Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Shelters are for Someone Else, Part 1

Twice I've gone to a shelter, both times as a teen. These experiences are why I don't back the faith-based initiatives that the federal government has promoted in recent years. These places, these pockets of hell staffed by well meaning, misguided people, these are the most degrading, humiliating, stigmatizing places in the world. I've actually never spent the night in anything called a homeless shelter. I preferred to return to the cold, rather than sit in the pew.

Let me tell you about my first time. Long term stable homeless living as an adult came later, but I was also a teen runaway. I was sixteen, but looked older. They can't let you in if you're under eighteen, unless it is exclusively a youth hostel. I approached the shelter, and was confronted by two very large men, security I guess. I told them I just had to lay down, didn't they have a cot I could sleep on? They said no. First I had to sit through the service. Exhausted and cold, I agreed, and I was taken into a pew. The preacher was chastising us for our sin in a rhythmic way, almost singing. If it were not so mean a message, I might have found it comforting. A supplicant converted, tears in his eyes, crying out testimony, confessing his bad ways and begging for forgiveness. The scene was surreal, as if I had a fever. I thought this stuff only happened in movies.

Appalled, angry, I stood up. I didn't need to be yelled at. I didn't need anything but a place to sleep. A warm place was what I needed and I was being attacked for my sins by someone who knew nothing about me, someone who knew nothing about the thirty other unhappy souls in the room seeking not God, but simple human comfort. As I stood up, two ushers came toward me, stern, gesturing me back to my seat. Big men. Scary. I was outnumbered, outmuscled, humiliated, but I was leaving. I waved them back. I said, "I want to leave. Show me the door."

A change came over them. Their eyes became shaded, and they escorted me out. No violence. No anger. They didn't ask me why. They didn't ask me what I would do now. They didn't care. I wasn't one of them.

Maybe it's different when shelters are run by Red Cross or by FEMA. I don't know. I've never been to one of those and am not likely to go to one, not even if my house were torn down by a natural disaster. Homeless shelters are crowded. You have to line up for beds at most shelters in the mid-afternoon, making it impossible to have both a job and a bed on the same day. You move through the shelter like a cog on an assembly line, from soup kitchen to bed, with no freedom to vary from the program. Personal security is low, and you are likely to have things stolen as you sleep. And more important than any of that, homeless shelters deprive you of dignity. They scream out that you have failed to take care of yourself, that you need.

No matter how much you need, you shouldn't feel that way.

I believe there is no tougher job than being a beggar. Nothing is harder than asking for compassion from people who hold you in contempt. Begging does a service, because it is a reminder to the fortunate that they could fall too, but it is a service I cannot perform.

We, each of us, deserve more dignity. Shelters are for someone else.

Bother! I guess I've got to go stay the night at a local shelter. Be watching for the next installment of Shelters Are For Someone Else.


At 10:57 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

this might seem like a strange thing to bring up, but having backpacked through asia on a shoestring i learned much of the same tricks. i was utterly without resources except for a few hundred. and sure, i was there on my own recognisance, but i was working and had no other choices for employment.

what made me appreciate your blog and this post was that experience. i really felt the kind of humiliation and need to work through self-esteem issues in a way that i never had experienced before.

i don't come from a rich family. right now, i'm on disability (illness, specifically lyme disease, gave me some lovely neurological disorders - anxiety, agoraphobia, etc.). i did, however, go to harvard. one of the best lessons i learnt there was, strangely enough, about buddhism.

early buddhists, including women, were beggars - that's what the words bhiksu (for men) and bhiksuni (for women) mean, though in modern times they just mean 'monk, nun'. they were disallowed from owning anything beyond a bag, two pieces of clothing, and some basic toiletries (razor, stone-age tampons). and a bowl. oh, and they were prohibited from even touching money or valuables - they could only take food donations.

i don't mean to sound facile. homelessness because of situation isn't the same as 'chosen' homelessness. but many people 'chose' to abandon life because of desperation; women in particular fled awful lives and ended up homeless. they often joined orders as beggars, including buddhist ones.

i felt a great deal of understanding for what ancient buddhist beggars experienced after my experiences living in asia. i washed my clothes in the river. i ate food i found, or stuffed up with rice. i got to sleep in beds sometimes, but often i slept on the beach with the local dogs protecting me from wild boars and tigers. (sounds nuts, doesn't it? but indonesia is dangerous, snakes and spiders aside you can get eaten.)

and when i didn't bathe in the river either in wild streams without crocs or with the protection of local washer-women in public areas, i used communal facilities like the hammam (public baths) for a few cents. i wish we had those kind of public works here in the west, especially in the cold parts of the country. i live in new england, and a hammam would be most lovely here (even though i have my own tub now). or, as in japan, the hot springs baths or the sento.

anyway, i notice things others don't because of that situation. i thank you for your blog - i am going to keep reading, you can be sure of that.

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Your comments are fascinating. Thank you.

BTW, I make no distinction between homelessness by choice or by circumstance. Homelessness is not a source of shame, or at least it should not be, and there are good reasons to choose it.

At 8:26 AM, Blogger JE said...

I am so sorry that you experienced this. As a Christian in a mainstream denomination, I am embarrassed that this is now your, and your readers', impression of faith-based shelters. I, too, question the value of force-feeding religion before meeting someone's physical needs.

