Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Who Asked You to End Homelessness?

So many people want to end homelessness. Here is just a short list of people and agencies desperately trying to put an end to homelessness in our towns and cities.

The Alliance to End Homelessness (Ottawa, Canada)
Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness
CT Coalition to End Homelessness
Denver Commission to End Homelessness
End Homelessness Now
Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger & Homelessness
New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness
The National Alliance to End Homelessness
New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness
People To End Homelessness
The Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness

The National Coalition for the Homeless says "Our mission is to end homelessness."

The Urban Institute asks "What will it take to end homelessness?"

In June of 2004 the mayor of Washington, DC, announced a plan to end homelessness in the city within ten years.

Philip Magano, White House homelessness czar, says, "We can no longer tolerate the homelessness of so many of our neighbors. Our commitment is to fulfill the promise of a home for every American... That effort will begin with an initiative directed to remedy homelessness for those who are disabled living on the streets and in encampments across our country. We cannot acknowledge their plight, and then do nothing to remedy their situation."

Who do these people think they are? How arrogant is it to look at someone, judge his life against your own, and find his deficient? I never met a homeless person who said, I want you to end my homelessness. I met homeless people who asked for spare change, for food, for employment, for drug treatment, for medical help, for shelter for a night, for a ride to the next town, and for someone to talk to. All that yes, and I have always asked for respect and dignity. No one wants to give up the right to direct his own life.

Why do people think they know best how others should live, without ever asking those they say they want to help? It is because when people talk about a homelessness problem, they are talking about the problem that the rich have passing the poor every day. When Paul Magano says we can't tolerate homelessness, he means he can't tolerate the homeless.

Be certain when you offer to help, that you are offering to help someone other than yourself. To do that, the first thing you need to do is listen.

People will tell you if they want help, and what help they want. Don't impose your life on others. You'll only harm them. When people say they are going to end homelessness, I receive that as a threat.

The more we can kill this year, the less will have to be killed the next war, for the more I see of these Indians the more convinced I am that they all have to be killed or be maintained as a species of paupers. Their attempts at civilization are simply ridiculous.
General Sherman, 1868

Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain…
L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, advocating genocide, 1890


At 1:34 PM, Blogger Dean said...

Interesting thought. I've been following your writings, not to seek help: a wife, a 3yr old, and a newborn don't lend themselves easily to a lifestyle free of a fixed sleeping location. Rather, what interests me is the free-form use of what is offered. By your definition even those well-to-do retired folks, who RV across the country and have no fixed dwelling, are homeless.

Every time this subject (government ending homelessness -- or government removing the homeless), is discussed I can't help but think that there are plenty of folks that fall into the governments sights who really aren't homeless, or have no choice, but then there are those that, like you, have chose that lifestyle.

Some are mentally handicapped or otherwise mentally ill. These folks need help. They don't belong out on their own while they are a risk to themselves and others. There ought to be help for them and in some cases they should be without choice. I'm a conservative, and this is one program (a rarity!) where government is in a good position to help.

Others might well have homes. How many times have you read of the homeless beggar at the corner of Busy Inersection and Local Interstate who really works two to four cities, has a wife and kids, makes ~$40,000 a year and has a 3 bedroom house in suburbia? I've read dozens, and maybe 6 of them about just one guy! He chooses to look homeless and feed the family pet donated fast food.

Still others are runaways who probably ought to be put in a cell for a night and returned home to mom and dad.

That leaves those who fall into the homeless category as traditionally defined: lost thier job, bank foreclosed and *p00f*, they've nowhere to go home to. There are many reasons that lead up to this. My own family lived in a school bus in which we built beds and a kitchenette. My father was irrisponsible and spent most of the monthly income on alcohol and cigarettes. With no emergency fund and two failed business attempts (with a dash of insurance foolishness thrown in) we were tossed from the only place I'd ever known.

I like the way you approach the homeless lifestyle. Dignity and self-improvement are the over-riding principles of any endevor. Keep up the good work!

Dean in Des Moines

At 2:05 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Dean, thank you for your comment. On most of your points I disagree with you vigorously, but that is the great thing about this blogging experience for me. People are changing their views, and thinking about homelessness in new ways in part due to this blog. That I disagree with you only brings the topics up so we can examine them cooperatively.

I, too, have a family now, and as a result I have given up my houseless lifestyle. However, if we were to hit more difficult times, I would find ways to make a good and comfortable life without a permanent housing arrangement. It sounds to me like that is what your parents did. That seems far from irresponsible to me. Perhaps your father's alcohol consumption was caused by a feeling of powerlessness and desperation, and a sense of personal failure. Social stigma can be a powerful force to reinforce problems. People frequently cooperate in their own stigmatization.

The confinement and oppression of people thought to be mentally incapable of helping themselves does not impress me as compassionate. It is far more often done for the comfort of the people outside than inside the institution.

