Thursday, April 26, 2007

Homeless - How Do We Help?

I am very conflicted about the homeless issue. As Mud Puppy asks in the comments section of the Semper Fi Fellowship blog, "...how do you know who’s faking it and who’s legit?"

Something that has stuck with my my entire life happened when I was around 11 or 12 ... My father (well, step-father, but he was my Dad) was a very generous soul. One day he saw a scruffy man by the side of the road with one of those ubiquitous cardboard signs asking for help. My Dad pulled over and offered the man a job (paying $6 an hour in 1982!!), offered to get him a hotel for week until his first check, and stake him some money for food and new clothing.

The guy blearily blinked at my dad and slurred out, "I just want a few bucks to get drunk, man."

My sympathy for the homeless was shattered, and I've never viewed them the same.

I know there are homeless who would truly love to receive an offer like that, but I suspect there are vastly more who simply want another drink, or another snort, or another shoot.

Some it's fairly easy to tell ... the ones with kids.

Others it's not so easy. Some have slipped so far into the cracks of society, for so long, that the once industrious and kind souls have become embittered and mired in self -loathing and addictions that climbing out of their black pits of despair is nigh impossible for them ... alone.

But how do we help?

Not the we as in society, or government. We as in us. The readers of this blog, the average joe, John Q. Public.

Volunteering at soup kitchens, half-way houses, and food banks is a start. If time is an issue, donating some money to those charities that aid the homeless is an option.

But that doesn't take care of the real issue, the underlying causes of these poor souls' plight.

It's unrealistic to think we, the common folk, can offer jobs to those who would relish the chance for one. Some have jobs, but simply cannot afford adequate housing for their families. Rising insurance rates and sky-rocketing housing costs have driven many people out of homes. Living in a hotel or motel is not a real option, as the costs of that are astronomical in the long run.

Offering a homeless family a place to stay would be great. But there lies also the security issue of your own family. Do you take the chance of allowing complete strangers into your home? If so, for how long?

What of those people so addicted to drugs, alcohol, or the homeless way of living? Do you give them money which may go only to feed their addiction? You could give them actual food, which only gets them through the day, not touching the real issue of their problems.

It seems that society wants to help the homeless, while at the same time staying apart from them. It treats the symptoms without looking for a cure.

Government and private agencies are woefully underfunded, understaffed, and overwhelmed.

Large cities, like Tampa, funnel vast quantities of public monies into sports teams training facilities, stadiums, and areas. They build glistening Riverwalks in affluent neighborhoods. They debate over what to do with several unused public buildings ... turn them into museums? Condos?

If that money was used to help people, if those building were renovated to house homeless, if better funded and staffed counseling centers and addiction clinics were created, could we stanch the flow of ever increasing homeless? Could we, perhaps, save some of these benighted souls, help them recover from the squalor and addictions that envelop their lives?

I don't know.

I suppose it's easier for those who have to stay locked away in our ivory towers, basking in the glow of our possessions, as we studiously ignore the dark blot of the have-nots in our courtyards.

I've no answers to give. This is just something that gnaws on my mind from time to time. I don't know what posting this will do to help, other than getting my thoughts out.

I could do more, I suppose. I just don't know what, or how.

9 comments:

Russell said...

Great post! Every time I go to places like Chicago I think about these things. I need to stop thinking about it and start doing something tangible.

Bruiser said...

Indeed a great post. One of your best, I'd say. Homelessness is everywhere. Even in the small town I live in. It's just not as visible. I don't know what to do about it, either. We had a missionary couple speak on Sunday. They deal with homeless folks in Honduras. Many of them are children and addicted to glue. Long, sad story, but I'm glad I got to hear it. With all the problems in the world, our attention tends to stray away from the problems in our own back yard. We as a country need to do something about it. I don't know what, but something. Yep, easy for me to say, I know. But I can barely figure out my own personal problems, let alone the country's.

Raivynn, you need to come this way for a visit sometime...really you do. :)

Anonymous said...

You talk big and paint a pretty picture of caring, but what do you do NOW to help the homeless in your area? You are little better than the rest of the people who talk and talk but never act.

Russell said...

Anonymous people annoy me.

To quote Raivynn: "I've no answers to give. This is just something that gnaws on my mind from time to time. I don't know what posting this will do to help, other than getting my thoughts out.

I could do more, I suppose. I just don't know what, or how."

How is that talking a big picture?

Swinging Sammy said...

Great post. I too get annoyed by ppl who post anonymously.
You can start small, not by inviting someone into your home, but by donating a small sum to local charities who work with homeless.
I did a clinical rotation that included working in a homeless shelter, and I also must say that there are those who choose to remain homeless. Any amount of help is appreciated, but these folks do not want to get out of whatever situation they are in.

tekphreak said...

I have taken in a homeless person. I was under the impression that they wanted to evolve from being homeless.

I was wrong. I prepared a place for them in my home. I gave them a cell phone and cellular service for a time, to coordinate when I and the missus would be home. I found a job for the person. I bought the person new shoes and clothing for the job. After a week, I found a place to live for the person.

I lost money in the deal and I got dumped on.

The truth is someone people are homeless because they WANT to be homeless.

They want to live off of society without being part of it. Even if you drag someone off the streets and help them get on there feet, it means nothing. Some homeless are homeless by choice.

So the next time you see that "homeless" person standing on the median with there cardboard sign begging for help, DO NOT GIVE THEM ANY MONEY. Get lunch for them, or give them one of your MREs you have stashed away for emergencies.

The Homeless-by-choice will HATE that. They are only looking for there next drink/drug fix.

Raivynn said...

Anonymous - I do less than I should, or could, I suspect. I used to help out at a local food bank, via a local church, until my health declined.

I am constantly slipping coins and ones into those charity boxes ubiquitously placed in businesses. It's not much, i know, and i don't really know if it goes for what is purported, but it equals a hundred bucks a year, I'd bet.

Also, whenever the grocery stores have those "Buy-A-Bag" events during holidays, I tend to get one each shopping trip. I even got my local Sweetbay to promise the canned goods would be from the latest stock and not their older cast-offs or no-salt version no one buys.

tom said...

Raivynn, do not let someone who is so ignorant of the enormity and complexity of this issue diminish your caring and compassionate spirit. As one who has worked one on with with homeless...it is wrong to say most want to be homeless...even though you may find some who do, it's wrong to say a job would help...as the lions share of these people are mentally ill. I believe the mental health crisis we have in this nation contributes more the sitation than any other single cause. Bless you for what you do. Jesus said if you just give a cup of water to one....you do it for Him.

John C said...

Good post, Raivynn. This reply honestly isn't about your post...but what phreak and anonymous posted...it's coming from that.

I've heard more stories of those who had a homeless person/family stay with them that didn't flaunt it and point out later it was the homeless person's fault for not succeeding. Many horror stories of control phreaks playing head games too much of those. Rarely positive outcomes for either party involved.

Translation: Look before you leap. Not everyone's able to be an engineer, not everyone's able to be a priest, and not everyone's able to run a homeless shelter out of their house.

The first two examples, you bail out or get fired...someone'll be there to replace you. The last...you're screwing with someone's life if you think you have the answer.

They're homeless. You aren't. If you ever were, you'd know what you were getting yourself into and directed them to what got YOU...out of being homeless.

Didn't mean to rant on your blog, Raivynn...I think what you posted and what you do from your heart is fine. Exasperation is something many feel about the homeless population. I thought your post was pretty tender and honest.