General Question

Siren's avatar

People on the streets: Are homeless people just shiftless and lazy, or do they deserve our help?

Asked by Siren (3386 points ) January 22nd, 2009

I have read a few questions on this site regarding homeless people, and thought I would bring up this question. Understandably it may have already been asked many times before. I know I have my own opinions on this matter, but I am curious as to what the majority of flutherers think, those willing to share their opinion.

Many people have said to me that they think the homeless are lazy and do not deserve a donation, since they will use it on booze or narcotics, anyways. Others have a more compassionate viewpoint, but are similarly guarded about handing over their hard-earned money since they suspect the money will not go towards survival (ie food, shelter, clothing). Have you had an experience with a homeless individual, and if so, what thoughts did you come away with from that experience? If you have not, what are your impressions of homeless people? If you have been homeless at some point in your life, what are some things you would like others to know about people on the streets? Thank you for your comments.

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28 Answers

Siren's avatar

@tinyfaery: Sorry, this is not a troll question. And I’m sorry you feel that way. Furthermore, I genuinely would like to see some responses that are not heated nor argumentative/confrontational. That is truly not what my goals are here.

Les's avatar

I give money when I can. Once it is out of my hands, I no longer care what that person does with it because it isn’t my money anymore. I also don’t think it is because they’re lazy that they are in that situation. No one wants to look at them, let alone hire them.
I think people should be a little compassionate and think how it would be to be in that position.

GAMBIT's avatar

There are people on the streets for different reasons and let’s hope none of us land up there ourselves. Some of the homeless have mental illnesses others are veterans, some are alcoholics and yes some are content to get buy on the nickels and dimes they panhandle from trespassers.

The homeless population in America can not fit into one category each person has a unique story.

tinyfaery's avatar

Search. This question has been asked multiple times. And each time it gets heated. How could it not with wording like shiftless, and lazy. I believe you are baiting.

EmpressPixie's avatar

A lot of people who are homeless are mentally ill or the victims of domestic violence. Sure, some are junkies, but the junkies are far outweighed by the ill or fearful for their lives.

I think those at shelters deserve help. Most shelters have guidelines (try and find a job, no drinking, no drugs) of sorts. I also think those with illness of any sort deserve a different kind of help, but for the most part need to decide on their own that they want help before it can be given.

eponymoushipster's avatar

when i’m in the mood/position to help a “street dweller”, i’ll offer to buy them something, not just give money. If they say it’s to buy food, i’ll offer to get them a burger at McDs or something. Just giving out money only worsens the situation. And besides, we all know what can happen when you give the homeless change.

Siren's avatar

@tinyfaery: I am not baiting. I am personally glad this question comes up a lot cyclically, as it seems to be the case here from what you are implying. It is a HUGE issue in society. I wish it were addressed more.

Siren's avatar

@tinyfaery: Should we not ask these questions once in a while? Would you like to propose a list of questions flutherers are forbidden to post? I don’t think that will go over well. Granted, there are many issues which create a lot of dissent, such as religion, politics and race. Homelessness is right up there too for some people.

Anyone who has commented so far, I appreciate your thoughts. For those who are planning to comment on this, thank you for believing my question is genuine.

wundayatta's avatar

From what I’ve heard, a huge proportion of the homeless are mentally ill, and a large part of the mentally ill have bipolar disorder. Many people cope with mental illness by self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

It has been shown that if you provide houseing for the homeless, you can then provide them with other services that they need (since you know where they are), and you have a much greater chance of helping them live a happier life, and possibly making a big contribution to society. One woman in my group was homeless, and now she’s a big muckety muck in some human services agency.

Unfortunately, giving the homeless money keeps them from getting the services they need by helping them stay on the streets. The best thing you can do is to hand them information about where they can get services.

Judi's avatar

First, a vast majority of the homeless are mentally ill. Maybe if we had universal health care they could get the treatment they need to be productive members of society. Second, with an impending depression, the tolls of the homeless will increase and maybe a lot of people will re think this issue in a more compassionate way. Third, if I see someone in need or who asks for help I will give because in the end, it’s not the condition of their heart that matters it’s the condition of mine.

