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Being homeless a struggle, even with a $100k job offer (seattletimes.com)
400 points by pessimizer on Dec 9, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 160 comments

I was homeless for about a year and a half. The first 6 months were spent sleeping on the streets, and when possible, in a shelter - but realistically, in the area where I was, most shelters were not really a safe place to be, and the few that were filled up early. The remaining time, I crashed at a drug dealers house and helped sell in return.

I didn't have much more than the belongings that fit in a mid-sized duffle bag and for a while I mostly survived by cleaning bathrooms at coffee shops before opening hours where the employees didn't really want to do that part of their job - and in return I would get some coffee and a bite to eat. Any money I did get, I saved up.

Once I had access to the internet again, and at least a warm place to sleep at night that I considered safe, I started making contacts on IRC. Eventually I had enough money to relocate across country via Greyhound, a couch to crash on when I arrived and prospects for a new beginning. I quickly jumped from $25k to $40k to $60k etc and am currently at $160k with a whole new life and an amazing career ahead of me.

It's possible to get out of the situation if what got you there isn't addiction or mental illness - the system does little to help, and without being resourceful it's easy to get stuck in that position for a long time. But it can be done. Granted, I never had the ex-con/drug dealer status haunting me in background checks, but I have been upfront in interviews before and still got the job. Greatest accomplishment in life? Escaping homelessness.

Fully escaped?

I've spoken openly of my 30 months sleeping rough on the streets of the UK. I may have "escaped" homelessness, but the mental scars accumulated whilst on the street do still haunt me. I feel it, the sense of worthlessness, the self-doubt. There's a feeling that I shouldn't be alive let alone here in this workplace or surrounded by good people, a feeling that I don't quite belong.

One can put a roof over one's head, get a job, that leads to a career, obtain an income that is above-average... but can one truly escape something as traumatic as being homeless for any sustained period of time (covering 1 Winter at least)?

I'm less sure on that. I live in the hope that I'm wrong.

And of course, Christmas comes around and people return to family and those who don't are the waifs and strays, an annual reminder that we're not the same.

Personally, yes I think I have fully escaped. It's been 16 years since then, and I see my scars as a personal trophy of sorts - a motivator on what I can accomplish if I set my mind to it. It wasn't always like this - but it's what I have conditioned myself to do after the traumas that I have endured related and unrelated to the homelessness.

I hope that you are working to get past any demons that haunt you - you deserve it, everyone does.

I haven't lived in my car since 92 or so and I still notice nice places to park where the police won't bug me.

I still notice ways into building sites, where I know the site office will be unlocked and there will be a small electric heater and a kettle.

A safe place, providing I get out around 5am.

May I ask: What would have helped? And what would help now?

Homeless people and people who are vulnerably housed in the UK have pretty lousy treatment from "services", a lot of which is provided by faith and voluntary groups.

There are huge amounts of stigma, and a lot of misunderstanding of alcoholism and drug use and mental illness.

Small, safe spaces.

That is... I went onto the streets to escape poverty, violence and sexual abuse.

For me a hostel was not a safe space, so I didn't even successfully make it onto the first rung of support. It was hostels that distributed information on where to get food and such, so I missed that too.

So there needs to be a better support system for those sleeping rough, and that needs to recognise the flaws in the offerings today and also find better ways to distribute information.

Then, I've made the argument before that we should have a better way to migrate someone off of the street. It's not enough to give a council flat, someone I knew at that time eventually committed suicide because he couldn't cope, fell apart, and suffered from the isolation.

I think instead of that, there should be spaces smaller than a studio apartment that are transition spaces. They should be private, but perhaps clustered so that there is a support network there. People should be given help on how to do things, simple things like how to shop and eat better, how to take care of a home and manage the utilities and bills, how to basically live normally again and construct those routines. How to not shrink into that space and be alone.

I did meet a lot of people with mental illnesses, I don't believe anyone can wave a magic wand and get them off the streets. But we can have the structure in place to help them so that when they are ready, it's possible.

The vast majority of the people on the streets in the UK aren't there because of drugs and alcohol, that's just a visible symptom of a small minority. Most I spoke to had normal lives, good lives, but a trauma occurred and they ended up on the street. There seemed to be a lot of divorced or widowed males. A lot of the young who were physically and/or sexually abused.

Anyhow, a link http://crackandcider.com/ . These people are good, it's no magic wand, but they will take monetary donations and turn it into basic things to help keep people warm and alive even if they are rough-sleeping. I like that they're challenging those misconceptions too.

> I think instead of that, there should be spaces smaller than a studio apartment that are transition spaces. They should be private, but perhaps clustered so that there is a support network there. People should be given help on how to do things, simple things like how to shop and eat better, how to take care of a home and manage the utilities and bills, how to basically live normally again and construct those routines. How to not shrink into that space and be alone.

> I did meet a lot of people with mental illnesses, I don't believe anyone can wave a magic wand and get them off the streets. But we can have the structure in place to help them so that when they are ready, it's possible.

I think you just described a hospital. Don't get me wrong it'd be a hospital that would need more resources than they do now, but maybe that's where this process could start? Especially where the homelessness is caused by mental illness

One thing I'm curious about, if you're willing to share, is what makes hostels and shelters unsafe. There are several people on here who mention hostels or shelters not being safe for them, and I've never quite understood what would cause that, given that the entire point of a shelter is to offer a safe space, isn't it? What are the common failings there? What makes the safety of a shelter vary between different people?

