Social Question

seazen's avatar

Realistically, is there any way to really help a homeless person?

Asked by seazen (6113points) October 22nd, 2010

Don’t go all pc on me: homebound or whatever the trend is now. My heart and question are in the right place: I am asking as someone who does give them money, does buy them a meal – and actually does think about them in the winter – where they are more likely to simply die in the streets from the cold.

But what can be done, realistically? Does anyone have a true success story?

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38 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

I believe in putting my support with the agencies that deal with the greatest number of people. To give a hand out to a person on the street is not really helping them.

jrpowell's avatar

I have one. Back when I was about 21 I quit my job and was homeless quickly. I only managed to have enough for a few months rent and the electricity was shut off for the last month. I got food money by selling weed.

Luckily a friend let me stay in a spare room while I got back on my feet. But after a bunch of months I just felt like shit. And I don’t drive and the little money I came up with I didn’t want to waste on the bus to search for a job. By now my hair was a mess and all my clothes were shit.

My sister managed to find me. I pretty much was staying hidden. But she did find me and was like, “WTF happened.”

She took me to get a haircut and new clothes at the mall. And she bought me a bus pass. I felt like a new man. A few weeks later I had a job.

jaytkay's avatar

One night a week, my neighborhood food pantry serves a hot meal to 120 people and hands out several hundred bags of groceries. That night a nurse or two is on hand to answer medical questions and point people to clinics or even hospitals if they need it. Social workers help find people agencies to help with housing and family problems. People are on hand to sign people up for food stamps. The crowd is friendly and for some I am sure a warm place to sit and chat for a couple of hours is a big deal. Most are not homeless, I would guess the number is about 20%. Many others have been homeless at one time or another.

I hope we are helpful.

Cruiser's avatar

I had the biggest and rudest awakening EVER from a very recent event my boss told me about his homeless nephew. This young man (19 years old) has been homeless or 4 years and shows up unannounced in our town 1,000 miles from his birth place. He and his (wife/girlfriend) waited under a viaduct for 4 days for my boss to return from his out of town trip…and they hook up. This nephew and GF….stink and disheveled, broke and simply happy to see a relative, yet ask for nothing. My boss who is well to do, offers them a home to stay as long as they like, a bed, clean clothes, a cell phone and money. They refuse all but the shower, a bed and cell phone because he insted they have one for safety.

Because they are vagabonds…and happy at that,any outward signs of wealth will get them mugged…so they kept their filthy clothes, refused every modern offer (except the cell phone he found they later sold), and gave him a happy smile, waved goodbye and said their thanks.

Have not want not.

lillycoyote's avatar

Yes, of course there is. People just need to understand what the causes of homelessness are. Homelessness is really a “symptom” of a number of “social diseases.” In the U.S. a full ⅓ of personal bankruptcies are the result of people who are either without health insurance or underinsured. You get sick or injured, you may be faced with huge medical bills that you probably could barely have made a dent in anyway, you may be unable to work because of your illness or injury, then you lose your house, then you’re homeless . Also, in the U.S. when the the mental hospitals were emptied because more humane “community based” mental health care that was supposed to replace that system never materialized so there is significant population of homeless mentally ill. There are people among the population with drug and alcohol problems who need treatment. There are runaways, there are the working poor who have jobs but can’t afford housing. People become homeless for all sorts of reasons. There is no such thing as a “generic” homeless person. And there is no such thing as a “generic” solution to the problem; one thing or program or policy that will solve the problem of homelessness for everyone that is homeless.

incendiary_dan's avatar

A friend of mine attempted to help some of the homeless/houseless in NYC by trying to teach them skills that helped him a lot during his houseless time, namely primitive living and foraging skills. In particular, knowing what common plants were edible and healthy kept him way more secure than he otherwise was. It’s not a solution to any problems they might have, but it takes a load off to be able to secure some healthy food. Unfortunately, cops hate it when you help homeless become sufficient in a way that isn’t “normal” (“that’s encouraging them!”), and repeatedly threatened him until he gave up.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

There is a lot one can do to help a homeless person. The most important of which is to talk with them. And when I say talk, I mean listen. Just ask them about their life and listen to their story. No other action can have so much impact on letting them know that someone cares.

