When I first started writing this blog, I received a nice comment from a reader and decided to check out his blog. What I found was a person who started out as an activist for homeless people who had transformed into a homeless basher because of many frustrating experiences he had had in trying to reform the homeless.
Let us get one thing straight: Some homeless people will not change despite your tireless efforts. Some people are “career homeless”. Does that mean that you give up on everyone who is homeless and let them all die through sickness and starvation. No. This is America, for Christ’s sake. We consider all people to be of equal value. All homeless people are worth some effort to help, but they must also realize that they can and should do things in order to help themselves. This is where drugs (and booze) play a big part in keeping homeless people from striving for help. These chemicals anesthetize the user against the pain of sleeping on the sidewalk, the jeers of passers-by, the sense of right and wrong that keeps someone from stealing/selling their body/etc. for another day of existence. People who use drugs have a much harder time getting off the streets, and usually do not do so until they are near death with their health irreparably broken.
I have some friends that have chosen to be career homeless. I still accept them for who they are, although the thought of the last few hours of their lives is painful for me to think about. It most likely will be in some dark doorway on a cold night. They will be thinking of how everyone has abandoned them and how many chances they had to get help, but they threw those chances away because the offers were not “just right” for them.
The homeless bashers would have you have you believe that any economic or social assistance to homeless people is a waste of taxpayer money. I say, try to lend a hand to someone, but use the tools that the government has to monitor how that help is being used (or misused). Don’t let them give their food stamp money to drug dealers (aren’t drug tests easy enough to do?) for example. Expect accountability. Expect some effort from the homeless person. The career homeless will scoff at being asked to do volunteer work in exchange for a hot meal, but those who really need the help, and appreciate it, won’t mind.
As a homeless helper, it is so easy to get into the trap of just giving, and not interacting, with the homeless. Overtime we see the scammers and overhear how they are bragging about the rip-offs they are perpetuating on the system. Then, slow by slow we become homeless bashers. Telling our friends what we observed and heard in the soup kitchen that we volunteer at, forgetting about the quiet person in the corner who was eating the meal and really needed your help and was grateful for it. When I was living in the shelter, I remember teens who were volunteering with their with various church groups and organizations, they would slip out cameras hidden in a bag or pocket and sneak pictures of various residents of the shelter. They had turned into homeless bashers, considering the shelter as their own private freakshow. They then went to their friends and family (or the internet) and used the pictures to ridicule those who were in the shelter.
When we help others, it is good for our souls, as well as those we serve. But some people who are homeless helpers do not realize that the effort they put out to help someone has to be tempered with: (1) the knowledge that some homeless people can not be saved from their downward spiral, and (2)ALL homeless people need to be able to keep their self-respect by being an active participant in their effort to end their life on the streets. If we keep those thoughts in mind, then maybe we all will not end up as frustrated homeless bashers.