by Jeremy Endsley, Vocational Coordinator Shelter House, VISTA Volunteer
Learning bus routes and feeling the fear of being late are challenges many people experience while using public transit. People experiencing homelessness face these same challenges and a host of other barriers when trying to get to work. At a time when, for many people, life is at its hardest, getting reliable transportation is a vital link between homelessness and self-sufficiency.
One challenge people experiencing homelessness face is that bus passes are often out of reach. Non-profits such as Shelter House and the Crisis Center give out bus passes but this service is a big expenditure for small non-profits and the demand for passes far outpaces the supply.
Another difficulty is the paycheck gap. Even if someone finds a job, they still cannot afford to buy a bus pass or pay for a cab until they get their first paycheck. This narrows employment options to those that are within walking distance, limiting both the type of jobs people can apply for and the pay rate they can achieve.
Another barrier to employment related to transportation that people experiencing homelessness face is uncertainty about their future housing location. Transportation is the missing link between housing and employment. After the hard work of finding a job is completed, the job may be too far away from their new housing to reach on time via public transit.
Gaps in the transportation system itself also limit the diversity of jobs available to people experiencing homelessness. Gaps in transportation services include early morning, late-night, weekend, and intercity routes. Currently, morning bus service starts at 6am, too late for early morning shifts and inconvenient for people working overnight shifts. Late morning workers also have a frustrating time getting to work because buses run only once an hour after 9am. Night routes end at 10:30 pm during the week and 7pm on Saturdays. Currently, there are no plans for Sunday service. Lack of late night service hurts third shift workers as well as students wishing to go to school during the day and work at night. Third shift jobs include restaurants, janitorial, manufacturing, grocery stores, retail, security, and others.
Low-wage intercity commuters between Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty, numbering 2,500 in 2013, face long travel times and limited route frequency between cities. Currently, commuters traveling between Iowa City and Coralville have to transfer in downtown Iowa City to get to locations in the two cities, making for a long journey.
Only two buses per day connect North Liberty to Iowa City and Coralville. Commuters make up a large portion of the low-wage workforce in Coralville, and North Liberty. In 2013, only ten percent of Coralville workers earning $1250 per month or less resided in Coralville. Only fifteen percent of North Liberty workers earning $1250 per month resided in North Liberty (US Census OnTheMap, http://onthemap.ces.census.gov/). In contrast, most Iowa City low-wage workers also live in Iowa City.
Though these figures do not reveal what form of transportation commuters used, they do show that overall, both Coralville and North Liberty depend on low-wage workers who commute to work from outside.
To address transportation issues in the region, nonprofit service agencies and employers have come together to form a new committee called the Community Transportation Committee. The committee’s mission is to expand transportation options through advocacy, education, and utilization of existing community resources. Currently, the committee is working on a report which will include a worker transportation survey. The survey will provide a clearer picture of what transportation services are most needed. The report will also provide examples of worker transportation programs in similar cities and how they might be used as models for future initiatives.
For more information please contact Jeremy Endsley: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also read more about the work of the Community Transportation Committee on Facebook.
The LHCB blog features articles about poverty and homelessness written by our members and community supporters.