Temporary Measures

September 2000, 2100 Lakeside, Cleveland's massive, one-size-doesn't-quite-fit-all men's homeless shelter: It's 10 p.m. and 400 men are sleeping in space meant for 200. When the bunks were full they took to the cots, and when the cots ran out they laid blankets on the floor. A young man who doesn't quite fit the scene walks through, tapping sleeping men with his foot.

"Psst, want to work?" he asks.

He's a recruiter from a temp agency. Specifically it's AmeriTemps, but across the country recruiters from many of the nation's 1,400 exploitative labor halls are doing the same thing.

The homeless here compare the shelters to company towns of days gone by. In their eyes it's no coincidence that temp agencies spring up in parts of town populated by the homeless.

"You've heard of company towns, company stores, and company pay? Well this is company housing," says one old man. "How can you afford to get out of here making $5.15 an hour? You end up with $30 after a shift. How can you afford $300 for an apartment? And then you've got utilities and you still have to eat."

Another, younger man named Carlos echoes this thought.

"Basically it's a warehouse for the temp agencies," he says. "They'll come in here in the middle of the night, wake you up because they need some workers. Then they lie to you. They'll tell you you'll make $7.50 an hour and then when you get paid you find out it's really $5.15."

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2001
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