This summer, I brought three homeless children home with me for an afternoon where they were able to bathe, swim, eat, and play with my own children. It was hard to return them to their parents living in a decripit car. While they were here, I washed their clothes, and gave them some hand-me-downs. We gave them a little cash, free fast-food meal coupons, put the family up for a night in a cheap motel. Even though I offered this to them in the early afternoon, they chose not to go to the motel until nearly midnight. I didn't offer them another free night. Somehow I expected they'd want a bath, some TV time, a soft bed, a safe place for their children.

The kids I really cared about, but the parents were users who began to see us as as "patsys" and within two weeks wanted to use my credit card to rent a trailer. The mother put the little boy on the phone at 10PM to beg to come to my house to play that night. My answer? No. My children were in bed. I explained to him, that even when camping, children could still have a regular bedtime. That was the last I heard from them.

Chosen homelessness is fine for adults, perhaps, but parents should do all they can to avoid inflicting this life on their children.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

You sound like a nice person. I still wouldn't want your charity, no matter how much in need I was. It is laced with judgment.

At 11:01 PM, Blogger JE said...

Judgemental? Is it judgemental to expect a mother to want first to take care of her children? You sound rather self-righteous to me. I'm judgemental?

At 7:50 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...


At 12:34 AM, Blogger daniel313 said...

I'm a committed Christian. I have also been at least as homeless as our author in the past and I suspect far moreso, both quantitatively and qualitatively on any relative scale.

You make very good observational points about homeless shelters. They really are awful and someone such as yourself has no need of them, would only have your own survival abilities impeded by wasting time with them and would very much be out of your own element or comfort zone being in one. Shoot, generally speaking, most of the higher level managers of such places probably do not possess your intelligence, your grasp of the English language or your obviously middle class socialization, thus any team, outreach, experience or ministry they would put together would only naturally be found lacking by you. Same here.

Our author though, whether he realizes it or not is certainly not anything even remotely similar to a "typical" homeless fellow. I believe he is sincere. I believe he is legitimate. I very much agree with most of his advice and observations concerning homelessness and I have no doubt that he was homeless for a time.

However, just like there's lite, watered down beer, there's also lite homelessness that while offering insights to an intelligent, introspective and observant young man certainly won't allow him to understand the much deeper problems than his own that commonly lead people to homelessness. You're obviously not generationally homeless for instance -- that is, people literally born on the street to homeless parents, living on the street all their lives, knowing nothing else about this beautiful diverse planet but the street and then dying on the street only to get dumped in a county gravesite by the same man that mows the county graveyard lawn.

Those shelters save people's lives and in many cases provide the only connection folks have to "normal" society. While it is true that many homeless persons do not fit in the old stereotypes of veterans-gone-bonkers and Reagan's released mental patients, it is also true that many do and a lot of other folks find those shelters a very needful thing too -- even the preaching. Do a little honor to the homeless who are far worse off than you ever were and don't impugn or disparage those shelters so easily. To many, that's the only hope they'll ever have, so those shelters do serve a purpose -- just not to you.

To the dear Christian sister who doesn't see that you're being judgmental, first let me tell you that it really is a good thing that you wanted to get involved at all and kudos to you even for your short-term investment into their lives. Now let me sting you a bit in love...

You say to yourself as a mother, "Even if I were homeless I would do differently -- I'd be a better mother." Yes, maybe you would, but that is because you would still BE YOU with all the advantages God gave you, minus a home. You would not be her. You are different than she is -- a completely different person, yet you are measuring her in comparison to yourself and other people you know, rather than in comparison to whom she could be instead. Do you see? Rather than assuming how much better you’d do by your kids in the same circumstances (as if you could even guess in the first place) why not take some time to ponder how much worse she could be? When you have that picture in your head realize that she’s doing much better than that. Help yet? Gimme one more shot...

Let me ask you a question: Are you a better mother to your own children than your mother was to you?

Odds are you're thinking "yes" even if you wouldn't say so for fear of hurting your mother. That's how we are with our kids, pretty much all of us get our basic idea of parenting from our folks and then, assuming we love our kids, we try to improve on it.

Well, how do you know that this little homeless family’s lifestyle isn't a giant improvement over the lives the parents had as children? You don't. Fact is, they might be the first generation on either side that isn't prostituting their kids and that being the case, teaching the kids to beg and take advantage of folks is one heck of an improvement! You don't know. You just don't know.

Judgment is when you forget that you just don't know and start thinking that maybe you do know. Fact is though, that homeless mother might be a zillion times better mother than her own mother was and be doing the very best she knows how. You just don't know.

At 1:49 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

This is going way off track, into some confusing, moralistic, pseudo-religious argument about Christians and parenthood and right and wrong and lite beer. Lite beer? I've never before been compared to lite beer.

Truth is, I am at least second generation homeless. My father, too, was a juvenile runaway. I think he was even pre-teen when he first left home. Of course, that is beside the point, too.

My purpose here, and in Part 2 of this post, was not to impugn Christians as a whole, but to register my disgust with shelters. This blog is not designed as a political or a religious forum. It is designed to give worthy advice to people capable of using it. I never said that shelters were for no one. I simply said they were for someone else.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger daniel313 said...

Point taken, got off subject and misunderstood you. Sorry. It's an excellent and helpful blog you've got going here. Keep up the GREAT work. Am really looking foreward to more.

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Katie Mae said...

I have a responce to JE's comment. I hate to keep the religious discussion going on such a great blog, but I felt compelled by this post to comment. I agree with mobile homemaker that you seem like a nice man, but your judgements cloud your view of this familie's lifestyle, whether or not you agree with it, it is the way that they have chosen to live.