What does a hostel offer?

A roof? Is that all a homeless person needs?

For me what I needed, because I came from a place that of violence and abuse, was to feel safety of person and possession.

In many ways, that sense of security trumped everything.

And if you take a teenager that has gone through that and chosen the street over a roof at home... then changing the roof and being surrounded by strangers, some of whom suffer from mental illness and can be violent themselves... a hostel doesn't deliver on safety.

I only stayed in a few, they were how I imagine US summer camps to be. Rooms containing a number of bunk beds, anything from 4 to 8 people in a room.

The ones I experienced separated on gender as you would expect, but didn't separate on age, or other needs.

When I landed on the street I was frightened, crushingly shy, a victim all the way through. A hostel was a brutal experience, horrifying to me in those early weeks on the street in ways that sleeping under bushes, on industrial estates and on building sites just wasn't.

I had a different set of problems outside, namely the weather, shelter and warmth. But what I had with some planning was a sense of security, a sense that my possessions and myself were safe. That the very worst that could happen would just be to be moved on.

Those were things I felt were in my control. I felt safer on the street.

I should note that I didn't spend every night of 2.5 years sleeping rough. I was young, and learned fairly quickly to seek out Universities, find the student union bar, arrive late afternoon and read a book, and then wait for people to arrive so that I could chat to people. From there the opportunities opened up, and there was a good chance that if I overcome shyness, didn't scare them with the state of me, and everything was cool, that for one night there was going to be a bed, a shower, and some toast. I became quite good at this, but never stayed in a city more than a couple of nights before hitching elsewhere so that I never overstayed a welcome and doing this meant I could have a few nights a week on a sofa of someone my age who had a kind heart.

> Homeless people and people who are vulnerably housed in the UK have pretty lousy treatment from "services", a lot of which is provided by faith and voluntary groups.

Local council has to put you up in some accommodation. That's what we pay taxes for, so that people who happen to be evicted didn't end up in the streets. There's plenty of money on the table, and all you have to do is ask. You have to work the system, you need to know where to go and whom to talk to, and in a situation when you don't have the money for a bus ticket, that requires much more effort than it would normally do.

The system in the UK can be summed up as "help thyself, and the government will help thee". I think it is a good system, because it taught me to take care of myself. Its unfortunate effect is that people whose coping mechanism involves self-destructive behaviours are not being helped, even when help is available for them.

Now I understand your indignation with this and I totally agree with it.

Yet, I believe the "system" is not the only culprit here, it's also you who is complicit - you say the system is good and still it didn't help in this concrete case.

Now I know it's hard to not pay taxes so I wouldn't expect you to. But for starters you could admit that the system works poorly, is intransparent, doesn't adapt and covers only what falls under its own definition of poverty/...

A good indicator of being "complicit" is always when you use the line "they should do something about it".

You make some great points, but are you replying to the right comment?

For those, who are not of the biblical persuasion, "help thyself, and God will help thee" is a principle that says that you can count on a lot of help, but you have to do a little yourself first; that little is very hard, and no-one can do it for you.

I remembered a joke from my childhood earlier today, and your comment bought it to the fore again:

A man down on his luck prays in Church "God, let me win the lottery. All my troubles will be over".

A week goes by and the man is doing even worse, so he prays again: "God, please let me win. I've been a good man with poor luck, and I've never asked for anything before".

Next week, the man has been evicted, and once more he prays: "God, why have you forsaken me? I'm homeless, loveless, and penniless. Please, let me win the lottery!"

To which a booming voice answers him: "Meet me halfway! Buy a ticket!"

I mainly referred to the implicit delegation to government in your comment. This is technically ok (because you pay taxes for it) but it's not morally ok if they don't do it well.

Naturally, I only picked the "bad things" (with a big IMHO) in your comment which didn't keep me from upvoting it ;)

I wasn't really homeless but when I was a teenager I struggled with food for some years. I mean, sometimes eating only once per 2 or 3 days. For weeks or months.

I can say now I'm much better, maybe not part of the 1%, but surely part of the 2% :)

But not fully escaped. They say hard times build character. That's true, but the physical and psychological sequels are with me for ever. Nobody should be that poor.

That's what I mean.

They become a part of your shadow, always with you. Sometimes you catch a glimpse and notice but for the most part we can forget about it... but it's there.

>There's a feeling that I shouldn't be alive let alone here in this workplace or surrounded by good people, a feeling that I don't quite belong.

Funny. I've never been homeless, and that's how I feel a lot of the time.

Are you seeing a therapist?

No, she's a film lecturer.

Jokes aside, really I've found the best method for handling what has happened in life is just to share openly and honestly with others, which is what I've done here as well. I haven't personally found as much benefit from professional help as just sharing and reflecting.

A good therapist will be that reflector. Also don't discount the value of sharing with a person who has seen pattern-x n-times. Further keep in mind that non-professionals will cuddle when perhaps a spank is in order.

Wish you all the best and success and happiness.

I never was homeless but I hate christmas. Since I have a good career now I always travel to some warm place during christmas.

