This post tells the story of Trev Hedge, a Providence resident with a kind grin and a thoughtful, sunburned face.
Not too long ago, Trev resided in Connecticut, where he had a place to live and a car and a job repairing computers and photographic equipment. But in December of 2009, Trev was laid off. Hoping for a new beginning, he moved to Rhode Island to start over. Unfortunately, Trev did not find the opportunities he had been hoping to find in the Ocean State. “I didn’t know it when I made the move,” he says, “but it turned out I came here to be homeless and jobless.”
“I’ve never had a job problem before,” Trev continues. “I worked most of my life. But trying to find work in Rhode Island has been incredibly difficult.” Then, in September of last year, Trev’s unemployment benefits ran out. “They figured within 99 weeks you should easily be able to find a job. But it’s not true. At that point, things got urgent. I couldn’t pay the bills. I became frantic, and very depressed. When you’re stuck like that and facing eviction and…” he shakes his head. “Things can get pretty overwhelming.
Although Trev has high-level computer repair skills, the only work he has been able to find recently has been in landscaping. “I went to a worksite of this company based out of East Greenwich, and I told the boss, ‘I have landscaping experience. I don’t care what it is, I need something, anything.’ He told me to show up at seven the next morning with work boots on. So I did.”
But Trev’s landscaping job does not come close to providing for even his most basic needs. During his first week he was given just 15 hours of work. The next week he got 25, the next week five. “And these last two weeks I’ve gotten nothing. I call the boss up every morning before 7 o’clock. ‘Anything today?’ I ask. ‘No, no,’ he says. And I can do the work! I’m an older guy—I’m 43, and it’s hard physical work. But I can keep up. And still, it’s: ‘Anything today?’ ‘No, no.’ ”
Trev’s lack of work has forced him to adjust to a greatly reduced standard of living. “First of all, I live in a shelter. Having an apartment—even having your own room—is important. You don’t know how important it is until you lose it. You need a place to hang your clothes, where your wallet will be safe. Without that stability, everything’s tougher. A lot tougher.”Trev is at the point where even rudimentary expenses have to be given up. “You can’t buy shampoo and conditioner, you have to use soap for your hair. That might not seem like a big issue, having your hair all snarled from that, but it’s that kind of thing that really gets in the way. We’re not talking about luxury items, you can’t even get basic stuff. Things like haircuts, things like having decent clothes to go to an interview in—that gets almost impossible.”
There are a number of additional obstacles that Trev has to deal with on a daily basis. One is simply getting around. “When I came here, the Rhode Island roads ate my car piece by piece,” he says. “And with no work, I couldn’t replace it. So transportation is a huge issue. Now I ride my bike or I take a bus, but they keep cutting RIP TA service, scaling back hours. That makes it harder for people like me. I mean, those services affect people who need the bus to get to work. We depend on it.” These issues have a direct effect on his job search, Trev explains. “Jobs that I see posted in, say, Cumberland, sometimes I don’t even apply for anymore. You need to convince the employer that you can get to work dependably, and they don’t look at my bike as dependable, and the bus isn’t dependable nowadays. It’s like a Catch-22. I have a license, but I can’t afford to have a car. If you can’t have a car, you can’t get to work. If you can’t get to work, you can’t get a home. If you can’t get a home, you can’t stabilize yourself. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Trev also suffers from hiring discrimination. “Part of my problem in finding work is I have a criminal record, so I have to check that box on the job application. I mean, I’ve taken responsibility for what I did, it was years and years ago, but I still have to check that box. I’ll tell you, I’ve almost lost hope—you see an application with that box, and you just know they’re going to throw it out without even looking at it. I mean, we’re discriminated against, without ever getting a chance to get across any backstory.”
When he can, Trev takes day-trips out to Connecticut to do landscaping jobs, paying up to $75 from whatever he earns for the bus there and back. And that, he thinks, just about sums up the whole situation here in Rhode Island. “You have to leave the state just to get work so you can live in the state. Working in Connecticut to live in Rhode Island—that’s where we’re at right now.”