Giving Hope to the Homeless

By Tim Lutenski

     On a weekly basis I provide job search and resume writing assistance to homeless shelter residents ("clients") who are unemployed and seeking work.  Through my involvement I have found that life and employment issues are closely intertwined and essentially inseparable for these clients who face special circumstances, have unique needs, and encounter diverse challenges in conducting their job search.  Therefore, considerable energy and effort is devoted to helping clients cope with life challenges and resolve personal issues. 

      Some of the primary objectives in assisting clients are to help them identify marketable skills, recognize and utilize different job search methods, and focus their time and effort towards shaping a better future.   .  

      Breaking through barriers to assist clients can sometimes be an enormous challenge and usually involves dealing with one or more of the following situations, where clients:  

  1. Fall into a comfort zone of passivity and/or resign themselves to a state of inadequacy (believing this exempts them from making an effort).
  2. Adopt a quick fix mind set, perceiving that getting any type of job(s) paying livable wages will allow them to assume independent living status (believing that by having an income most of their problems will now be solved).
  3. Have considerable resistance and reluctance towards changing entrenched habits, living patterns, and behaviors (believing homelessness is largely a misfortune that is not directly related to personal choices or actions).
  4. Harbor low levels of self-esteem and a poor self-image (believing to be not worthy or deserving of having a job or achieving success and happiness).

      In confronting these situations I stress with clients that to realize any sort of long term success and improvement they must make a conscious decision to take personal responsibility for changing their lives.  This means assuming ownership of how they direct their lives, followed by a commitment to taking appropriate action.  .

      To adequately prepare clients for conducting a job search, I believe it is important to first work towards instilling a positive sense of self and feelings of personal value.  Clients are encouraged to start with themselves in terms of making internal changes (by examining and defining some of their basic values and principles) even before they begin their job search.  By recognizing their most important values the majority of clients are better equipped to find satisfactory employment:  this process helps them understand they are able to make a contribution in their job, can provide meaning to themselves and others through their work, and do possess the motivation and ability to find work with a purpose.  In assisting clients, career practitioners may want to provide these basic suggestions to homeless clients to serve as a foundation for moving toward a better future.   

  • Any significant change, improvement, and success is formulated and shaped within the individual rather than through outside forces.  
    • Identify core values and goals, and then align the job search and work performed with these.
    • Core values can serve as a foundation in coping with difficulties that arise.
    • Place focus on what you want to do, be, and have.


  • Understand you have choices, can exercise free will, and can make decisions to improve your life.  
    • Stop blaming other people, conditions, or circumstances for causing the current situation.
    • Decisions and not external conditions determine your destiny, don't be directed by the environment.
    • It's the small decisions we make very day that can create positive outcomes, remember life is cumulative.


  • Most problems or difficulties are caused by human behavior, so try to change your patterns of behavior.  
    • Change behavior, take action to reinforce and support changes, and establish control with consistent actions.
    • Don't try to think your way out of problems, instead, get unstuck by trying low risk actions.
    • Take action toward goals by starting with these low level risks - notice what's working or not, and change the approach until it works.


  • Strive to create lasting change in both your personal and work life.  
    • Raise standards to a higher level, minimize limiting beliefs, and alter strategies that don't work.
    • Find role models, mentors, and success stories, and imitate their attitudes and actions.
    • Don't let happiness be dependent upon things that cannot be controlled.


  • Now is the time to design the next phase of life. Adopt a bottom line attitude commitment regarding this.  
    • Devise a short, mid, and long term plan.
    • Ask for help and don't go it alone.
    • Take a proactive stance and willfully exercise your plan.

      If clients are able to successfully begin to make internal changes they can then be encouraged to stretch themselves and make efforts to find work which provides some degree of meaning and purpose for them.  Like most people, the unemployed homeless want to contribute to the accomplishment of worthwhile objectives that transcend day-to-day job tasks.  Finding meaning in work may be their most challenging need and is one of the most essential components in contributing to personal satisfaction and success.  In the course of their job search, clients who are supported in their efforts to establish a strong personal foundation and make changes from the inside out, can better shape their futures and successfully transform their lives. 



Tim Lutenski, M.A. in Organizational Leadership and M.A. in Counseling Psychology, is an Instructional Specialist at St. Clair County Community College (Port Huron, MI) and the Director of For Your Career.  He teaches courses, workshops, and seminars, coordinates training in career and educational planning, and provides coaching and consultation services.  Tim works with individuals, groups, and organizations dealing with career issues, and volunteers in providing career guidance to those with special needs, including ex-offenders, survivors of domestic violence, and the homeless.  He can be reached through his web site at www.foryourcareer.com or via email at info@foryourcareer.com.

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