>It's possible to get out of the situation if what got you there isn't addiction or mental illness - the system does little to help, and without being resourceful it's easy to get stuck in that position for a long time. But it can be done.

Glad it worked out in the end for you!

I have a small issue though with the "it can be done" thing.

Getting to have 10 top 10 hits at the charts can be done too. The question is how easy it is, and what percentage will be able to do it.

The reason I'm saying that is that, while giving the message "it can be done" is good and can help people not give up in a similar situation, it can also give the false idea that it's a workable situation when it might not be save for very few outliers (and even for them, mostly when the right "stars" and chances are aligned, and not just due to their determination and work).

This also gives some people a chance to overlook the issue, thinking ("it can't be done, so people who don't do it are just lazy, not trying enough, thus, we don't need to help them").

For such issues who plague thousands, people who have escaped can often be the worse sources to learn about the difficulty of the situation -- because they tend to generalize their outlier experience (and sometimes minimize the chances that helped them escape), and sometimes look back at others still in the same situation as not trying enough (since that will justify their self-image as them being "more worthy/resourceful/persistent" than them).

I am certainly an outlier and am not sure what the probability of it occurring really is. I think there are systemic issues in how homelessness is treated that I was lucky enough to get past - what concerns me is the lack of support and aide that people in that situation actually receive. Addiction and mental illness barely gets the attention it deserves, and getting people back on their feet is extremely tough regardless of their determination, or skills. I don't want to make it seem easy, because it certainly wasn't - and maybe I did have a one-up in terms of resourcefulness - but without changes in the way homelessness is treated, from government as well as how it can be stigmatized, it's an additional blocker for those trying to re-enter society and make a difference in their lives.

There's two parts to this issue. One is being successful by typical worldly standard. The other are emotional scars. Maybe, it's not necessarily feasible for everyone to achieve hoisting themselves from homelessness into a white collar above average paying job. Maybe that's not possible. But this is besides the point.

What is eminently more possible is achieving emotional worthiness. When a person is rejected, however that came to be, this activates a physiological response in them which causes them to perceive scarcity, which wreaks havoc on any number of processes in daily life that, building up, can rip a person down.

What are the antidotes to this response? In my experience, gratitude is a strong antidote, when & where you can find it.

I too have a somewhat similar, but not quite same story myself - I spent 2 years homeless, but I had a roof above my head from various friends throughout that time. I was still poor though - nothing homed that in more than being so poor that one week, I ate oatmeal almost exclusively for a week. I had sold most of my material possessions as well, excepting my clothes and desktop/laptop & monitor.

Somehow I mustered up the will to continue job searching throughout that whole time, even putting up with a really crappy situation at one point where I had to sleep in the same room as a former friend who would masturbate loudly at night, thinking I was asleep (but the noise would be what would wake me up).

Job searching alone did not prove fruitful in my case - after 2 years, I pivoted into teaching myself programming, and entered the web development profession a half year later with a modest ~$50k salary for my first job. Slightly more than 3 years later, I am now at a $160k salary with a career that shines brightly with substantial open source software work.

Fear of being caught blindsided & not prepared propels me to continue to work hard and develop my career. The last thing I want is to regress into that situation again.

Great story indeed, and really inspirational. But that just reaffirms what other commenters already pointed out: the problem is not homelessness per se, but a (unfair) criminal record that doesn't mix really well with a job in security. What I find incredible, though, it's that this record still persists after he has been cleared of the past accusations.

It persists on the internet. This type of situation is essentially the reasoning behind the EU's "right to be forgotten".

Glad you were able to break the vicious cycle and build a career.

What job do you do now? What skills / education helped you get the job?

Engineering - self taught, and I have a GED (for non-U.S., this is a credential that is treated as an equivalent to passing high school).

That is very cool. How many years of experience did it take you to get to $160k? That's top of the line if you aren't at a hot tech startup isn't it?

So you haven't taken the professional engineering exam (forget what its called)? What was the first job you got out of homelessness?

"PE Exam" ;)

In his case, it sounds like the problem isn't homelessness itself, but:

1. A crappy background check system that reports him as an ex-con/drug dealer when he's been exonerated.

2. Companies using those systems and judging him without giving him a chance to speak up.

Even the president is in favor of punishing people who have been suspected of crimes; it seems to be a popular position that people are not really innocent until proven guilty.[1][2] I find this trend deeply troubling, but it does seem at least somewhat popular.

#2 is at least partly due to the fact the if the companies allowed him an opportunity to refute the claim, they would be incurring various legal liabilities. The rules meant to protect job candidates often result in them being passed over at the first stage where it is realized they are 'complex' cases.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/201...

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/201...

> #2 is at least partly due to the fact the if the companies allowed him an opportunity to refute the claim, they would be incurring various legal liabilities.

Interesting! I'd thought it was simply done in the name of efficiency.

You're too old. You have a criminal background. You're too overeducated. We think you'll sue. You're too young.

It seemed that companies are loathed to take risk on employee. At the same time, lot of environments contained toxic working conditions, so it's not clear if their choice of employees matter much.

But people must find a job to keep themselves afloat or depend on someone having a job. It didn't matter if you're bad at social grace or if you have mental illness or if you're a felon, old or young.

