Waiting for the right call

by

“Being poor is a sick, dreadful feeling of your stomach dropping out when the phone rings, because you know it’s a bill collector and you’ll pick it up anyway on the one in a million chance that someone does want to hire you.” (Source)

This quote reminded me about many of the conversations I’ve had over the last year with one of our patrons. This man, who I’ll call Frank, (which is not his real name) comes in a few times a week to look through our lobby, and also visits a few times a year for a hamper.

When he drops by we’ll often chat about some of his recent struggles. I’ve found that the more he shares, the more anxious I’m becoming to hear that things have improved. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you more about the life of this single unemployed male patron.

Frank’s day begins at seven in the morning. This is the time he use to get up for work, before his company downsized during the recession and he found himself out of a job. But now he sticks to this schedule so he’s up in time to get any calls from one of the many temporary placement agencies he’s registered with, and to already have his body on a work ready schedule. On the days that he isn’t called in for a temp placement he starts off on the same routine journey.

The first stop is to Northern Lights the local employment services centre. He goes to access their computers, browse online job postings and fax off resumes. The employment counsellors here have also helped him craft his cover letter and resume. All of this has been done in the hopes that he’ll find steady employment and income outside of temp agencies and his primary income support which is currently Ontario Works.

Frank told me that temporary work placements help keep him optimistic. Here he’s guaranteed to get a few calls a month, which hopefully, will eventually lead to being hired on full-time.

Unfortunately his potential job opportunities are limited because of his lack of affordable or stable transportation. At the moment he walks or takes his bike since he can’t afford a bus pass, or even a bus ticket most days. This means he’s often forced to decline out-of-town employment because his only option to get there is a long unpleasant, unsafe walk.

As he’s been through dry periods of employment and a shrinking income over the years, he’s been driven to access food programs. Sadly he knows many of the food banks well, since he’s often forced to use more than just our program. To read why, check out this blog about our referral process and limits.

“Having this place for temporary use helps out in between finding a job. I don’t want to rely on places like this but on the other hand I need to eat.”

This story is familiar to us here, and likely to many people in a helping profession all over the province. Many older men, like this patron, lost their long-time job during the recession. In both Canada, and even the US, “[these] older men (were) cut loose from employment at the peak of their earning powering and work experience.” (Source) Now they’re left to fight for the low-skilled, entry-level positions that the younger generations are also trying to fill. After working their entire lives these older men are either underemployed or increasingly unemployed.

For many people in this situation, Ontario Works is their only option.  The Regional Social Services department notes that half of the adults in the households they support have less than a grade 12 education.   As lower skilled manufacturing jobs start to disappear locally, they are replaced by skilled trades and positions in newer, high tech industries. (source) What entry level jobs that do open up are usually filled with younger workers, who expect less pay and who have higher levels of education.  Older workers, like Frank, sign up with the temporary employment agencies, to make ends meet, but for many it is a struggle, with sporadic hours and days or weeks between phone calls.  To read more about unemployment statistics, click here.

He’s considered volunteering during his recent unemployment. However it’s a bit of a coin toss: do you volunteer to get another reference, or think of yourself and continue searching for a steady job? In his situation he knows that committing to a volunteer schedule will be difficult since he doesn’t know when the next call from a temp service will come; and doesn’t want to disappoint anyone by missing a volunteer shift to go to an interview. So in the end he decided that he should focus on job searching – not because he wants to but because he needs to find something to support himself soon.

Despite the grim statistics, he remains optimistic. He’ll continue his job search because he knows that he’s in a very competitive labour market and the only way to succeed is to keep trying. While he continues to work at getting a job, places like the House of Friendship will help keep helping where we can.

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