Multiple studies have shown that homeless people face pervasive employment discrimination. In 2014, a survey of homeless people found that over 70% of them believed that businesses had discriminated against them based on their housing status. Homeless people face obstacles in getting employment because they are stereotyped as drug abusers and mentally disabled. (Of course, discrimination against the disabled is also illegal, but that is the subject for a different blog post.) Needless to say, this type of discrimination creates a vicious cycle of poverty for homeless people.
Maine does not have a law that prohibits employment discrimination against homeless people. Other New England states—Connecticut and Rhode Island—have passed laws, however, that prohibit employment discrimination against homeless people. Criminal statutes in Maine call for heightened punishment when a victim is targeted because s/he is homeless. A Maine law that prohibits employment discrimination against the homeless would go even further toward protecting one of the most, if not the most, vulnerable populations in our state.
Another option to help homeless people find employment is to enact laws that encourage employers to hire homeless people. Enhanced tax breaks for hiring the homeless or doing more to steer government contracts to employers that actively recruit homeless people for employment are two possibilities. There are already laws that provide these types of tax breaks to the poor but the tax breaks could be enhanced. All of these ideas merit consideration in Maine’s legislature and Congress.