It was nice of you to open your home up to those 3 children, but what makes you think that their parents don't give them the opportunity to bathe, swim,
eat, and play. Granted, they may not have ever been to someone's personal outdoor swimming pool and played with well-to-do children, but swimming in the river with any
childhood friend is the same amount of fun as what they experienced at your home. They may not get a chance to bathe in a
nice tub with hot water, but they find ways to bathe their children, even if it's not as frequently as your own. Maybe the family doesn't
get to eat at a dining room table with intimate lighting and a balanced meal, but I would rather eat my meals, even if infrequent, with my family who loved me. Love is not always material as our society makes it today. I'm sure that they wash their clothes, maybe not as frequently as you or in a washing machine with ultimate grease fighting laundry detergent, but they do.

I was apalled that you would think about not returning them to their family. I realize that children need constant care and attention, but asides from the fact that they are most likely not getting all the vitamins they need, from what you have said, these children are not neglected. American society is quick to snatch children away from families that they see as unfit, while every family is in some way unfit, just better at hiding it than others.

I, sir, would not want your charity either - fastfood coupons and a cheap motel room? I understand that you were trying to be sincere, but I would have
been insulted. That car is their home. A motel room is a room where
prostitutes and drug dealers committ their mortal sin, a good Christian man like yourself should know that, and know the danger. Would you put your own kids in that same cheap motel room with a good hot McDonalds meal for a
relaxing vacation away from the stresses of real life?

Their parents are obviously trying to be good parents, I see that in the fact that they asked you if you could manage to rent them a trailer. Unlike a motel room, they could make a trailer into a suitable home, and offer their children a comfortable place to sleep that isn't cramped. To them you looked like someone who cared and wanted to help, so they asked. Their is no shame in asking, they are TRYING to do what is best for their children, but don't have the means.

Finally, what made me realize how much judgement you placed on this family is the comment you made to the little boy about bedtime. Bedtime is a standard setup by society to control the activities of it's people because the
degenerates like me come out at night. That family may have a different schedule and I'm sure that they all go to bed at the same time since they sleep in cramped quarters. I can see why they didn't call you back sir. That was borderline rude and showed the family that you did not approve of their lifestyle, and that you really didn't sincerely care about their well-being. That little boy must just liked playing with your children and wanted to see them again. He did not know your children went to bed at that time, because he was not asleep. His parents let him stay up and experience the stars and the moon and all the amazing night creatures that your children will never know the wonders of until they are grown. You said you did not preach religion to them, but you preached "appropriate lifestyle," which might as well have been religion.

Just because you do not believe how they live is acceptable does not mean telling them so will change anything. That is one thing I beleive the Christian community will never understand. You have to show the acceptance that you preach and be the steward that "God" created you to be before sensible people will follow you.

At 6:50 AM, Blogger lightofthemoon said...

Hey nifty people-
I have been homeless more than half my life (I'm 27). I think this site is a wonderful and unexpected guidebook for anyone in such a situation. I hope someone reads this comment-- I feel it is important to include the unsanitary element of shelters in this section. I, also, am not an advocate of shelters, and I agree with this section entirely. It should be mentioned, however, that shelters are often a primo place to GET SICK. There's just bound to be lots of people populating them who are not well (homeless don't have medical insurance most of the time and sometimes illness is the root of the homelessness). The last thing YOU need when trying to figure out how to meet your basic needs is to come down with a serious illness. Even if you manage to stave off infection, an atmosphere of illness (mental and/or physical) is not (need I say) at all good for you. I realise these seem like blanket generalizations, but unfortunately they are well tested by experience. Hopefully someday human consciousness will expand enough that we will encounter a different kind of homeless shelter that would actually be WORTH sheltering in.
Keep up this wonderful and sorely needed resource! You have my utmost respect.

At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lightothemoon, I read it. : > Went into a shelter healthy, came out with the "shelter hack", healing while living on streets takes a bit longer than healing homed. Cops, etal, said "must go to shelter", sick again. Headlice too. Fights breaking out, scary, at least on the streets one can run away from the violence. I don't mind a good service, problem is the providers of meals equate one's being homeless with one being a sinner. A priest let it be known they were there to minister, anything needed, just ask. I was starving, and finally walked out, picturing the long line, once the meal was finally served, then the line after to get a much needed pair of shoes.

At 12:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lightofthemoon, I read your post too. The first week I was in the shelter I got what was diagnosed by their "doctor" (I knew more about medical stuff than he did) as a cold and given some cough syrup. But, after hacking and feeling like I was going to die for a week(worst "cold" I ever had...) I went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with "walking pneumonia" and was put on antibiotics for two more weeks. To this day, even though I'm not homeless anymore, just one of the 40% of working adults in the U.S without health insurance, whenever I have a medical need, I go to the emergency room instead of that "doctor". As to the fighting, I felt I would've been safer sleeping in an alley in the middle of Detroit somewhere (been there, almost done that)

At 1:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mobile Homemaker, just an idea (from my last post) Maybe you should post a chapter entitled "free clinics are for someone else"...

At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is for the person who took the three children into their home for swimming. I think it is a wonderful thing that you did for those children. Sure, everything you said in your comment may not have rubbed people the right way, but my thought is, at least you tried to help. There are not many people in the world who would open their home to people they didn't know, children or not.

It is a different world in the homeless community, not everyone will be honest, but that is just like the non-homeless community. It is better to remember that if a parent is homeless, it is not always by choice, a lot may have had children after being homeless by accident, or many parents will loose their jobs because of medical problems and are forced out on the streets with their children. You can never say that you would do a better job as a parent in that situation, until you are placed into that situation you can't really understand. No one knows the true feeling of homelessness and parenthood while being homeless except those who have lived it.