Without food, shelter, and peace of mind, I think people would be hard pressed to be economically productive.

At the same time, there are a lot of employees suing companies "just because", so the feeling has some justification.

Only in places like the modern US, where suing is a kind of hobby, and you can be sued for anything. In other places (and in the US in the past) neither the companies expect to be sued and take pre-emptive measures, nor the employees sue "just because". At least not any significant numbers.

Really? But the right wing in the UK keep insisting it's because of all that red tape from Brussels and the EU? How can the USA, being free from the yoke of Eurocrats, have such similar problems???

Where do you think the Eurocrats get their ideas from?

Just because we are American doesn't mean we don't know how to make our own red tape.

As a matter of fact, we kind of feature it on our flag.

That's pretty awesome never looked at it that way...

And where do those employees find the money to sue the corporation?

Don't forget that it doesn't prevent the creation of toxic working environments.

> And where do those employees find the money to sue the corporation?

Often from lawyers who work on contingency and then take the bulk of the damages.

My home insurance includes legal cover in case I wanted to sue my employer for almost any reason, or if I am sued by them(up to half a million pounds, so ~$750k).

A lot of places expect this, and my observation is that it fuels even more twisted behavior by the companies. For example, in Academia, it's not uncommon to sue over a failed tenure case. I know of a colleague who was terminated the year before tenure review, because (from what I gather from scattered conversations) his case was expected to be controversial, and it was much easier to fire him now, where the process is not well-defined and not transparent, instead of going through the whole process and having everything scrutinized in courts.

I do not understand this comment. Can you point at an example of this?

I've heard of several cases where people were fired for poor performance and then turned around and filed baseless, retaliatiory discrimination lawsuits. Obviously that's anecdata, but I believe that's the type of thing the poster is referring to.

> it seems to be a popular position that people are not really innocent until proven guilty

Shouldnt that be instead: "people are somewhat guilty until proven innocent" based on the links you shared?

Parse it as: people are not really "innocent until proven guilty".

In a roundabout way, this is related to the big data world we live in, even though background checks & credit checks are not new.

From the perspective on a motor insurance company, for example, they don't need to serve everyone. If they can classify the world of potential drivers as high, medium & low risk, that's enough. Whether or not an individual falls into one of these categories "incorrectly" is not important, they're average figures and as long as they are "correct" for the people who take out a policy all is well. For an individual that ends up in the "high risk" category, it's inequitable and unfair. They might share characteristics with "truly" high risk individuals but not in ways that actually affect their chances of causing on an accident they just happened to be in a statistical cluster.

The BMI is an interesting example too. Weight bands for height works fine when looking at a population. You can fall into an obese weight/height band by being heavily muscled or broad bodied. Mike Tyson at his youngest, slimmest prime would have been classed as obese and very obese later in his career. Possibly "extremely obese" between matches. This is a good example because you can easily se how BMI works well enough for evaluating insurance risk but not for being "fair" for our puny human defections of fairness.

We are moving to a world of more data and more data based decision making. Online advertising for example, has transformed a big industry to one that is mostly driven by data based decision making.

The side effects of this will be many. There are certainly efficiency gains because that statistics are predictive. Having been arrested or serving time is probably predictive of risk, even if a conviction is overturned. There are also feedback loops that we don't want, biases and "traps." A homeless person is obviously high risk in that he shares measurable characteristics with other homeless people and they (almost by definition) actualize those risks.

There are real society-affecting risks here. It could become more expensive to be poor, as credit and financial services becomes a bigger part of how we purchase things.

Okay, but it should work in the reverse too. Just as there are ways to grind through the data and find non-obvious signals against an employee, there should be the same for signals in favor of an employee.

And there should be just as much incentive for big data techniques to help identify undervalued employees. For example, I'm sure you can find a separation between "vagrants who can code" and "vagrants who can't".

(An old-school example of such an insight would be early-GEICO's discovery that, "Hey, government employees have more reliable income than others'. So they're not as risky. We can use that!" So I heard.)

Sure. It's possible. There certainly are positives to data centric decisions too. But generally, a technique similar to credit checks, background checks, risk assessment, health assesments and such will play against positive outliers.

Not to say that the system is working correctly, but from a quick glance to the comment section of the article, I'm not really sure if either of these is the real deal breaker. If it actually is him responding in the comments, he seems incapable of writing basic sentences. He also plays the race card several times in his commentary. For someone struggling to get a job, I find it utterly mind-boggling he would attach his name to comments like:

> ,,And ME thinks ,,,That maybe YOU should THINK !!! LOLOL

> Again ,,,Your Kind ,,convict MY kind ,,,ALL the time !!!!!

> You probably have a hard time accepting anything from a Black Person

There are countless more. From my perspective, most (definitely not all) are in response to non-inflammatory commentary. If I were HR and a basic google search turned this up, I wouldn't touch him with a 10 foot pole, let alone even bother with an actual background check. I use full sentences and am reasonably respectful with my username as "lloyd-christmas". If I used my real name, I'd likely be even more PC/respectful/cautious.

For someone that has first hand experience in regards to the impact of background checks, he's sure not making it any easier on himself.

