General Question

SamIAm's avatar

What can be done about the homeless?

Asked by SamIAm (8633 points ) July 28th, 2011

The amount of homeless in this city is unreal and it’s really been mostly an annoyance… until today.

I was walking home from work and this dude was on the floor with a whole bunch of good samaritans surrounding him. At first I was wondering what the big deal was then when we walked past, I noticed that his head was bleeding and he had gone to the bathroom in his pants that were falling off of him. His eyes were nearly bulging out of his head. No one wants to be like that. It really upset me.

Not more than 10 blocks later, I saw another man hidden in a doorway, preparing to sleep for the night. He had made his “bed” out of boxes, blankets, and laid newspaper out so he wasn’t directly on the concrete. The man was leaning on his elbows reading today’s paper – the paper that was later going to serve as a pillow.

These people don’t choose to live like this. I have a really hard time with it because I feel like there are enough resources to help you get your shit together if you want to… and I am so aggravated by those who are constantly hounding us for money. I just feel like I work my ass off to make a living and when I’m waking up at 6am to go to work, I don’t want to be asked for money while I’m walking there. Maybe this makes me a bitch, I don’t know or care really… but today was very upsetting to me.

What can we do about this? I don’t want this to be about politics, or what politicians or the city or government has done wrong. I want to know how, as a citizen, I can do more than just volunteer to work with those less fortunate. I get that there will always be homeless people, and I’m not trying to ignore that fact and pretend that this can be completely fixed but I know something can be done. I just don’t know what it is.

I kind of had to rant about this, and I apologize, but I suddenly find this whole situation heart wrenching.

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18 Answers

Symbeline's avatar

I feel as you do, and I feel that the only answer is when people realize that the homeless aren’t homeless because they wanna be. Then we may wanna help them.
Because they dun wanna work, pfft. One may to try to be homeless, then one might see how much fucking work it actually is.
Homelessness happens for a lot of reasons. Some people unfortunately slip through the cracks, some go there of their own accord, but why? There’s too many factors for so many different people. Some are mentally ill, at least in ways that don’t compliment to the ideal social life. I denno. I think a good start would be to stop dismissing these people, because it happens too much.

jonsblond's avatar

So many people can just get by without any emergency getting in the way. One flat tire, one water heater not working, one major medical bill, and you’re fucked. It doesn’t take much.

If they annoy you, ignore them. If you want to do something about it, volunteer. There’s not much else you can do.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

I had heard that homelessness is about 60 to 90 days away for most people in the event of a major change in income. That puts a lot of people who do not care to be homeless at risk. The less money you have the quicker that will happens, and the fewer resources. Then you have and the harder it is to get out. Striving every day to just get back to even much less, get ahead.

First thing is to realize some people do really want to be there. There are quite a bit of homeless around here, and through acquaintances and friends I got to know some in passing. Not all have problems with chemicals, or mental, some just do not want the hassle of paying a water bill, rent, utilities, etc. They can do without then and make do without their own four walls and ceiling. Identifying who really wants to get away from being homeless is the first step.

The poor then need some tools or a plan that will generate them an income, even small, to add to what they do have. This is where information is more valuable than money. Depending on what they have or can come up with they can go to the flea market and turn some bucks. Most around here resort to recycling, it is hard and messy work, but if you hustle you can make enough to eat with or buy gas, and some of those who really hustle, earn enough to stay most of the week in a cheaper motel. If the new homeless do not know how to earn some bucks because they lack the survival knowledge, they will be forever depleting what they do get and never catch up.

YARNLADY's avatar

The best thing we could do is find a cure for alcoholism and mental illness. Until then, the streets will be the only refuge for most of these people.

funkdaddy's avatar

The homeless problem around me has been bothering me a lot lately as well. I wish I had a solution for it all but it’s a huge problem without a simple solution.

If we assume we’re just talking about the people that don’t want to be homeless I think one of the biggest issues is just how fast you become unemployable at a typical job when you’re homeless.

You can’t exactly get a steady gig if you don’t have a place to wake up every morning, shower, and then travel to work. They sound like luxuries at that point, but put your typical homeless person in front of a hiring manager at a grocery store, or Target, or a construction site, or a restaurant.

They may have the basic skills or even advanced skills for a specialists type position but if someone can’t guarantee they’ll show up on time, showered and somewhat presentable and having eaten something in last 12 hours then unfortunately it’s hard to fault someone running a business for not hiring them. I don’t say that to be mean, or to minimize them as people, it’s just what I keep butting up against in trying to think of a solution that will actually work. If you can’t work, it’s hard to find a home for free. If you can’t find a home, it’s hard to find work.