I still think that your desire to help, and your desire to make those children happy is a great thing. Just let your actions be backed up by a compassion that is deep, very deep inside, not just because it's the right thing to do.

Good Job for caring, and for trying.

At 8:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just want to thank you for this blog and for giving people the opportunity to see another side of things. I have learned a lot. I would like to say that while JE might have been judgemental, at least he was trying to do something. People might have a lot to learn, but would it be better to do nothing? Some people might be content where they are, but others might truly need and appreciate some extra help. I feel like some people have been just as judgemental to JE with their harsh criticizms. Of course he/she(?) doesn't know what it's like. Why should he? Do you know what it's like to be black, asian, muslim, christian, rich, tall, short, mentally handicapped, beaten, sexually abused, famous, physically handicapped, etc... How can anyone possibly know what it's like to be in every situation? All we can do is try our best to learn and understand. At least JE tried to help with the understanding that he had.

At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some shelters are not like the one you described going to as a teen. I went to one in Rockford which is in a smaller city in Illinois. It was religious affiliated but you get food/clothing and stuff when you first come in. The only thing you had to do is sit through a short pray which basically was the “lord’s pray” I think it is called. You could hang out and watch TV. Room setup was a bunch of bunk beds probably about 60 beds, there was about 4 staff on duty on night to kept an eye on things, and you could kept your stuff in storage so people could not steal it. I did not stay there for a long time but overall my experience was not the bad.

At 8:51 AM, Blogger wanderingvet said...

this is a copy of a post from my blogsite that is pertinent to what this post here is about! I feel the same way.
I dragged my homeless self to the VA today for a checkup. Since my VA ID says HOMELESS for address the attending physician felt compelled to make me see their social worker there in the hospital there. Now I have been through this before at another VA hospital, but did not want to break this doctors heart since he is a young doc and is saving the world, so I went along with it. Now me and and this cagy social worker were looking across the desk from each other and I said "All you have to offer me is a bed in a place full of crack heads and court ordereds right?" and she said "Oh you have been through this this before-huh?" and I said "yeah but I am just making the doctor happy." And we left it at that. Listen Homeless Veterans, You have to provide for yourselves. You have to make it happen!

At 6:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been homeless off and on for almost twenty years. I'm an atheist. I find it offensive to be forced to listen to religious claptrap in exchange for food or shelter.

I find it even more offensive that our government expects citizens to rely on religon to feed and shelter them.

Although I have been homeless, I have always been employed and paid taxes. I find it ridiculous to have to rely on these kind of programs in any way.

I don't care how many good intentions there are in the christians who are trying to help- it's still, buying people's souls. And I don't think that's quite what they realize they are doing. My soul is worth more than a hot and a cot.

At 12:21 AM, Blogger Sweet Excess said...

Someone should think of a way to improve homeless shelters. I knew a lot of violence and sometimes even rape may occur but I didn't know the people running it were so awful. These people need encouragement and some guidance. What can be done?

At 2:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I am going to make a post about my experiance in a shelter. I have been staying in san jose in a shelter down town for the last two months... At first it was ok for a shelter the food is tasted good and the staff were friendly. They put in this new staff member whom has taken it appon her self to decide that my wife and I do not belong there.
She has degraded my wife and tried to degrate me in the same manner. I have whent to the staff of the shelter but he did not want to listen to me or my wife. I won't repeat the words that are said about me or my wife on a daily bases.
There were a few members that kept the place clean and thouse are the people who get targeted... for the cruel comments and run out or turned away by staff. For one reason or another.

I am not sure what I should do anymore my wife and I are now fighting more and more. and it would seem my life is falling apart at the seems. as if it was not in shambles to begain with.
I know why we are fighting is couse of the stress level in the shelter.
I heard this just the other day walking down the street "Homeless people are like the pleague you just can't get rid of it... You best keep away from them you might get it your self."
I sneared at the words and kept on walking to were I was going.
For any one who is reading this I hope you don't go threw what my family is going threw right now. Maybe one day there will be some peace in the world and people will rember what it is to help one another, and try to get along with every one. I hope you all have a better day then I...

At 12:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insightful post!
It really is a sad situation that this is the way some religious people treat the homeless.
Jesus freely healed the sick, restored lost sight, hearing, speech and mobility without conditioning it upon listening to preaching or condemnations. He treated beggars and homeless people with dignity! No wonder people flocked to his compassionate message of forgiveness!

At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this post is soooo true. i hate preachy people, i'm there for help, not religous salvation, my soul is just fine thank you.

At 11:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice blog! I've learned a lot here.

I've been in a few shelters in Atlanta. Some were religious and some weren't. For me to get something free and only have to listen to somebody for 15-20 minutes is a good deal. I'll take it any day.

Wow, from the looks of some of these posts, it seems that "judgmentalism" is the worst possible sin. It isn't. For those who are too worried about people judging them: grow up. People will always do this. Don't be such a baby about it. Much worse things could happen...and really, what does it do to you? Nothing, unless you let it.

At 8:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about the folks that have psychiatric problems? Bipolar/ borderline personality disorder/ schizophrenia etc etc are very real problems eps if they can't afford meds. A bpd that my husband and i helped for a time loved to use compassion for their children to get stuff (diapers) then would take the box of diapers back to walmart and use the money for cigs and alcohol. I judge that behavior as wrong. We all make choices and choices have consequences.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Comments about "immoral behavior", while they may be correct, are completely off topic. I was not writing for the insane, the stupid, or the immoral. This blog is intended for the bright, empowered, homeless person.

