will someday be teaching as technology teacher. In my experience, it’s undeniable that the acquirement of new skills is empowering. While I understand that an ideal situation for marginalized students includes structural supports—stable housing, financial support and access to health care—I hope that the knowledge and skills themselves will contribute to empowering the students learning them. It’s true we’re not living in a world of ideals, but I believe it’s possible to make a difference in the future of a student by directing them to social supports, practicing empathy, encouraging their efforts, providing accommodations, and teaching them practical skills and knowledge.
Gaetz, Stephen & O'Grady, Bill (2013) "Why Don't You Just Get a Job? Homeless Youth, Social Exclusion and Employment Training" in Gaetz, S., O'Grady, B., Buccieri, K., Karabanow, J., & Marsolais, A. (Eds) (2013), Youth homelessness in Canada.