General Question

wundayatta's avatar

What's the backstory you create for crazy or homeless people?

Asked by wundayatta (58693points) January 9th, 2009

Before I got diagnosed as bipolar, I don’t think I really though much about the homeless, or beggars. Mostly I was annoyed or a little bit scared. I used to give some of them money, until I learned that that keeps them out on their own, where they can’t get services to help them.

I had known that an enormous portion of the homeless are bipolar, but I hadn’t thought much about it before I was diagnosed. Now, when I see a homeless person, even though my first reaction is like the old one, something else happens. I look at them, and I can identify with them. I might end up as one of them if I don’t take care of myself properly. There were even times that I wanted to be homeless.

Anyway, I can now look at them, and see how they behave, and I can know what is going on in their heads, and that makes me more empathetic. I believe I know what they are doing now. I believe I know how they got there.

When you see dishevelled looking people digging through the dumpster, or mumbling to themselves, or asking for money, do you even think they might have a backstory? If so, what is that story like?

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16 Answers

loser's avatar

I never really thought about it but mine is like yours.

asmonet's avatar

Very lonely.

millastrellas's avatar

I always think to myself that there was a horrible event or set of events, in that happened to this individual in their life, in which they were not able to cope with in a healthy manner or decided to head on a wrong path, or had no one to guide them.

Kinda off topic, but..
On Thanksgiving, my sisters and I knew of a homeless who resided in back of Starbucks. We remembered him and thought it would be nice to taking him a plate of food. Yet we were nervous he may not be there or simply be rude and refuse our food. We decided to risk it, and he was there. He thanked and blessed us. That was one of the best feelings.

Later we learned about his story, apparently his identity got stolen and he was not able to prove that the was really who he said he was, and the government did nothing to help him. So basically he was screwed. Even though he said his mother lives there in the same city, he decided to take on this lifestyle being homeless and not paying taxes, which I somewhat admire. I don’t know what I would do in his situation. Of course, I did not hear this story from the direct source, but from friends whom claimed he said it to.

tinyfaery's avatar

Blame Ronald Reagan.

susanc's avatar

For people would prefer to suffer cold and wet and dirt and hunger than suffer the strings attached to charities, I keep ones and fives in the cup holder of my uppity-ass Prius. There are guys who have established stations. We nod.

Yes, Ronald Reagan did kill a lot of expensive, noncontributing people by casting them out of the safe institutions.
Shades of Hitler.

Sloane2024's avatar

It always immensely pains my heart to see homeless people. The thought of rummaging through the trash for a makeshift pillow or relying on the generosity of others for my next meal absolutely horrifies me. When I look at them, I see a past full of despair and disappointment, lost hope and broken dreams. Maybe and illness that prevented them from accomplishing all they wanted in life and willed them to sacrifice all desire for something better, or they were evicted from their home at a young and vulnerable age, causing them to be sucked in to the black hole of bad influences and even worse decisions… I just wish I could help them all…

cwilbur's avatar

I’m fairly sure that most people have a backstory. But I don’t fill in a fictitious backstory for the homeless man sleeping in the subway station any more than I fill one in for the cashier at Dunkin Donuts or the person sweeping the subway platform.

Unlike susanc, I don’t like giving money to individual people who are begging. There are a number of shelters in the area with minimal to no strings, and I cannot distinguish between people who are begging rather than dealing with strings and people who are begging because they can make good money that way.

There are a number of scams in the Boston area: the “homeless people” going from car to car at the intersection of Alewife Brook Parkway & Mass Ave in Cambridge, for instance, can pull in close to $1000 a day, which is more than I make. I’d much rather give my money to the Harvard College Homeless Shelter or the Pine Street Inn, where the strings are minimal but the money goes to people who legitimately need it.

Nimis's avatar

I make up stories for everyone, not just homeless people.
Though that varies on the individual, location, etc.

As for homeless people, I tend to assume
that they have a mental illness of some sort.
Some, unfortunately, also coupled with addiction.

That’s a very broad statement though, merely based off my own experience.
Though I have talked to many of them, had lengthy conversations with some
and probably would even consider a few of them actual friends.

