Ban the address: combating employment discrimination against the homeless.

Author:Golabek-Goldman, Sarah

ABSTRACT. This Note presents a study of obstacles to employment faced by homeless job applicants and offers potential solutions. Homeless job applicants confront discrimination when they provide the address of a shelter or do not have an address to provide on applications. Advocates should seek to protect homeless job applicants by encouraging businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies to provide homeless applicants with addresses or P.O. boxes. Most significantly, the proposed "Ban the Address" campaign would discourage employers from inquiring about an applicant's address or residency history until after granting a provisional offer of employment. Advocacy efforts such as these can serve as a foundation for successful legal claims under new homeless person's bills of rights, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. This Note explains why requesting residency information might be deemed illegal under both state and federal causes of action. A combination of both legal and nonlegal tactics has the best chance of permitting homeless job applicants to obtain employment and to regain self-sufficiency.

NOTE CONTENTS INTRODUCTION 1790 I. EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST THE HOMELESS 1795 A. Methodology 1796 B. Interviews with Homeless Individuals and Employment Specialists 1799 C. Job Applications of the Largest Low-Wage Employers 1805 II. NONLEGAL TACTICS 1809 A. Providing Homeless Job Applicants with Addresses 1811 B. Launching a Ban the Address Campaign 1818 1. Perform Research, Education, and Outreach 1821 2. Recruit Key Partners 1823 3. Develop Policy Proposals for Private Employers 1827 a. Eliminate Discriminatory Application Questions 1828 b. Train Hiring Personnel 1831 4. Leverage the Media 1833 5. Develop Policy Proposals for Government 1834 III. LEGAL TACTICS 1836 A. Remedies Under Homeless Bills of Rights 1837 B. Remedies Under Federal Antidiscrimination Laws 1845 1. Title VII Claims 1845 a. Phase I: The Prima Facie Case 1846 b. Phase II: The Business Necessity Defense 1849 c. Phase III: The Less Discriminatory Alternative Practice 1851 d. Recent Trends 1853 2. Americans with Disabilities Act Claims 1857 CONCLUSION 1862 APPENDIX 1865 INTRODUCTION

"People yell to go get a job, but ... when you don't have an address, it is impossible for [an employer] to call you back." (1) Anthony, a single father, became homeless after he was laid off from his job in 2013 and faced an increase in his rent. Since then, his ten-year-old son has stayed with a relative, and Anthony has been desperate to find a job so that he can live with his son again. Despite applying to hundreds of jobs, Anthony has not been optimistic that a reunion will be imminent: "Everyone uses the shelter address, but the moment they see that... there is a red flag--no, there is a black flag on your resume." (2)

The homeless confront significant and increasing barriers to employment. This Note is the first to focus on the fact that requiring job applicants to provide an address prevents homeless individuals from escaping a cycle of poverty and to argue that this practice should be deemed illegal. Original interviews with homeless individuals revealed the struggles that they encounter in securing employment. Interviews with homeless advocates and service providers further highlighted the unique challenges associated with helping homeless individuals obtain employment given pervasive discrimination based on housing status. A survey of homeless individuals, a focus group at a homeless shelter in New Haven, and a review of low-wage job applications offered additional insights on the challenges that homeless applicants experience. (3) To date, no study has used both firsthand perspectives and legal analysis to look at how the job application process disqualifies and discourages homeless individuals from applying for employment.

To help address employment discrimination against the homeless, this Note proposes launching a "Ban the Address" movement. This movement would be partly modeled on the Ban the Box campaign, which encourages employers to remove the check box on applications that inquires about a conviction history. The campaign strives to enable people with a conviction history to demonstrate their qualifications during the job application process before employers can obtain their criminal records. A Ban the Address campaign would discourage employers from inquiring about an applicant's living condition or housing history until they extend a provisional offer of employment. This application of the Ban the Box model to the homelessness context is entirely novel. (4) In this way, this Note draws on themes from earlier sociopolitical movements and past homeless advocacy campaigns to recommend an original, integrated advocacy approach.