The other side of the coin is that a manager of a company that allows an ex-convict to work in sensible areas can and will be held accountable if something goes wrong.

If you were a person that has put 20+ years of hard work into your career at some company would you be willing to risk it all (and by extension the life you built for your family) to put someone who as been convicted for hacking or fraud in the past in a position where he/she could cause considerable damage?

I think this can only be solved by laws that forbid employers to use or acquire this data. In that case no one could touch you for giving someone that chance.

The question is if the outcome of such a law would be positive and where there should be exceptions to it. (for example convicted hackers being employed by banks)

He's not an ex-convict.

It was a general statement not targeted at a specific person. The parent of my comment mentioned ex-convicts as well in a general statement.

> A crappy background check system that reports him as an ex-con/drug dealer when he's been exonerated

The article states:

> Three months after his conviction, though, the King County deputy whose testimony led to Simmons’ conviction, James Schrimpsher, was fired for dishonesty in a different drug case [..] Simmons insists he didn’t sell drugs and believes he was profiled [..] he served the full prison term at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, plus a year of probation when he got out.

This means it has not been exonerated. The background check superficiality is not what this case is about.

The problem in this case is a system where it's not easy for a convicted person receive a retrial unless the defendant has big money.

> That the deputy was being investigated for lying at the same time as Simmons’ trial had not been disclosed to Simmons’ attorneys.

Point 2 still holds.

> This means it has not been exonerated. The background check superficiality is not what this case is about.

The article also says

> What’s alarming about Simmons’ story is that his drug-dealing conviction was eventually stricken from the record. He was retroactively exonerated in 2010 . . . He is listed on the National Registry of Exonerations as being wrongly convicted.

which seems to directly contradict your claim that he was not exonerated.

oops, I'm sorry, I guess I just skipped that paragraph.

I was put off by the wording of "Simmons insists he didn’t sell drugs and believes he was profiled."; this wording seems to me like a personal claim and not a fact.

The truth is we've gone from a system where you are innocent until guilty to guilty to proven innocent [for everything that matters]. It really is a sad transformation.

Not sure what's the problem with drug dealing? If he was selling weed, then he was in fact doing a public service against fat cats in pharma industry. Also nobody is forced to buy drugs.

Well, for one thing the charge was for selling crack cocaine...

Sounds like an entrepreneur to me.

While the morality & legality may be deplorable, I do respect the can-do entrepreneurial aspect. Way back, my nurse-in-training GF cared for a man who was seriously ill and permanently bedridden; I was deeply impressed that despite the debilitating conditions he _still_ was able to create and operate an, er, undocumented pharmaceutical distribution service.

There is a way, if one chooses to have the will.

Sure, if you disregard all the damage that crack cocaine specifically does to individuals and society.

Except that in this case he did not actually sell crack cocaine.

You don't have to make the world a better place to start a business.

This is part of the larger tech hiring culture of "it's better to miss hiring someone good than to hire someone who might be bad." The guy in the story is hit especially hard by this, but HR's paradigm of fear/incompetence/inability to manage people after they're hired is a big piece of it.

It's not ever easy for someone classified as an ex-con to get a job, but tech discriminates more than most other professions.

Well, HR / recruiters are a bit worse in most (tech?) professions; they seem really lazy when vetting people and just go for the stereotype great employee while discarding everyone else. So the only way back would be to go for a very small company in a smaller town. In the EU he would be hired for sure; I would hire him. I never cared about previous experiences/age/gender/race only about current skills and effort and we did very well by it.

This just backs up why I think Finland's recent move[1] to give every citizen a basic salary is the way forward.

You'd then give everyone that basic level of security and enable them to progress in life. Yes there are potential flaws with the Finnish scheme (some people on benefits may ultimately lose out, and millionaires getting the same amount as poor people) - but crucially it would probably stop most, if not all, of cases like this, where someone can't escape the pull of homelessness even with opportunity there.

1 - http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/finland-plans-to-give-ev...

Germany has something called "Grundsicherung", which is even below unemployment benefits, but can be gotten by anyone, even without having a place of residence. That means if your homelessness is not based on mental issues or being too proud to accept help, you have at least a possibility to get out.

Take someone who has already demonstrated the know how to make money selling illicit drugs and, as punishment, ban them from legitimate employment for life... That must be super effective! /s

Why don't wrongfully convicted people Sue for damages and use the lawsuit to get there records purged? I sure there is a reason why people don't in general I'm just not clear what exactly this reason is. Anyone in the know care to elucidate me?

Poor people have trouble paying lawyers. Involuntarily homeless people tend to have more pressing issues than starting an extended legal action. Suing the state over a matter of principal is de facto if not de jure often amounts to little more than a luxury.

Suing the government is not all that easy:


It really isn't. A close associate of mine had a government official back out of a contract he signed (in the government's name) in a way that was so legally clear that it would have resulted in a summary judgement had it been anyone else. His lawyer advised him not to bother unless he could afford to pay the legal fees for a decade long court battle.

According to one of his comments, all the lawyers wanted upfront money to sue the city.

Depending on where you live, it might be that certain court/legal records can never be expunged.