I think the only real meaningful solution I can come up with is a complete package for everything they need. Like a school for the homeless.

Someone goes there, they get a place to stay, meals, and a job all in one. For the job they’re paid and perhaps can save some of that money to move on after the “school”. A couple of dollars an hour plus a room, meals, and basics probably wouldn’t seem like a horrible deal either way. If someone wants to leave, it’s all voluntary.

If they were able to also receive some sort of training, education, housing and job placement afterwards those would all be bonuses.

After either a certain amount of time or when they’ve saved enough to have a head start, they’d move out on their own and continue with their life.

It would be a large undertaking and I’m sure the “success” rate wouldn’t be 100%, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that it would change a lot of lives for the better.

The closest thing we have right now is prison but obviously the focus is different. If we can do that for millions of people though, it seems maybe we could do this for thousands at a time?

jrpowell's avatar

I will just leave this here.

intrepidium's avatar

@funkdaddy Interesting that you mentioned prisons – I was just thinking about a study done on how we/taxpayers spend almost if not more than $10K each year just to keep each prisoner behind bars… the system we have in place seems to be based on such screwy logic. Would that those $$ be directed towards getting the homeless population back on their feet through work training, housing and restoring their human dignity. After all, homelessness isn’t a crime – why is society penalizing them when they are already down?

mattbrowne's avatar

Not so much actually. We can ease the pain a little. But we can do a lot to prevent people from becoming homeless. Prevention measures are far more effective. Above all safety nets and healthy families and healthy communities.

CWOTUS's avatar

Whether you agree with my response or not, I disagree with at least one of your premises. These people have nearly always chosen the path that they were on that led them to the place you see them in. They may have chosen badly at an early point in their lives, whether to do drugs or alcohol, or to drop out of school or abuse employment opportunities and family, to live a criminal lifestyle, whatever. (I agree that some of these people have been disabled through no “fault” of their own, from physical and mental illness, crime and accident victims and other causes external to them, but that’s a small minority.)

The problem is that too many voters feel too sorry for the people who got to where they are strictly by their own hand, and now want to “save” them, that it strains (and often breaks) the entire social welfare system. And we don’t generally try to decide “who will be saved” based on the particular merits of their own history and choices. The more that we attempt to “save everyone”, the more we move people who were “marginally productive” into “unproductive” because of the tax burden that we all have to share, and worsen the problem instead of fixing it.

PhiNotPi's avatar

I’m going to compare homelessness to a disease for a second. For a disease, there is a treatment, a cure, and a vaccine.

I’m going to call any treatment a complete waste of money, since it costs a lot of money to run things that care for the homeless, and it fails to get people out of homelessness withn a reasonable period of time.

A cure would be something that brings people out of homelessness for good by providing them a job, which will help them financially and will help them become more productive.

A vaccine would be some movement that helps to prevent people from making the bad choices that @CWOTUS mentioned and educating them on how to manage their money to reduce the chance of becoming homeless. A vaccine could quite possibly save more money than it costs.

A vaccine will not be perfect will not prevent homelessness all of the time, especially those who are homeless due to no fault of their own. A vaccine will would require a cure program on top of it, but the cure program would be substantially smaller and cheaper than if the vaccine wasn’t there.

john65pennington's avatar

Now, in my city, the homeless are out working!!!! A printing company has donated their time and money to print newspapers about the homeless and their activities. You buy one by donation, only. The collected money goes in a collection for food, clothing, shelter and personal needs. This project seems to be working. They will stand on a corner to sell the newspapers, by donation. I have seen an improvement in one particular homeless male. He use to stand on the corner with a sign. Now, he stands on the corner with a purpose for not only himself, but for his fellow homeless people. He use to have filthy clothes and needed a shave and haircut. He now is clean-shaven, fresh haircut and his clothes are much more presentable and he sleeps in a shelter.

I have seen this newspaper project at work and it does work.

Maybe, this is the answer for some other cities to help the homeless.

mazingerz88's avatar

I’m almost certain I’m just fantasizing here but there could be a way to have not one homeless person on the street. If every person who are financially able and those with time and compassion to spare as well, would pick one homeless person and make him or her their cause for a year, there is a great chance they won’t be back out there in the cold.

There are thousands of millionaires and millions of good hearted people here in the US and giving donations and volunteering will not eradicate homelessness. It maybe too impersonal, detached. One has to talk to just one of them and understand their specific case, like they’re family. Looking at them as part of our human family would work because in an ideal family setting, you don’t give up and do not sleep until everyone is safe and fine.