I have never seen documentary evidence of the wealthy beggar story. This urban legend fills a social need. It allows people to turn their backs on the needy, by saying that the person is probably simply a con artist. Even if it is occasionally true that confidence men would spend their time short conning for pennies and quarters, who cares? Is that truly a reason to reject requests for help?

Your statement about the plight of runaways strikes me as incredibly ignorant. Teen runaways are usually fleeing mental or physical abuse, or sexual misconduct. They flee into a world which deprives them of basic civil rights, the right to work or to make contracts, and which therefore forces them into a fringe economy. They are exploited and brutalized. One thing they do not need is to be locked up and returned into the hands of abusers. It were better that you asked them what they needed, case by case, than that you prescribed such draconian action.

It does not matter to me why a person is homeless, choice or circumstance, by fault or innocence. I want people to take from life what comfort they can, and to esteem themselves highly, even as they build a home without a house.

I'm very happy to have you reading, and commenting. Please, incite my opposition again. It gets me thinking.

At 5:29 PM, Blogger Trevor said...

I enjoy reading your blog. But are you certain that most homeless people enjoy being homeless? Ending homelessness seems like something that would benefit society and the fact that you find it threatening seems like you are in minority. I think of it this way...the homeless *usually* become homeless because of three things. They were unlucky, they were irresponsible or they are mentally ill. I say *usually* because there might be a small subset of the homeless population that actually choose to be homeless (like yourself). If homes were FREE, would homeless people move into them? I think they would.

At 8:31 PM, Blogger llimllib said...

Hey, just want to tell you that I read and enjoyed your whole website last night. I hope that you find somebody to publish this. It's definitely interesting enough, so keep up the effort and I'm sure you'll find somebody.

Also, if you want more feedback, you might consider allowing non-blogger members to post comments.

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 12:23 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

It's true that most people prefer a shelter to no shelter, but I think you have missed my point entirely. Part of my point is illustrated by your response. You could not resist assessing the most likely causes of homelessness, and one of the causes you listed was moral failure. One was mental incapacity. One was blameless mischance. Two out of three of those place you in a position to justify intervening in the lives of others. I can easily see an argument springing from your response that homeless people ought to be locked up.

I doubt there are many homeless people who prefer forced shelter to the lives they are living.

You are engaging in a thought experiment. You do not know the causes or motivations for homelessness. You're speculating, just as the policy makers I mentioned speculate. The problem is that the moment those speculations are made, they take on the force and consequences of facts.

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Thanks llimllib. I considered allowing anonymous comments, but I didn't like not having a name to go with the opinions. If people don't want to register so they can comment, they can email me at guide2homelessnessATyahooDOTcom.

At 2:39 AM, Blogger squarepeg said...

MH, I have to tell you that you are blowing my mind with this blog. You are turning my established perceptions inside out and making me see a different possible reality. Thank you for all the effort you are devoting to this. BTW,I know it can be a bit discouraging to write and get little feedback, but if you are getting 300 hits a day, celebrate! Most people really don't need to say anything (or find it very difficult) ... but if they're reading, you must be touching something very important for them. Someone mentioned writing about "panhandling" (a pejorative term?) ... and I know many are very conflicted on this topic; I'd really like to hear your views.

At 8:28 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Hi Squarepeg,

Thanks always for your comments. On the subject of panhandling, I will probably write something, but it really isn't something I know anything about. It's hard to find a voice on a skill I've never developed. I do know that most of what people say about panhandlers is false, particularly the wealthy beggar myth. If you want to test whether that myth is plausible, go out and stand on any street corner for an hour begging for change.

Then ask yourself if you would ever want to make a living at that.

I can't even bring myself to test it. The only thing I have ever "bummed" was a cigarette, and I still burn with embarrassment thinking about that.

At 4:11 AM, Blogger squarepeg said...

Doesn't matter if you do it or not, but I am hoping to learn from your unique perspective on the subject, since I'm assuming that panhandling is closely related to homelessness (for some). I've personally never assumed the beggars are wealthy; I tend rather to assume they're too irresponsible to find a job. But I've never really known if this is true. Just as I've always assumed no one would choose to be homeless. Is it a privileged position in our society to even be capable of holding a minimum-wage position such as, say, a resturant dishwasher or a house cleaner? (The latter are actually extremely well paid here in Israel, and very much in demand.) Basically, the question always bothering me is: Is giving handouts to panhandlers the right thing to do? What do you feel when you see them?

At 4:54 AM, Blogger Zen Angel said...

I've enjoyed your blog for some time now, keep up the good work! I also wanted to say a quick "thank you" for posting the quote from Sherman. As a Native American, I know fully well how little most people know about the attempts to subjugate and exterminate throughout history. It's nice to know that not everyone has forgotten.


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