At 1:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hard to believe a few short years ago I was driving a Lexis--sporting diamonds--and living in an executive home. Being homeless was for people who didn't work or used drugs. . .

Guess NO ONE deserves to fall off her "Throne" more than I do.

The children don't deserve it!

At 6:10 PM, Blogger Christine McElhannon said...

Oh my GOd! I totally agree with you, those faith based shelters are hell. I stayed in one and it was the worst time in my life. I found a very good shelter and went there. I wonder if that shelter you mentioned was the one where I stayed, in Buena Park? that place is a stinking hell hole. And the pastor is a crazy megalomaniac.

At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard that recently, the California gov has begun to round up the homeless around the capital and place them in the fairgrounds. It was in response to a broadcast of the Oprah show, which highlighted the growing number of homeless in CA cities.

The thing is, these facilities are more like prison camps than a shelter. They search everyone that enters. You are only allowed two small bags of stuff. You are kicked out at 5AM and required to be back by 3PM (which interferes with your availability for work.)

Is this what is coming to a location near you?

At 7:31 AM, Blogger armagettiniton said...

Your experiences involving the shelters inspired me to write the following prose. I hope you like it.

The Predicament of Having Less

Save your soul
to rest your weary body
admit your sins
for food you should be grateful for
since beggars can't be choosers

Less than perfect pious followers dictate
yet they seem to forget that life can put people in less than perfect positions

Freedom of discretion
can lead to compromising and life changing outcomes

Unfortunate circumstances
for those forced to be homeless
in a world overwhelmed by the
distinction of the few whom have
everything and the many without

Thank you for your frankness and for sharing your tips/techniques.

***Aurora in N.C.

At 7:21 PM, Blogger MikeG said...

I agree, shelters are the worst place for a homeless person trying to get back on their feet. Word of caution, Don't go to Las Vegas to be homeless, they even made it illegal for churches to feed the homeless. If your a felon, you have 48 hours to register, or go to jail. Everywhere is posted "no trespassing NRS 200-207" which give the police the authority to stop you for standing on the sidewalk and shake you down to see what they can get. Just be aware of your constitutional rights and stay out of trouble. good luck...

At 8:32 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Interesting blog, but I take exception with this statement: "I was not writing for the insane, the stupid, or the immoral. This blog is intended for the bright, empowered, homeless person."

I have an 18 year old goddaughter who suffers from schizophrenia. She is neither insane or stupid and is bright, but she has a mental illness and it is entirely possible that at some time in her life she might be homeless.

I am disappointed that you would claim that "this blog is intended for the bright, empowered, homeless person". That seems to be an elitist attitude. There are those who may not measure up to your lofty levels, but may find themselves to be homeless and in need of help as well. It is also possible that some of these very same people who are not the brightest or the most empowered who could teach us something about being homeless and about compassion.

The irony is that it is those who are not the brightest or the most empowered who could benefit the most from the advice on this blog. Again, being mentally ill does not automatically make someone "insane".

At 10:38 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

I don't know why you think I could write for those with psychiatric disorders that are of a severe nature. I have no training in helping insane persons. The only serious psychiatric problem I am personally competent to write about is depression. If someone has more serious problems than that, and those problems are at the root of their homelessness, then my advice may not be of any use to them. I am writing to people with a certain minimum competence in self care. I don't think it is elitist to know the limits of my own relevance.

At 7:36 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Mobile Homemaker:

First of all, just because someone has a mental illness does not make them "insane". There are many levels of mental illness and that is the most extreme. Plus, you may not know it but using the term "insane" to refer to mentally ill people is like referring to a mentally handicapped person as being a "retard".

Mentally ill people can find themselves homeless for all the reasons as anyone else, only more so. They may have had problems holding a job or keeping a place to live, but none of this makes them "insane" or "stupid". In fact some of them may be more intelligent than any of us.

The problems that the mentally ill have with being homeless are the same as many others who are homeless--just surviving. I don't think anyone expects you to deal with their illness, but simply to let them know they are welcome to read and post because there is a good chance that one of the other commenters does have experience and could be of great help. That is the great advantage of having a blog like this--you don't need to know everything.

You say you are competent to write about depression, but that can be a very serious mental illness that can end in death by suicide. Those who suffer from depression are also neither insane or stupid, but you don't need to give them advice about their illness, just how to live with homelessness.

Mentally ill people who make it to this blog on a computer are certainly capable of learning from the advice here about homelessness. They should at least feel they are welcome without being branded "insane persons" because people already do that to them and they might like to feel that a site that deals with homelessness might be more compassionate. Without ever dealing with their illness you are helping them by making them welcome rather than feel like pariahs.

So please at least leave your door to this blog open to them and do not have a "mentally ill need not apply attitude" because they can benefit from the great advice here from many people. And please, please, please dump the "insane" tag from your vocabulary because if you don't know it is insensitive.

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

I think you are missing the point. I've been criticized for writing about techniques that incompetent people could not put into practice. All that I was saying is that there are those who are homeless and CAN use these techniques, and they are my audience. Regardless of the reader's mental status, if they get something useful from the blog, hurray! If they can't use what I'm laying down, then they aren't my audience. I'm not picking on anyone. I am defending my right to write about high level methods of obtaining comfort without a dwelling. That's it.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

All I am saying is that the mentally ill or people who are depressed should feel as welcome here as anyone. If they are on the ball enough and lucid enough to get to a computer and to get here to read this blog, then they can be helped. If they are delusional they will never make it this far anyways. You do not have to address their illness, just their homelessness. They should be as welcome as anyone.