Don’t give them money. Give cash to the shelters that house and educate them. If they are not a registered resident of their local shelter, then ask them why. You will quickly discover that they are a con artist. There is a big difference between a con artists and a homeless person.

And yes, I’ve personally witnessed and taken part in a number of success stories in getting a homeless person off the streets and motivated towards rebuilding a better life. In every case, it begins with talking (listening) to them.

Paradox's avatar

I agree with the above post. There is a difference between lazy con-artists and decent people who really did hit hard times (happened to me even). I’ve learned some lessons here the hard way. Not just with homeless people but trying to help people who were always in trouble or had drama in their lives to only have them steal from me and even worse. I would say for around the 50 people I’ve tried to help only 2 of them were decent and my offer of help led to them bettering themselves in the end without screwing me over.

Some people can’t be helped because they already decided to be lazy and blame others for their problems while throwing away opportunities right in front of their faces. You can’t help everyone especially if they are just looking for handouts rather than help. You can only help people who want to help themselves. You have to be careful because this is a dog-eat-dog world.

Haleth's avatar

We’re more focused on basic food and sheltering than actual rehabilitation. Some of the homeless population are mentally ill or don’t want to change, but for those who want to better themselves, we don’t really give them the tools to do that. For example, if you’re homeless and want to find a job, you need at least phone, a place to clean up, and a decent set of clothes- never mind job training or references. Every job I’ve had, I’ve used resources that aren’t really available to the homeless, like networking in the industry, references from school, or the internet. (All right, if you’re homeless you can use the computer at the public library- that sucks. Going to the library and waiting at least 45 minutes for an hour of computer time isn’t very efficient. It took me weeks of constant searching to find my job.)

john65pennington's avatar

I compare some homeless people to people on welfare. most could work. most do not. why? i am not talking about those people that are truly in need for assistance or the homeless that have seeked employment, but failed. i am talking about those people that are just plain lazy. this includes the homeless and welfare recipients. some become dependent on others and the government, to furnish them “their” way of life. seeking a handout has become normal for them. instead of illegal immigrants working the farmers crops, why aren’t the homeless doing this job, instead?

Here is a classic example, that i never repeated:

I found a job for a homeless male. all he had to do was to show up at a given location and follow the instructions given him for eight hours. i thought all was cool with this person, until i spotted him on the street, again, three days later. i asked him why he was not at work? he stated that manual labor was not for him. that he could make more money, each day panhandling, rather that be tied up in a factory. i was dissapointed, but it did not surprise me. it disrupted his way of life of free handouts, without much effort. lazy.

I have assisted many families in need. they come first. as you can see, not all homeless people want to be helped. it’s “their way of life” and many homeless people do not want or like change in their life.

truecomedian's avatar

I’ve been homeless, I’ve clocked some time on the streets. I have a home now, but things are still kind of shakey and I may end up back on the streets. The thing that stands out the most, the thing that most people dont know about being homeless, is the fear, when on the street you live with an almost constant fear. That being said, to answer your question, it’s possible to help some homeless people. Being homeless is not a profession, it’s a reflection of the best someone can do. The best they can do is live on the street. Thats where their at. There are worse places, like prison, mental hospitals, and of course lets not forget death. Then there are better places like finding a place to live. When I was homeless I had many encounters with people who were willing to put a roof over my head. I may not be the typical homeless person, and here’s my point, you can help the least typical homeless people. The people trying to look for a way up and dont want to rob, rape, or kill to do it. The general mindset of the average homeless person is fucked. They are broken people, and it’s really hard for them to assimilate into mainstream society again. Its like merging into the fast lane, these people want a better life, they just cant function well enough to maintain what is needed to be homeless no more. They need to find a job, find an apartment, maybe take some night classes, and just keep doing that, that’s next to impossible for the average homeless person, but not all. How do you know which ones to help and how much, go find a bum and take him home, tell your kids he’s a caveman, bathe him, dress him, feed him, then what…? Here lies the problem. It takes a lot to make it in this world, especially after you’ve been tramping around the streets for awhile. Hope this helps.