The common perception that homeless people are all unemployed and uninterested in finding gainful employment is not true. Indeed, reports from a number of shelters and communities across the country reveal that a considerable minority of residents hold part- or full-time jobs, and studies suggest that almost one-third of homeless people work at least part-time. (5) Extensive research demonstrates that "people experiencing homelessness want to work." (6) Such research suggests that homeless individuals will benefit when employers remove barriers in the application process that limit their opportunities to obtain work.

Employers are often reluctant to hire the homeless or formerly homeless. The Chronic Homelessness Employment Technical Assistance Center has reported that provider staff members are "frequently challenged by pervasive negative stereotypes when approaching employers about hiring qualified homeless job seekers." (7) Employers harbor doubts about homeless applicants' motivation, dependability, and ability to assimilate into the workplace, as well as concerns about their poor appearance, attire, behaviors, and hygiene. (8) Homelessness is associated with stigmas such as mental illness and substance abuse. (9) A survey conducted by the National Coalition for the Homeless reported that 70.4% of homeless respondents "felt that they had been discriminated against [by private businesses] because of their housing status." (10)

A Ban the Address campaign would complement other initiatives designed to protect the homeless against discriminatory policies and help them regain self-sufficiency Recent literature on the plight of the homeless has focused on the criminalization of homelessness in U.S. cities. (11) Some jurisdictions have adopted diverse policies that may reverse the trend by addressing underlying problems, such as a deficiency of shelters. (12) The Ban the Address movement could help further reduce criminalization. If homeless individuals were able to secure employment, they would be better positioned to afford housing and avoid violating discriminatory ordinances targeting those without homes. A Ban the Address movement would also further the aims of Housing First (where it exists) by increasing employment, mobility, and overall self-sufficiency among Housing First participants. (13) Because a large proportion of homeless individuals become or remain homeless due to economic difficulties, a Ban the Address movement has the advantage of addressing a primary cause of homelessness while creating sustainable, long-term independence.

The sociopolitical change encouraged by a Ban the Address campaign could support subsequent lawsuits against discriminatory employment policies. Raising awareness about homeless applicants' challenges through concerted advocacy can lead to legislative reform and administrative policies that protect homeless individuals in seeking and maintaining employment. Such reform would garner momentum for victories in the courtroom. That policy initiatives and advocacy efforts can lay the groundwork for legal challenges is demonstrated by the Ban the Box campaign. In the early 2000s, grassroots organizers in San Francisco and Boston started encouraging local governments to remove inquiries about criminal history from job applications. (14) Since then, dozens of jurisdictions have adopted Ban the Box measures and courts have begun to display receptiveness to disparate-impact claims. (15) Other social movements have displayed a similar pattern, with successful legal challenges following coordinated advocacy campaigns. (16) The Ban the Address campaign would restrict employers' access to applicants' residency information until they extended provisional offers of employment. This would make clear when an employer's rejection was based on the applicant's housing status, providing a basis for potential judicial relief.

This Note proceeds in three Parts, using original interviews with homeless individuals and employment specialists to prescribe a concerted sociopolitical and legal advocacy campaign. Part I of this Note begins by describing evidence of overt and invidious employment discrimination against the homeless. These findings were gleaned from interviews, a focus group, survey, and review of the largest low-wage employers' job applications. This Part concludes that discrimination against homeless job applicants is prevalent and can only be effectively addressed through a strategic combination of nonlegal and legal measures. Part II sets forth nonlegal practices to combat employment discrimination against the homeless. Before Ban the Address policies are implemented, advocates might encourage businesses, nonprofits, or government agencies to provide homeless applicants with addresses or post-office (P.O.) box numbers where they can receive mail. This strategy would replicate the efforts of the Community Voicemail Program, an initiative of Springwire and later Feeding America that provided voicemail services to homeless individuals so that they had phone numbers to include on job applications. (17) Such a program would provide important...

To continue reading