Much of what you write about is useful and helpful, but it is not hard to grasp, just new ideas or things people have not considered. Those who cannot grasp your techniques are more likely mentally slow than mentally ill but even if they cannot get everything they can get some things.

The sad thing is that in this country the ranks of the homeless are far more represented by the mentally ill and by our military veterans than just regular people who are down on their luck. Yet all of them can benefit from your homeless experiences as well as those who comment.

So keep up the good work. I am particularly sensitive to the plight of the mentally ill since my goddaughter who just turned 18 was diagnosed with schizophrenia earlier this year and is working hard just to finish high school. I know that because of this in her life she will face difficulty in finding a job and a place to live and will face discrimination because of her illness. I would just hate to think that she would face discrimination at a place which has good tips for helping the homeless to survive and thrive as best they can.

At 1:49 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Ok, but your are bringing your activism to someone who is essentially on the same side. I'm advocating for the homeless, and I have a child with autism. I'm not insensitive to the issues you are bringing. I'm not excluding anyone that gets use from this blog. I'm just saying that it isn't my duty to reach out to everyone, and if I tried to make all my advice equally accessible I would have to leave out too much.

At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Cyrius said...

I am not homeless. I work with people who are 'homeless', most have mental illness or addictions and probably couch surf rather than stay in shelters. When I care for somebody in the loading dock where they sleep in a cardboard box that hides their baby, I'm not thinking they should be a better mother, I'm thinkng how to help them to be safe. I'm thinking about what they need to survive. What they don't need is a shelter. What they do need is respect, food, medical care and a blanket.
I'm learning about my own judgementalness, arrogance and lack of compassion every day. I'm sad that there is no answer for mental illness; no relief for addiction and no end to the number of people hurt and abandoned in this world. I'm grateful though, for the lessons and hope that my work will at least contribute to the rippling wave of healing that we all seem to be part of in this blog.

At 4:52 PM, Anonymous Gez said...

there are good shelters, you'll need time to search for these.

There must be a way to help people individually, not place a group of homeless together without regard for differences. To allow one person into my home for a night or two is a risk but it's the better solution.

At 7:19 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Hi Gez,

I don't think I see how that is a better solution. I don't want to live in your house. I want to create my own sustainable lifestyle.

At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi my name is Dirk i'm homeless. this life might suck, well ok! it's does. but at the moment it's all i have. some people dont realize being homeless sometimes it's not a choice. but how you end up. yes there's alot of drugs ' and drunks. but that's not what or should i say why that happened to them,or me.
everyone has a story, maybe you should try to talk to them sometime,you never know you might learn that there not so bad!!!!!!!

At 11:55 AM, Anonymous Kellen said...

As a caseworker for almost 20 years I can whole heartedly appreciate your comments about faith-based initiatives. I've lived through this transfer of public funds from city, county and state programs to churches and it is not a good thing. I work with homeless families and what is done with homeless children in order to ensure the church's volunteers have a "positive experience" is not right.

I also see the waste of monies going to craft making projects to produce "I Love Jesus" paraphernalia and other such things. The church's agenda is everywhere and in every program they host. That money could buy school supplies or new clothes for the children, but is instead wasted on furthering their dogma.

Finally, I've seen churches take the money, then refuse to provide services for anyone who was not "a member of their church". In other words, pagans, muslims, Jews, Catholics and the non-religious were left without services. Social services should be provided equally to everyone regardless of religious belief, especially when they are funded with federal tax dollars.

Thank you for your first hand experience. It's at least nice to know I'm not the only one who sees this.

At 10:10 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I have been homeless before, and can flat out say that the most judgemental people I met were the leaders of Christian charities. I got more change given to me by neighbors as poor as me so I could do laundry, and the bottle guy (collected bottles and cans) started showing up every few days with a gallon of milk for my kids he had on his own decided to do. I know there are angels among us...there have too many incidents that have taken place in my life to be called mere serendipity...and I don't use the word lightly, but I would say the word miracle fits h ere.

What has got to be one of the most frustrating ways of becoming homeless is when you left a bad boyfriend or roomate and your credit isn't the best so you are told you will need not just first month and deposit but last months too. This is the MAIN reason why families spend so much time in the car...if they spend the money on cheap motels they get sucked into that trap and end up living that way for up to years at a time. Even camping is not allowed for any real length of time. It's great to find a place with flushing toilets and hot showers and pay for a campsite..but in California you are only allowed to spend 14 nights at a time in any California campsite. That's right, when you have to leave the campsite you have been staying at, you are not allowed to camp at any local or state campsite until 14days are up.

I think if we are going to help the homeless we need to stop heaping all the ills of the world on their heads and go ahead and make some exceptions during these hard times. If a family could camp out for three months then not only would the move in requirements be met because there would have been enough time to save up the money needed, but also there would even be a little extra to get needed household items.

This is something where a thrift store can come in handy too. Why not give vouchers that allow the recipient to go to the thrift store (be it Salvation ARmy or Goodwill etc)and use the vouchers to get household itesm

And if people REALLY want to know how to help, how about getting to know just 1 person, or 1 family and focus on that. You can really make a difference in someone's life. I know when I needed it most, a total stranger co-signed for a place for me that was getting ready to turn me down even though I had cash on hand because my credit wasn't good, but then he said he had a cosigner but I couldn't know who it was..I still don't know to this day, but God bless that person, and God bless all who do what they can to help.