I know a guy who was sober (determined by multiple breathalyzer tests), but arrested for public intoxication. The case was immediately thrown out and the charges dropped, but he lives in a state where arrest records cannot be expunged. It's the only thing that shows up on his criminal record, but he's had job offers fall apart because employers assume he was actually guilty of public intoxication (a charge that usually only comes against people acting belligerent, violent, so drunk they can't walk, etc.) and just lawyered his way out of it. He thought about suing for wrongful arrest, simply to try and bolster his case in employment situations, but his attorney told him that it's nearly impossible to win a wrongful arrest suit and it would cost him 10's of thousands of dollars to even try.

He probably got an offer along the lines of "your record is cleared if you waive all rights to sue us over this".

Why is he failing background checks if he's never been non-wrongfully convicted? Genuinely curious to hear from anyone with experience on the employer side of this.

There are two kinds of background checks. The official kind done by a dedicated team with access and knowledge to retrieve city, state and federal data. And the HR kind, where someone without an investigative background and education spends ten minutes doing web searches and online "stalking" to see if the candidate has any untoward elements in their past.

The first kind costs hundreds dollars per candidate. The second can be done for about twenty bucks worth of time. You can guess which approach most companies use.

It's easier on most candidates, too, because a real background check requires them to fill out paperwork. An ad hoc one they may never know about...unless they fail.

>There are two kinds of background checks.

IBM. Wells Fargo. Frontier Airlines. T-Mobile. Experian. Daimler Chrysler.

These are some of the companies listed in the article. They are some of the biggest in the world. They don't seem to me to be the type of companies that take the latter approach to recruitment, possibly opening themselves up to discrimination legal issues.

They probably do both. The official background check may come back clean. But, as soon as the HR guy or hiring manager put his name through Google, they see "So and so convicted of dealing crack."

Surely one of the first things he does when contacting a company is to warn them that a web search will find these things, but that he has been exonerated, and to provide documentation as to such?

I just find it incredibly sad that the people conducting these background checks at such large companies are so utterly incompetent.

I'm not sure I agree that this is a sign of incompetence. Instead, it's likely a case of extreme risk aversion.

Hiring somebody is risky and expensive. The cost for getting it wrong is quite high. At best, it costs the team money in lost productivity. At worst, the new hire actually is a criminal (or whatever).

Given two otherwise equal applicants, it's only prudent to hire the one that doesn't have nasty Google results.

It may have been contracting agencies. They can be pretty uneven, in my experience.

The article states that he's gotten job offers before that were he couldn't accept, presumably because he failed the second kind of background check. Would the employers generally tell someone the reason for rescinding an offer?

In America they would absolutely not disclose the reason for not hiring someone. Commonly accepted HR wisdom in the US is that it would open the company up to lawsuits.

They might not tell you the precise reason, but if you had a written offer contingent on passing a background check that was rescinded, they would tell you that you did not pass the background check.

Likely the department of corrections number somehow coming up so it shows that he spent time in prison. Even if it shows he was exonerated, many people will sadly lose interest right then because they get a vibe the applicant is 'in with the wrong people'. The US is terribly cruel to people that have done prison time, regardless of whether or not they were supposed to be there.

Too bad it's only almost 1% of the total population.

Yes indeed. And that's only the current percent in prison (something like 0.9%) over 3% have been to prison. If you start counting the number of people accused of crimes, but later exonerated, like this guy, it's probably pretty large.

Even if you are found not guilty or not convicted of a crime, if you have been arrested or gone to court these things can show up in public records. These records could be expunged with some effort, depending on the laws in the jurisdiction. Such expungement orders should clear someone from public databases. If it hasn't been expunged though, the info will still show up.

Even if dismissed or wrongfully convicted, any mention of anything criminal would cause concern. It's that idea of "where there's smoke there's fire" type of thinking that seems to go on around this kind of stuff. When other candidates exist without the 'concerning circumstances,' why take a risk?

For better or worse, it makes sense. Seeing that someone was arrested for crack for any reason would raise suspicion. There would be little motivation to look into further details once seeing "arrested for crack" pop up in a search about a candidate.

Companies' paranoid "where there's smoke there's fire" logic is the major problem here. I've applied for jobs (tech jobs at big-name companies you have heard of) where they require you to list mere arrests, even if there was no conviction or even if no charges were filed.

He could try working as a freelancer, on websites like Elance/Upwork or something and make some money. Then he could use that money move out of the homeless shelter and then look for a decent job.

The problem here is not a shelter but a previous criminal records.

+1 for freelancing idea, it might actually work if there are security jobs. But I think security in it's nature is something that needs assurance that person is capable of auditing the system.

You're right, though if he's very capable at security stuff, there's probably also other types of freelancing work that he'd be capable of doing.

It seems like he has more experience in the enterprise world ("Security Compliance"), not sure that's the type of jobs you'd give to a freelancer, or at least not on Elance/Upwork.

I believe the only clear way for him is to leave the US and land some international job at some place good as Australia or Sing. Yes, the US will loose a good cyber cop. But as you can see here, this is entirely the US systematic problem. Simmons does not deserve to serve lifetime living in the US, struggling for foodstamps.

How is that supposed to work? He can't even afford to leave Seattle.

Many companies offer relocation packages including travel costs and temporary accommodation.

Yes but they expect you to pay and they'll reimburse you. Not saying it never happens any other way, but that's the only way I've ever seen it done.