lillycoyote's avatar

@truecomedian Makes a very, very good point, for those of you who think that there is some huge percentage of homeless people are just lazy and looking for a hand out. Some of them may be, some are misfits and maybe don’t want to reintegrate into society, and many are mentally ill and can’t be helped merely by job training, etc. but as he says:

“The thing that stands out the most, the thing that most people dont know about being homeless, is the fear, when on the street you live with an almost constant fear.”

It’s not a life that most people choose for themselves. It’s a hell of a way to live.

Homelessness is a complex problem, with complex causes and with no easy, one-size-fits-all solution.

Here, though, is an example of at least one small thing that people are doing to help homeless and other disadvantaged women enter the workforce and get off the street. It’s very simple and addresses some of the issues people have mentioned above. The organization is They began by doing something very simple: they provided suits and other professional attire for women to wear to job interviews. “Dress for Success solves the catch-22 that confronts disadvantaged women trying to enter the workforce: without a job, how can you afford a suit?  But without a suit, how can you get a job?” And showing up to a job interview looking professional and “dressed for success” may be the thing that makes the difference in someone getting the job or not, and getting off the streets. So, @seazen, a concrete example something one can do to “really help a homeless person” or at least a certain subset of the homeless. And here’s information on how to start your own DFS in Israel. :-)

Aster's avatar

I know a lady who was given a free house who did , apparently, everything in her power to lose it.
Nothing worked so she just up and left it standing. She seemed to be uncomfortable with the “settled” life, the daily boredom of cleaning and working and the house may have represented a “stagnation” of sorts in her life that she subconsciously didn’t want. She is now living with a male friend, one older than her own father. Again. Two unstable individuals who feed off each other’s crazies. They use each other.

MeinTeil's avatar

Vote for government fiscal responsibility and lower taxes.

Kraigmo's avatar

I was homeless when I lost my minimum wage job and girlfriend at the same time in the early 90s.

Luckily a friend, and it was only a recent friend too, had a basement with a bed in it and he said I could live in there for a few months. He also gave me an ounce of marijuana and said “sell it, find a job, put your life back together”.

And within 4 months, I was back on my feet, working, with my own apartment.

Of course its a lot easier to help a friend than a “homeless” homeless person, because at least friends are clean and aren’t mentally ill.

But all I needed was a roof over my head, a little money, and a few months time. That’s all it takes to rebuild a life.

Any multimillionaire could easily truly help a few homeless people.

Instead of throwing their money out the window to political causes and alma maters

wundayatta's avatar

A fair portion of the homeless are mentally ill. Several cities have programs for the homeless that are based on providing housing—free housing for the homeless. Once they have a fixed address, it is possible for case managers to visit them, and make sure they take their meds and provide a number of other services that can help them get back on their feet.

I seriously doubt that the voluntarily homeless make up a very big portion of those living without homes. I’m sure there are different things that different kinds of homeless need. It depends on whether they are mentally ill, or in transition due to the economy or poverty. Services should be targeted at the cause of the homelessness in each individual case.

I’ve never been homeless, but when I was sick I wanted to be, That’s how sick I was,

truecomedian's avatar

I find myself wanting to go back to it, like I can’t differentiate between being “broke and baroque”. Meaning, I have some kind of romanticized idea of being a tramp. It sucks, try thinking about your retirement plans when you are in the bottom of the barrel with no hustle, I mean no hustle, dead in the water. I just got to accept that this is the way my life is, and a few good deeds from a kind stranger may cast a brief light in this dark tunnel but then there I am again, in darkness. Thanks for the light.