Some probably have loved ones looking for them.
Some may be entirely alone. Both make me sad for different reasons.
While others have actually chosen to live that way. Very interesting conversations I’ve had.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i took a psychology class last year, and we watched a documentary on the presence of a lot of psychological disorders in the homeless. i never really looked down on the homeless before – i’ve always sympathized and wanted to help – but i definitely understand more now, and if anything feel a whole lot worse for them. a lot of the homeless are intelligent, they just had the misfortune of having bad problems. also, mental institutions are often not a great alternative, as most of them are WAY overcrowded, and more of just a place to wait to die.
i do wonder about why a lot of the homeless don’t go to shelters, but i do think that those with psychological problems might have issues with that, because a lot – with major schizophrenia anyway – have really incredible paranoia problems.
i’m pretty sure the documentary i’m referencing was on dateline or something, incase anyone wants to look into it. it was really interesting.

Knotmyday's avatar

Here’s an interesting, yet sad story.

The local sheriff’s department picked up a transient, who was walking down the middle of a busy street, appeared disoriented and refused to tell them her real name. In fact, she told them that she had no name, and that since she was a citizen of heaven she only answered to God’s authority.

Knowing that people in her condition usually had families trying to find them, they brought her in to be electronically fingerprinted, records checks, database scanned…

They found that she used to be a prominent realtor in Florida, with a missing person report from three years ago. The picture in her file (professional, beautiful, well-dressed) looked vastly different from the woman in custody.

Her husband and three kids flew in to pick her up the next day (got delayed due to County Mental Health services) and took her home.

I can’t even imagine what she went through for three years- or how she made it all the way across the continent. She was 35 when she disappeared.

Sueanne_Tremendous's avatar

I work in both a womens shelter and a homeless shelter and the backstories we could (and will ) tell here probably will not compare to the real ones. Life is stranger than fiction. My fave but one of the saddest:

Cold night (isn’t it always?). I was running the commissary (handing out new panties, toothepaste, socks, deodorant) and the regulars were there. Two young girls walk in, one definitely protecting the other. They were dressed very nice. The eldest was maybe 16 and the youngest 11? apparently, the youngest pissed off mom and the eldest took her away to cool down. when they came home the doors were locked and there was a note saying they should start fending for themselves. They came to us. What makes this a good story is that the regulars at the shelter took them in as they would one of their own. The fine clothes and sophisticated manner didn’t matter at all. These girls were in a world of hurt and my homeless friends took them in and showed them the ropes and made them feel…well…at home.

Upshot: I never saw those girls again. But on my counter I always keep a cup for residents of the shelter to donate back to the shelter if they have a few cents. That night I got $4 to give to the girls. Life is so grand on the smallest of scales.

augustlan's avatar

It always hurts my heart, and I think ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

wundayatta's avatar

Did anyone ever want to be homeless? Sometimes, since I’ve been sick, I think about it, and I have to admit that there’s a tiny part of me that wants it. The rest of me reminds me that it means horribly cold nights shivering under some overpass, and eating out of dumpsters, and never bathing, and having people stare at me like I’m crazy (which I would be). I guess it’s the same part of me that hates me, and thinks it is where I should be.

They say to be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. I don’t know. I remember back to being sick, and it had such horrible moments, but some of them must be inside me, no matter what I do, calling me back. I think that if I ever were homeless, I would feel it was exactly right for me. A kind of cosmic justice. The opposite of what augustlan says. Sometimes I feel that, if there were a God, and that God graced me, that’s where I’d be. The rest of me thinks that’s got to be one of the craziest things I’ve ever thought.

augustlan's avatar

I’ve never wanted to be homeless, but there is something appealing in the freedom (for lack of a better word) involved. No more worrying about the trivial things in life, just survival. No need to conform, or do anything you don’t want to do. No one to think about, or be responsible to, besides yourself. Do I think the trade-offs required would be worth that freedom? Not on your life.

sbrannon's avatar

I feel sad when I see a homeless person in the states. It seems to me that they are very alone and must have gone through some kind of trauma for them to ramble to themselves in the street. In Italy, where I am located at the moment, there are not any homeless people, unless they chose to be homeless. They system is different here. I do see people rambling on the streets, but they are locals and everyone knows them. People give them food, and stop and talk to them and are known as the local crazy person. But they have a small community, as their neighbors etc…so they are not really alone. They also don’t loose their apartments, have medical care etc…the government helps to sustain their existence.

The ones that choose to be homeless, enjoy the freedom in life. They like being outside, and sleeping under the stars. Here, they can make a place to lay down and no one bothers them, not even the police. However, there are not many.

wundayatta's avatar

@sbrannon: where is here?

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