When I was hired for my role as an SRE at http://imvu.com/ I had approximately zero savings. They were unable or unwilling to give me cash for my relocation bonus before my first employed day, but they were willing to pay for various moving expenses directly, renting me a moving van, paying for a hotel partway, renting a storage unit, and while I stayed on a friend's couch while looking for an apartment, I have heard of them paying for hotel accommodations for new hires while they were looking for housing before they received their relocation bonus or first paycheck. It's not uncommon at all, just be up-front and ask for it when discussing compensation and signing terms.

Microsoft paid my entire relocation expense and I never (directly) saw a bill or paid a dime for it. I know Qualcomm does the same thing. I was on the hook for a year - if I quit before one year was up, I owed Microsoft some pro-rated amount of money.

In 1999 or 2000 I turned down an offer from Microsoft, and they asked if I owned a house and if I needed Microsoft to buy that house to get me to say yes. I don't know how that would have worked, but it was an impressive offer.

Microsoft probably doesn't buy the house directly. A relocation company buys it from you and holds onto it until it can be sold for a profit.

I have friends who work for Amazon (AWS). When relocation was discussed, they were just cut a check for the expected costs (and then some).

I got the option to get a check or just get movers (plus some other stuff). Same as the above person I was on the hook for repayment for 1 or 2 years.

Not necessarily. My last internship paid my relocation expenses, they just mailed me a visa gift card with the money a month or two before I started.

Amazon paid for my entire move (Europe to SF) without me having to incur any expenses beyond the taxi to and from the airports.

Companies pay relocation to a suitable candidate.

They reimburse, you need the money upfront.

Not necessarily. I would have thought the company paying directly was preferable, since then they can see invoices, and query costs beforehand.

My employer paid to transport my belongings, all I did was get a few quotes. It was useful for them to be involved, since they knew about necessary insurance etc, but an international move was new to me.

They also offered to transfer my relocation bonus to me as soon as the contract was signed, but I didn't need the cash so I waited until I'd opened a local bank account in the appropriate currency.

You're right, it varies. I'd posit that most of the time however, you get reimbursed.

In the tech industry, I think you're generally given the option between all-expenses-paid and a lump sum paid in advance. That was my experience. The only caveat is that the money is potentially owed back prorated based on how long you stay with the company.

Especially those in suitable roles which are really hard to hire for, like security.

Visas require background checks and I am not sure how that would work out.

passport is like $70 bucks.

So is this like a magical piece of paper that lets you travel and work around the world? Wow...

This is not how it works

And doesn't allow you to take permanent residence and a job? Also, that's likely $70 he doesn't have.

That was supposed to be my point, that just the passport is a lot of money, but apparently I failed.

Just goes to show how deeply people here cannot empathize with being poor. You said "passport is like $70 bucks" which people down-voted assuming you were were being naive and dismissive of the problem where you were really pointing out an even more immediate challenge.

The takeaway from all this being: This man's potential employers are unlikely to even begin to be able to fathom the challenges he faces day-to-day.

I meant that even it alone is expensive for a guy who's homeless, not that it's cheap.


Is there anything we can do for him? I mean this is just nuts.

Now that he's in the NYT he will probably be OK. The question is what to do about other people in similar situations.

I once received an application from someone quite famous. But he was famous because of a criminal case against him which was ongoing. We let this scare us off, because as a small company we didn't want the exposure if we did hire him. I'm not sure it was a very moral decision, but does your startup have time to deal with that?

> Now that he's in the NYT

Pedant: the article is in the Seattle Times :-)

> he will probably be OK.

I sure hope so. I always have mixed feelings when I read articles like this. On one hand, things should usually end up going well for the person (assuming they're legitimate) because of the exposure. But, on the other, it's sad to hear of them being in the situation in the first place.

I spent two years trying to get a homeless person off the street, and made a movie about it:


Are there charities set up that could help with something like this? I mean it would literally take less than $5k to get this guy set up. A couple suits of decent clothes, a security deposit and first months rent for an apartment, a bus ticket to wherever his job is.

That is a bargain for removing a homeless person from the system. Local governments and shelters should be jumping at the chance to do it.

It's not just that. It sounds like he gets the offer, but it's contingent on his background check clearing.

If that's all he needs though, where's the Kickstarter?

Maybe I was confused. It sounded like some of them were possible but he had no way of getting to the city where the job was. Or maybe he was just saying that even if one did come through he couldn't follow up on it.

One thing I'm curious about is how he actually ended up homeless. Before the conviction, it seems like he was doing very well (BMW, townhouse).

Why did he not have sufficient savings to survive after he got out of prison?

(Not trying to blame him for anything, trying to plan for my own life. I strive to maintain sufficient savings so that I would never be homeless even if I never worked again.)

I suspect any savings he did have would have gone to his legal defense. It's an all or nothing thing, you wouldn't hold back if you were wrongly accused and had everything to lose (as demonstrated).

In the comments, if that is actually him posting under his name, he says "I was in Debt and had JUST started that particular contract ,,an attorney wanted 10.000 up front and I did not have it !! ."

Making just shy of $100k in Seattle could be tricky to build up a lot of savings and live in a desired/fancy area with an expensive car. The median home price is well north of $500-600k.