I’m reminded of that movie based on a true story where Sandra Bullock won her Oscar, the Blind Side. That woman really pulled what I was talking about perfectly. She did not stop helping that boy ( not exactly homeless but close ) until everything about his life was fixed. First she gave him a ride, then a couch to sleep in, then a room of his own and even tough talked a hoodie who is bad influencing the kid. Sheesh, what guts and what a heart!

SpatzieLover's avatar

I think the best thing we can do is not ignore the homeless. They are real people.

Here in my area we have a few rescue missions. As more people have become homeless, the missions have had to grow. Luckily, in our cold winters, most of our homeless have warm shelter to sleep in.

We have given to the missions. We also have struck up conversations with homeless individuals when we’re out in the city. Not all individuals are mentally ill, nor are they addicts. Many are just people that are without a home. Many of them have jobs that aren’t making them enough to afford them rent and food.

Plucky's avatar

@john65pennington We had that in our city for 15 years up until last year. I think it helped a lot in the long run. It had to shut down because of finances. Charities have been so tight in the last 5 years – it’s sad. It was neat though; there were so many people effected by those papers over the years.

I agree with the notion of not ignoring the homeless. It’s a start. Granted, the situation in my city is not as dire as many of the much larger cities (especially ones in the U.S.). It always amazed me that people could actually step over homeless people (in these bigger cities) ...like actually walk right over them like the person isn’t even there. That is so wrong.

wundayatta's avatar

You may not want this to be a political issue, but it is one. Services for the homeless have been cut dramatically in the last few years, taking a problem that was pretty manageable and turning it into a disaster.

What the homeless need…. are homes! Duh!

In fact, giving them homes turns out to be the best way we know of to reduce the homeless population and help them get back into the workforce. Why? Because it allows them to get social services. When they wander around on the streets, there is no way to provide them with consistent services.

Contrary to what other people seem to be saying, the largest group of homeless are the mentally ill. If you deal with mental illness, you can cut the homeless population in half, right away. If you put them in homes, you can have case managers service them and make sure they take their meds and get to their training programs and learn how to take care of themselves and get drug and alcohol treatment programs and whatever else they need.

But of course, all of that is being cut. In NYC they had a program like this and it worked phenomenally. I don’t know if it’s been cut or not. In Philly, we also had one, and it has been cut. And other services for the mentally ill are being cut, and what that means is not that we save money. We now spend more, because the cost of providing services to a population you can’t get ahold of is much larger, and they get sicker, and are in the ER more and in the prisons more and all of these things cost ten times as much to provide the same services in their homes.

But we don’t have money, and so the politicians cut these budgets instead of raising taxes. And since we are unwilling to raise taxes, we are reducing the efficiency of government enormously. We now get 75% of the services we used to get for the same money (I made that number up—but just to illustrate a point).

It looks like we’re reducing taxes because the services we get from government are not things most of us see every day. But when we do become aware that government is doing less, we want to cut taxes even more, because it is a waste of money. Never mind there are more homeless around. Never mind there are more criminals around (not the homeless). Never mind the streets are more dangerous. Never mind we now have 40 kids in a class instead of 30. Never mind that psychiatric hospitals are closed and we have mentally ill taking up regular hospital beds and getting care that is not suited for them. Never mind that our elderly no longer get Social Security payments and have to move in with their children or add to the homeless problem.

It’s all linked together. You can’t push one part without affecting everything else. Cutting budgets is the last thing we should be doing, but it’s what all the conservatives want and it is keeping this recession going on and on, and inhibiting any recovery.

Of course, this particular issue really pisses me off because so many of the homeless are bipolar, as I am. If I lose my health insurance and my meds—I could end up there. I know a number of people who have been homeless—including a very good friend of mine. It just took a stupid issue with his ex and he got thrown in jail and when he got out only a week later, had nothing. This is a brilliant man (although with bad politics) who is a great writer, and he was moving from friend’s house to friend’s house until he landed in a decent place.

So we know what to do about the homeless. We don’t do it because of the recession. Shit runs downhill, and it accumulates around the homeless, who few care about unless they have to step over them on their way to work.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Stop criminalizing them.

FluffyChicken's avatar

Reinvent society as a whole.

SamIAm's avatar

@john65pennington: we totally have that! But I feel like a good majority of the people “selling” these newspapers, aren’t trying to make a better life for themselves. Some of them are… there’s this one guy who is great and he makes you want to help him. I’ve heard that the papers are poetry and stories written by the homeless. I should get one, I’m really curious now!

@funkdaddy : I love that idea but we spend SO much money on prisons… this would be nice small scale but funding, ultimately, would become such a huge expense. I wish it were more realistic.

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