Judi's avatar

@ daloon;
The money just isn’t there for services, especially if someone is bi-polar. When you don’t “look” mentally ill and when you can be charming and hold a relatively pleasant conversation for an hour therapy session they don’t take your mental illness seriously enough to help you. I know because I spent 3 years trying to get services for my uninsured son. Some suggested I let him go homeless in order for him to get services. I think that is disgusting and a blemish on our American way of life.

wundayatta's avatar

@Judi: it is horrible how this country manages these things. You know I totally agree about universal coverage. Mainly because the studies I’ve done of such systems shows that they save money while expanding coverage. Hard to believe, but true.

I hear you on the services issue, too. I’ve heard far too many stories like yours. The staff at various hospitals and service agencies vary widely in terms of empathy and competence. Sometimes you get lucky when you try a different provider. It also helps to get a psychiatrist or therapist who actually knows bipolar. Have you tried DBSA to see if they can help, with advice, if not more.

Although, with grown children, it is even harder. My cousin is probably bipolar, but refuses to believe it, and has drunk himself into jail. My aunt is actually happy about that, since she thinks he is more likely to get the help he needs there, than on the street.

Oh, it is so hard. Stigma. Misunderstandings. Thank the fates that I didn’t get this until I was much older, and have a huge set of resources to help me through it.

Siren's avatar

@daloon and Judi: Thanks for your insights and discussions into this topic. Everyone else too. I am finding it very educating. I am actually hoping to get involved in this issue as a personal cause this year onwards, and learning more about what people are up against, both the homeless and those trying to help the homeless, is very helpful.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

homeless people are individuals just as we are. each case is different. some screwed up in terms of life plans, others unfortunately acquired addictions that only get worse, and yet others suffer from mental problems and no means of helping themselves. i am sympathetic, because i know that they haven’t chosen to be there – even if they did do it to themselves in some way – and i doubt that the homeless are out there just to spite those who aren’t homeless. i’m pretty sure that in the majority of cases, the homeless would rather, well, not be homeless. i don’t often have money to spare, but i do want to help in some way at some point.

Siren's avatar

Perhaps I should have rephrased this question to: How can I (or anyone) help the homeless in my own community and nationwide, and what should I know about this issue, from an outsider’s perspective.

If anyone cares to ask that question in the future, I would be happy to watch that thread

aprilsimnel's avatar

I give money to organizations that will help the greatest number of people. That is the compromise I’ve made. In NYC, you will see the same 4 or 5 people on the trains begging for YEARS with the same story, and they can get away with it because the tourist turnover is so high. But I felt bad that I wasn’t helping at all, so I give to organizations. I think it’s a happy medium, seeing as I don’t have much dosh of my own at the moment.

Allie's avatar

One of my professors at my college worked with a homeless shelter in Berkeley. Every day she would encourage us to come and help out. About a third of a way through the term myself and several other students went one day and helped pass out blankets, we read to the kids who came in with their parent(s), we helped clear tables, played card games with people, and talked with those who seemed lonely. Helping homeless isn’t all about giving them money (although I’ll agree that that can help). Sometimes you just have to be a friend to people. The group of kids I went with that day went back every Friday for the rest of the term.
If you can’t (or don’t want to) donate your money, then why not donate your time? Homeless shelters all over the country can use help with the day to day tasks and chores that go into keeping the place running.

Siren's avatar

@Allie: I understand too, that California has the largest number of homeless people in the nation. I guess the nice climate allows for less worry about temperatures getting nasty or soaring, although I know they’ve been experiencing a heat wave recently. Also, there are a lot of beaches, and maybe access to water and bathrooms at those locations although I know you have to pay for bathroom access in some public areas

laureth's avatar

Some are shiftless and lazy. Some deserve help. Some are out there because they want to be. Some are out there because they have nowhere else to turn. There are as many reasons for being homeless as there are homeless people.