Aster's avatar

@wundayatta may I ask why you would want to be homeless during an illness? I would think a home would be very important during times like those.

wundayatta's avatar

@Aster It’s a mental illness.

MeinTeil's avatar

Eliminate minimum wage laws.

YARNLADY's avatar

@MeinTeil Could you enlighten me on how paying a person less than minimum wage would help the homeless? It seems to me that even more people would be homeless, even though working, with lower wages.

MeinTeil's avatar

let’s say you’re homeless. You’ll take any job you can get no matter what it pays.

You shuffle up to the back kitchen door of a restaurant. You say I’ll do whatever you got to the manager…

He says to you that he would love to help you but he cannot afford to pay you minimum wage or better. He’s very sorry.

Looks like it’s another night of dumpster diving for you.

YARNLADY's avatar

@MeinTeil Or he says sure, I have to pay my other workers $7.50, but if you’ll do it for the price of a cup of coffee, I can let the other guy go.

MeinTeil's avatar

And our employee is free to seek work where he or she can make more.

So someone fresh out of college will take a salary smaller than that of the vetran employee.

Such is the way of things.

Tell me, is there anything that can’t be improved by government restriction and interference?

MeinTeil's avatar

The OP said don’t go all PC on me..


Bum, Hobo, Human Flotsam, Urban Outdoorsman…..

lillycoyote's avatar


“let’s say you’re homeless. You’ll take any job you can get no matter what it pays.
You shuffle up to the back kitchen door of a restaurant. You say I’ll do whatever you got to the manager…

He says to you that he would love to help you but he cannot afford to pay you minimum wage or better. He’s very sorry.

Looks like it’s another night of dumpster diving for you.”

Can you possibly provide a less simplistic and maybe “bigger picture view” of how lowering the minimum wage is going to help the homeless than the one you’ve provided in the scenario above? Is the assumption that lowering minimum wage will driving housing costs down commensurately? That’s not really going to be enough.

Even in the most basic, least complicated cases of homelessness, it’s not just about dumpster diving or work. Getting off the street with a minimum wage job can be hard enough. Unless your family or friends are going to put you up for a while you generally need first and last months rent plus a security deposit, possibly deposits for utilities, to secure a place to live. Some of the “working poor” end up living in motels because they can’t get that kind of money together all at once and it’s a cycle that can be very difficult to get out of. It’s kind of the Catch-22 of the working poor. They have to live in motels because they can’t get the money for an house or apartment and because living in a motel, even the fairly cheap ones is an expensive way to house yourself they going to have trouble getting the money together to get a permanent place to live. How do you expect a homeless person to manage to get off the street under those circumstances?

truecomedian's avatar

That’s a good idea, hire the homeless but pay them a fraction of minimum wage, and it could be very menial work. It could be a good way to rehab them back from being feral on the street, liveing like coyote’s a little more each day. A fraction of their paycheck goes to paying for the extra employess whose job it would be to help them along the way learning the job. I thouhgt of having like a restaurant ran by the homeless for the homeless. But regular people who werent homeless may come to.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Do you think a feral cat wants to be rehabbbeeeddd? Neither does a feral homeless person. Good luck getting them to participate in menial work at a fraction of minimum wage. The street hustler makes way more than that with the “Can you spare a dime for the bus” routine.

We did a study in Los Angeles about 20 years ago. The average street person had over $75 in his pockets at any one given time. They work 365 days a year already… hustling my buck out of my pocket. Hmmm… lets see… 365 X $75 = $27,375 tax free smokey’s. Not bad for a fella with no rent or utility payments.

The homeless, the real homeless who want to change their circumstances ARE NOT on the street. There are too many shelters and charitable churches and organizations that offer them a bed, food, clothing and job training & placement assistance.

Like all of us… We are where we put ourselves. And with a little effort, we can be where we want to be.

MeinTeil's avatar


The never believe something will work unless it’s complex and expensive.