At 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's just too bad that you'd use the word "insane" to describe people with mental illness, which just happen to make up the majority of homeless individuals. Not your battle I guess, you seem more interested convincing people you were "homeless" as apposed to a "bum." However, stigma is stigma. I'm bipolar, I've been homeless twice. I also put myself through full time college while working two 20hr/wk jobs. I found it interesting that you don't see any connections between having a bipolar mother, a father who committed suicide, and how proud you are of your history of getting all A's and working multiple jobs (which is how my hypomania manifested itself-highly motivated, taking on many things, and needing little sleep.)

Don't get me wrong, this blog is still a great service. There are a lot of good tips here and I'm an avid reader (libraries provide great free entertainment) and look forward to your book. However, you mentioning that being a homeless woman was the most stigmatized individual you could find yourself being. You're wrong. Being an "insane" homeless woman is obviously worse.

At 5:40 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

There is a distance between insanity and mental illness. Insanity is a condition of chaos, it can attach to a mind, an environment, or a happening. I understand that I touched upon a sensitivity for you, and for that I apologize. I was responding to a frequent criticism of the blog that my advice can only be put into practice by "competent" individuals, who "obviously" would not be homeless. The reality is that everyone, in every condition and degree of mental and physical health, faces some risk of homelessness. This blog is not devoted to saving the most pathetic, but to helping those with some capacity to help themselves. Your comment does not lead me to believe that my blog leaves you out.

At 2:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

8/24/10 Your blog strengthens people by sharing opinions and experiences. But too many people are quick to judge the perceived judgemental or criticize the perceived critical...sounds like people are just too sensitive! (perhaps even you) Though we haven't walked a mile in everyone's shoes we are faulted for not speaking as if we have, though we mean only well. It's this simple: I think it's nice a woman tried to brighten the lives of homeless children and I'm sure she wouldn't let her kids live that way; sitting through a sermon to get a meal or bed is barter; the words "insane" and "retard" mean different things to different people...they aren't bad in themselves (They worked for years until the "educated" proliferated). That said, I'm glad someone brought up Buddhism and wandering. I've heard that many Hindus leave behind their possessions and even family late in life and go on a spiritual journey of homelessness and begging. These lessons are largely lost on the western capitalist...not that I'm being critical,mind you.

At 3:19 PM, Anonymous TashaLea said...

I have to say that the selters my be bad down in the US but in Canada, luckily for me I guess, they were no so bad. Mind you two that I stayed at were horrible, I simply statyed the night. But some were doabe for a week or two at a time. I have never ad any experience like yours at a shelter, but if I did, I surely would not return either. Thank you for all your stories, they are valuable to anyone who is homeless at the time, or any time in the future. Keep it up, and I shall keep reading.

At 5:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

elocs, I don't know if you have noticed, but you are the one linking mentally ill and insanity, not Mobile Homemaker.
Nowhere in his post did he say that being mentally ill automatically makes you insane, you did.
Having AHDHD myself I did not find myself included in the insane, stupid and immoral category before you pointed out I might have reason to.

At 12:31 AM, Anonymous d. said...

that really just seems wrong to make someone sit through a sermon at the homeless mission in order to get food and shelter for the nite....being overly religious has ruined alot of peoples experiences with christianity....i have a friend who sleeps on the river rather than spend the nite at the christian shouldnt be like should be a place of peace a refuge people would want to run to....i also saw how the shelter did offer some very good programs for alcohol and drug rehabilition....and those that want to upgrade themselves can do so. also using the word judgemental on christians who pull your covers or try to maybe wake you up from your own a cheap shot...and they dont need to bite into that at all....homeless people and moms have to start at a point also of respondsibility, direction,,discipline....i know i was one of the homeless woman at one time and i saw alot of stuff out there..i see both sides of the story and thats what you have to do to put the whole picture the way my friend is still homeless by the river drinking...he still blames at times the religious mission...he could of tried a little harder himself and stuck it out and signed up for one of the programs,,his kids would of been happy for him instead of sad...they may try to use the word judgement but pulling someones covers could help a stubborn person who blames everyone else....

At 9:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dunno if anyone still keeps up with this blog. I just discovered it. Im at the library now looking for information resources for tips on being homeless. ive discovered tons of neat tricks on my own, but have discovered a few here. I agree with some of it. disagree with others, and am downright offended by some of it. but over all a very good, informative narrative. I was kind of bothered by the judgmental nature of some of the posts tho. kind of got the feeling that some non homeless people here want to pat them selves on the back and cast verbal stones in an obscure, sneaky manner. let me just defend homeless people in general. We may not do things exactly as you do, or even as you may expect us to do. just because we have differing views or ways of doing things does not make us unapreciative or bad people just because we dont follow your plan to the letter.

for example- the homeless family that didnt rush to the hotel at breakneck speed the instant you procured it for them, were not necesarrily unapreciative or not showing proper excitement or glee over the generous gift. It is very possible that they, like myself, follow a routine. believe it or not, a lot of homeless people are very organized. we like keeping to some sort of routine. it helps to stay sane. almost a "home-plus" person would do. before you go to bed, you most likely like to maybe watch the news, read for a half hour, brush your teeth, change into pajamas, ect. ect. ect. If i came along and paid 1/30th of your montly mortgage or rent, I wouldnt expect you to do back flips from me and immediatly run into the home, turn on the television, and lay in bed until "check out time". you would most likely continue your normal routine after taking time to thank me for paying for a day of your montly rent.

just some perspective. being homeless does not mean you are instantly part of some wild, anti-order, sub culture. we may do things a little different than you do, but we are all trying to accomplish the same long term things. like living a normal life. If you came along and rented me a hotel room, I would be very greatful and give you proper thanks. i would hope you wouldnt take it personal or be offended, though, if I didnt make a bee line for the room, lock myself in, and spend every second from that point ejoying 4 walls and television. I would more than likely continue my normal, pre bed time, routine.