Plenty of people live in West Seattle/Kent/Renton/Vashon. You can even live in the CD and still be in commuting distance for affordable rates. There's also no shame in having a roommate. I live in Queen Anne in a 2br house and still have net savings at a comparable salary. Also if you're living in cap hill, slu, Queen Anne, etc., you don't need a car. Everything is in walking distance or busable. You can even go hiking with the buses here! It all just depends on how you live.

In drug cases, aren't someone's assets all seized?

From the story, he didn't seem like he owned the house or car - possible that he paid the leases while in prison.

The mental debt of being in prison probably doesn't help anyone's financial situation either.

1 year is a long time to keep paying bills - especially from inside prison.

It seems like the conviction is what's preventing him from taking up the job offers, not being homeless.

Why don't they do the background check before the interviews so they don't waste eachother's time and money just to later have a background check fail. Does a background check costs more than an interview and paying for the flights?

Not a for a single candidate, if you however need to do it for all candidates before they are evaluated it will be much costlier :). Doing it after the interview for few candidates is much cheaper.

Also it may take weeks to do the full check, you will loose the candidate if you wait for so long to do the assessment .

It's probably because the interviewer's time is a sunk cost, whereas the background check would require accounting approval.

What is this article actually about?

That he's getting $100k offers pending background checks and failing them?

Bad title.

It's a bit weird though. Why couldn't he just rent a house/borrow money to pay for a temporary residence, then pay off using his paycheck? If his case was indeed already listed as exonerated, then he should be able to at least take some loans. But indeed, whetehr he was truly guilty or not, the stigma put on people via even just one conviction is just horrible. This seems such an ancient and brutal practice in today's world.

I wonder if he could start his own consulting company?

It comes with a lot of the same problems as getting hired by a company as an employee. Meeting with clients when you can't travel easily is a challenge. Living in a homeless shelter puts you on the schedule of the shelter (there are in and out times that are strictly enforced at most of them, if you aren't in by the curfew, you don't sleep in a bed that night), which conflicts with the erratic schedule of an IT contractor. You need a phone that is reliable, and the ability to take calls and emails at any time, which being homeless does not really allow; my friends who are homeless often live by day in coffee shops and libraries and by night in shelters if they're lucky enough to get a bed.

Also, though I don't like it, the reality is that black folks in IT are also facing subtle discrimination on a daily basis. Getting hired as a contractor often has none of the same protections that large companies have in place for people of color being hired as employees (government contractors are an exception in that the government has guidelines in place to help insure minorities are well-represented, but selling to the government is a whole other set of skills that he may not have, and may not be able to obtain given his circumstances). Among people of color (and women) that I've discussed it with, they tend to prefer applying for jobs and working jobs in major companies because the HR processes are designed to be less discriminatory. Small firms, even when they intend to not discriminate often make "culture fit" decisions that exclude women and minorities. He's also older. Smaller IT firms are infamous for hiring young and overlooking older candidates.

I live in an RV (I did it for four years, traveling full-time, and now I'm back to it after a couple years of stability), and I'm being reminded of all of the ways it makes a "normal life" difficult. And, I'm not dealing with the kind of stuff he is: I have a vehicle and money to travel, I have a phone and reliable Internet, I have a private home where I can have phone/skype conversations with co-workers, etc.

Getting out of homelessness is really tough, is what I'm trying to say, and being homeless makes a lot of things that are obvious solutions to problems for you and I much tougher when you don't have the stability and savings and such to fall back on that you or I have.

It's possible, but there's also some annoying bootstrapping costs for starting a company (yes, even a consulting company) that can make it a hard thing to do if you don't have any money or access to credit.

I put everything on my credit card to start mine, I doubt he has that luxury.

Artificial selection at its finest.

Seems like this story is more about the struggle being black.


I'm always happy when the up voting system works and the most useless, least constructive comments make it to the bottom. As the other commenter said - the universe of offensive pen testing is a small one compared to the IT security playing field.

You realize that offensive web application pen testing is only a tiny corner of the whole information security industry, and that most information security professionals don't find bugs. A good portion of InfoSec professionals are not technologists at all. They are behavioral experts, legal experts, policy makers, etc.

Judging by his own description of his skill set I would say he doesn't do offensive security at all but rather remediation, policy, and/or maybe forensics.

>Top kek

wrong site anon, back to >>>/g/ with you

“I am very pleased to offer you the full-time position of Senior Analyst, Security Compliance,” - so why doesn't he take that job? Or are they offering him the job and then by the time he goes to take it they've googled him and changed their minds?

Very likely the offer is contingent upon the successful completion of a background check. A thorough background check (criminal, education, credit) can cost a few hundred dollars, so firms won't proceed until an offer has been accepted.

Even though he was exonerated, his prison stay and other convictions may show up. He can explain, but a firm can rescind an offer for whatever reason they want (outside of protected statuses, which does not include criminal background). For a security position firms may want perfectly clean backgrounds.

Ahh, I was wondering why they would leave it that late, but avoiding extra costs makes sense.

Yes, that's entire point of the article.

It just seems strange to me that they learn enough about him to offer him a job, and then only after they've done that do they google him and find out his past. Surely you'd do that fairly early on?

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