I once dated a homeless guy. I wrote about it here.

Siren's avatar

…And some could be you one day.

Ya just never know what life holds in store for us, right? ;) We can just pray we stay more fortunate/active/proactive/not lazy, etc.

Since010501's avatar

Every person is different. I don’t think it’s fair to stereotype anyone, even homeless people.
There are plenty of people that deserve help…yet I also know of somebody offering a homeless person work and food—the guy refused saying that he made more money by asking for change.
Again, everyone is different.

Shegrin's avatar

I am always wary because I saw something unbelievable once. A woman “worked” a particular corner near Houston Intercontinental Airport every day. She was there every morning at 7 AM and left every afternoon at 4 PM. When my son was an infant, I borrowed my father’s truck occasionally to take him to the doctor. One day, as I came to her corner, I saw her across the street, climbing into the driver’s seat of a brand new king cab diesel Dooley truck. I started to think about it and realized the one time I did give her a couple of bucks, she seemed completely ungrateful. I’m not saying all homeless people run a scam, but plenty of them do, to be sure.
If someone seems genuinely in need, I give them my change. If they come to me on a side street 15 miles from the bus station asking for money to get to El Paso, I generally dismiss them. I figure that if it was imperative for you to be there for your brother’s wedding, he would have found a way to get you there, and not make you wander through the streets begging strangers for a couple of dollars.

laureth's avatar

Re: I’m not saying all homeless people run a scam, but plenty of them do, to be sure.

Perhaps the ones running scams are not actually, always, homeless? If they have a nice warm home and are still asking for change, yeah, it’s a scam.

perplexed82's avatar

Quit calling people who ask legitimate questions TROLLS because they don’t meet your slim definition of a reasonable question!

justme1's avatar

My SO and I met a homeless guy every morning at winchells, he never asked us for anything so eventually we bought him a coffee. He was so thankful. So everymorning we got him a donut, he loved it, the only 2 things he ever asked us for in 2–3 months was a pair of gloves because it was cold outside and bus fair to go down to try to get some housing. Then we had to move and haven’t seen him since, I sure hope he got a job and got on his feet and hopefully is doing well now.
I always do my best to help out people in need, which to me includes homeless people for a variety of reasons.
It may be true that a lot of them might go buy booze, or are just scamming. There are many though that just got into a rough situation with their family, like my SO before he met me. Or that are in a difficult situation with the law, like once you commit a crime and get out of prison, no job will hire you, which I truly feel is discrimination, you can’t get housing, and where you end up is homeless and hungry. Very sad. Then everyone judges them because they think they are just lazy, it is that people get screwed sometimes or make mistakes that end up messing up their life. Lucky for my SO he met me, and I will do everything in my power to make sure he never ends up in a bad situation again, and when he does it will be US not just him all alone. So I always help out the homeless people when I can afford to

ItsAHabit's avatar

We should give to the homeless by giving to shelters, the Salvation Army, and other organizations that help those in need. Giving money to panhandlers usually enables them to maintain their drug use and is counterproductive.

tearsxsolitude's avatar

People who say they’re all lazy are generalizing and that’s not fair and the people that usually say that stuff and the people that haven’t been dealt a really shity hand or haven’t been faced with the possibility of homelessness! My father was homelss for a long while. He suffers from severe paranoia that he won’t get help for because he’s paranoid that a doctor or shrink will try and control him. There’s lots of mentally ill people that become homeless and need help. Also think about this. If you grew up in a really, and I mean really, shitty home life and you don’t have the motivation or faith to go above that, then you will sink. It’s almost inevitable. And when you grow up with people constantly looking down at you, it’s very likely that you’ll end up in a bad way. We should help them. You can usually tell when people need help or when they’re taking advantage. It’s not fair to generalize because the good people that aren’t lazy and need help won’t get the deserved help because someone decided to generalize their situation.

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