At 10:21 PM, Anonymous Steve said...

Wow, this was inspiring to read. I am a Christian man, and I think it's important to help those who find themselves in hard times (as we all do at times, to one degree or another), but I've considered volunteering at the faith-based homeless shelters and thought pretty much the same thing as you're describing. It's a simple matter of "actions speak louder than words". Why would anyone believe there's a God who loves them, when the man who's supposed to be representing that God doesn't even love them enough to see them as anything more than another person to convert? I mean, even Christ himself didn't force people to sit through an our long sermon before he would consider healing them. He saw a persons need, healed their blindness or paralysis (or whatever), and left it at that... often saying little more than "go and tell no one". Anyway, your insights on the best way to actually help the people who would normally go to homeless shelters would greatly be appreciated.

At 4:58 PM, Blogger rosefivefold said...

i am a 39 year old disabled woman who has been homeless on and off for years. the times i have spent at the "christian" shelters have been some of the most horrible experiences of my life. these people could not deal with my mental illness and learning disability and have no business taking federal funds. they were absolute nazis. i'm talking about the mission in eugene, oregon but there were others as well. they eventually kicked me out for some minor infraction and i had to leave town because that's the only shelter for women there. why? why only one shelter and a faith based one, eugene?

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Nick Young said...

I personally want to open my own homeless shelter. I dont know what it involves financially but I am a christian and that story sickens me. I can promise you id rather die than let my future homeless shelter become anything less than home sweet home for me and its inhabitants

At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Jeeez said...

Looooove your blog. As to the comments fromall sides about shelters;do you know that if you go to a shelter with your children, the first person you speak to is a social worker with a shief of paperwork for you to fill out-not to help you and your kids get a bed and hot shower- but an agrement that in return for their help you give custody of your children to the shelter. This is policy and you can go no further in the nice warm building until you do.once in the system you and your children can lose each other forever. No shelter, I repeat NO shelter is a safe option for families. We did perfectly fine without one, and we met somegenuin godley people at the tent cities,too.

At 5:52 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Well, Jeez, I'm sure your comments apply to some shelters, but not at the well-known shelter where I work.

Everyone sees a social worker, single or family. Parents do NOT give up custody of their children.

I have seen many families come and go. Parents are helped in finding employment as well as help in finding a place to live.

This shelter is a perfectly safe place for families. They have a comfortable place to live as well as good food to eat.

It is not helpful or honest to broadly declare that no shelter is a safe option for families. That simply is not true.

At 8:54 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...


Whether or not Jeez's comments are universally accurate, his advice to keep your homelessness secret from the government broadly, and social workers in particular, strikes me as very prudent. Families should not risk their unity to receive the paltry assistance of a shelter.

At 6:21 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

"Families should not risk their unity to receive the paltry assistance of a shelter."

Again, another blanket statement that is applied to all shelters. Not helpful to homeless families who are in desperate need of help to advise them not to go to any shelters.

The assistance my shelter provides is not "paltry". Getting homeless families off the streets, giving them a safe and comfortable place to live, as well as meals, help in finding their own apartment and jobs is not "paltry".

At my shelter no families are split apart. Our social workers help these families stay together by giving them the advice and counselling they require and extra help when needed. Also, this coming week children will be picked up and taken to schools to continue their education.

So it is not prudent to advise homeless families to stay away from all shelters based upon negative experiences at some.

At 3:18 PM, Blogger Mobile Homemaker said...

Okay, I've let you have your say, Unknown. I'm sure you have the world's most remarkable and progressive shelter, but so long as there are ugly and dangerous shelters in the world that will disrupt a family, I'm going to advise extreme caution to my readers. I've never encountered any shelter that was good enough that its staff would want to live there under the shelter rules. I think that tells the whole story.

At 8:17 PM, Anonymous c said...

This is in reference to the grandmother with the mentally ill daughter. I have schizophrenia and at the age of 18 I covertly worried about becoming homeless but never told anyone.

I definitely would have found this blog and read it,had it not been the 80's before the internet.

So let's just say that essentially the author is writing this blog for anyone interested, capable of reading, and able to apply the concepts therein.

Having schizophrenia doesn't mean you can't read a blog. Sometimes you can even write a blog! Sometimes you can have schizophrenia, be homeless, and also write a blog (Ive seen this happen.)

At 7:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was sent to a shelter by a DHS "counselor." She threatened to call the police on me when I didn't fill in the form completely. Some of the questions were just...

Anyway, at the shelter, the matron screamed and yelled at everyone seeking shelter, including me. I walked out and slept on some steps in a public park.

Just wasn't worth it. Had no money. No food. No family. Nothing. But I didn't accept abuse and bullying and so I maintained personal dignity.

That's cold comfort to some, but the next day, I located a day shelter where I could shower, do laundry, use a phone, and internet. I also found food pantries and soup kitchens and made do with what I had.


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