I’ve notied now nobody has talked about how this would help the business owner as well.

truecomedian's avatar

Spoken like someone who has never had to street it, I’m making a grand assumption. But so are you, the amount of homeless people that actually make it off the street is very small. Their not making that much money, most of them. This is a classic example of making a minority appear to be the majority. With all due respect, there aren’t enough shelters, and even if you get into one, it’s not like it’s very easy to go forward from there. I’ve known people that were at shelters for years, but there I go using the minority. I never begged for money, I stayed clean, then I would go to bars on friday night and strike up a conversation with a contractor, and I would find work that way. It wasnt easy but it kept me alive, and drunk.
I’m not discrediting what you said, just trying to add to it.

MeinTeil's avatar

Oh and the liberal buzzword “working poor”.

Do you mean the working poor that has television? Oh, I mean color cable television. A car? I mean a car with air conditioning and power windows. A telephone? I mean…...

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@MeinTeil I’ve dealt with the homeless for over twenty years. I don’t mean to discredit your personal experience, but I appreciate your honesty including “drunk” in your tale.

You may have been on an adventure, of which being homeless for a short time was a part of. You’ve clearly stated “I find myself wanting to go back to it… I have some kind of romanticized idea of being a tramp”.

When you say, “the thing that most people dont know about being homeless, is the fear, when on the street you live with an almost constant fear”… It’s clear to me that you’re on an adrenaline rush. You’re a thrill seeker, and being homeless is almost a badge of honor for you. No offense, but that’s how I see it, your story.

Look, I’m not complaining. I know a guy who gave up everything, great girlfriend, $200K+ job on Wall Street, car, family… just so he could become homeless and travel the United States on foot and hitch hiking. He gave all his money away out of guilt. When things get really bad, he will contact his X girlfriend and have her bring him a new blanket, a coat, or food.

I’ve often wondered myself what thrill might await me if I just gave it all up and slept in the park for a year. I have no doubt an experience like that could bring a great deal of introspection to the degree of the hermit sage living on the mountain top… There is a certain degree of appeal to one who has it made giving it all up for the sake of rediscovering one’s self.

But we’re in an entirely different league than the homeless drug addict, who wants to be on the street without responsibilities because he’d rather beg for crack money. That person can’t and won’t be helped.

But for those who do want help, it is there in spades. You said yourself “When I was homeless I had many encounters with people who were willing to put a roof over my head.”

You also said, “They need to find a job, find an apartment, maybe take some night classes, and just keep doing that…” That’s what shelters, churches, and philanthropic institutions do for the homeless who really want the help. But hey, it’s a free country. No one can make a person get off the streets.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

THIS is how a person gets on and off the streets, if anyone cares. It can be done. Liz Murray went from Homeless to Harvard… because she wanted to.

Watch the video, and you can also check out her interview on NPR.

truecomedian's avatar

Very good points, I have nothing to say. I appreciate the feedback so much that I wouldnt taint it with a word against it. Thank you

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Sorry @MeinTeil… My comments were directed @truecomedian, and not you…

You get it @truecomedian. I wish everyone did.

MeinTeil's avatar

Don’t sweat it.

YARNLADY's avatar

@MeinTeil You are being very snide and dead wrong to put words in my mouth. Working poor can be derided as a buzz word, unless you happen to be one. Then you find out your income won’t cover any medical expenses what-so-ever. If your child gets sick, too bad. It also won’t cover the rent, so you have to share a house with other people.

It won’t cover a car, so you have to take the bus to work, three blocks away, in the rain or 100 degree heat, it doesn’t matter if you want to keep your job. And when the bus company cuts out your line to save money, now you have to walk a mile, to the other side of the freeway.

Minimum wage doesn’t come anyway near covering the cost of meals for your family of four, so you have to apply for food stamps and WIC, if you are lucky. How did they get in this fix? They had a perfectly good job on a call in help desk until it was shipped overseas.

I could go on and on with the stories of hundreds of people who fall into that category, many of them in my own immediate family. You can throw around ‘liberal’ and ‘buzz word’ all you want, but it doesn’t solve any of these very real problems.

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