Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Your Help Is Needed

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Therapist Walks Into A Bar

LOL ok, that's not the joke. But my therapist did tell me a couple jokes during our last session that I thought were poignant.

The first joke: How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the bulb really has to want to change.

The second joke: How many social workers does it take to change a light bulb? It's not the bulb that needs to change, it's the system.

OK, now I'll wait for the laughter to die down.....

When a light bulb breaks, it needs to be changed, no doubt about it. But, in the people-are-like-light-bulbs metaphor, people never do change unless they really want to, even when they know they are broken. This explains the first joke.

Not all light bulbs are the same. Some are 50 watt, some 100 watt, some 500 watt, etc. And what happens when you plug in a 50 watt bulb into a system that requires a 500 watt bulb? Well, the bulb breaks. Change that bulb out and put in another 50 watt bulb, and you'll find yourself going through bulbs rather quickly and spending way more time at Home Depot than you bargained for. So, in the people-are-like-light-bulbs metaphor, we need to plug each bulb into the system that works for them, without breaking them. You don't take a dim watted person and expect him to perform neurosurgery, cause it just won't work. This explains the second joke.


Ok, so what are we to do? We live in an increasingly complex and demanding and stressful world. But not all people are able to handle all the stress this world can generate. Are we to just discard people like broken light bulbs? Or are we going to change the current system we live with, so that each person can have a place where they can be productive and make a decent living without breaking from the stress? Discarded people are expensive to maintain. Wouldn't it be better to find these people something they participate in, so that they are not a strain, financially and otherwise, on the rest of society?

The demands of life are increasing every day. What a person did yesterday to maintain his livelihood will not be enough tomorrow. So, every day new homeless people are being created. The way to fix this problem is to have a more flexible and dynamic economic system, where everyone, regardless of ability and productivity will have the basics of food clothing and shelter. And under the heading of "shelter" will go things like a place to shower and take a dump. There are a million people in the United States that today are being denied these very things, all because they are a 50 watt bulb in a 500 watt world.

We can spend trillions of dollars on unproductive wars, we can create portable phones that can take and send photographs around the world within seconds. Fixing society so that every person is treated with dignity should be as easy as changing a light bulb.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Second Email

(To see the first email, skip down one post)

So basically I should just be his friend, talk to him, and give him food, clothes, and/or money? I've always wanted to give to people in need but questioned myself because I wouldn't be helping them get out of their situation, and I consider that to be the goal of helping them. What ultimate good is there in giving them material things if they only stay homeless? I suppose that he may trust me more and open up to me, but there is a lot more he needs than a friend he sees once in a while to get out of homelessness. Today I was hoping he would use the money to go to a shelter for help because he didn't seem to know about them when I suggested them, but I suspect he won't do that if he is scared of living a better life. Do you think that if I am his friend for a long enough time, he may one day have enough strength to face his pain and be ready to attempt getting out of homelessness? Do you personally know anyone who got out of homelessness with the help of a friend?

I will contact the homeless outreach centers in this area and ask them how I can help him. Is there a way to tell addicted homeless people apart from non-addicted homeless people?

My Reply:
Not to be too facetious, but I just thought of something and I laughed. You cannot put bread of either side of a cow and call it a BigMac. There's a lot of processes the cow must go through before it is ready to fulfill its destiny as my lunch. In the same way, the journey out of homelessness is long and involves many many steps. That is one of the more common misconceptions about homelessness, expectations of recovery are overly optimistic most of the time. And this naivete can have some negative effects. If someone starts a relationship with a homeless person with promises of help, but after some period of time becomes frustrated with what he considers to be a lack of progress, and thus abandons his "project," the homeless person suffers for it, feeling rejected and unworthy, and certainly reticent about going down that path a second time. There will come a time when your contribution to his life will result in his accepting shelter, but it may require a lot of work on your part before he's ready for that step.

Nobody gets out of homelessness without the help of a friend, or family member, or case manager. I've never seen anyone successfully go it alone. Of course we have our American mythos of independence. And I've heard some formerly homeless people claim that they took that journey alone, but it only takes a few questions to find out that there were people all along his path that supported his efforts in one way or another.

It does seem to require experience to spot homeless people and knowing if the story they tell is legitimate for not. I can spot a homeless drunk with no effort, but that may be because I have lived among them for so long. The homeless newspaper in town has a strict rule against allowing people to sell the paper while intoxicated, but they do it all the time. It's not for lack of enforcing the rule as much as the staff's inability to recognize the signs. Only experience will provide you with such skills, and experience requires time and effort.

Giving material things, food, a movie pass, etc is the first step in building a relationship with him and the trust that will eventually come. Those seemingly insignificant things will lift your homeless friend, if just a small amount, to a better standard of living, making his life at least a little more tolerable. Homelessness is not a static lifestyle. The speed at which mind, body and spirit erodes is heightened under the weight of homelessness, and without any efforts to counter this, homeless people age more quickly. The average life expectancy of homeless people is about 20 years less than other non-homeless people. Part of this is due to the abuse drugs and alcohol, but other factors are involved, such as the constant exposure to the elements and the loss hope that things will eventually get better, and that life may eventually be worth living. But more than receiving material goods from you, your homeless friend will benefit from having spent time with you. This alone sends a message to the homeless person that someone truly cares.

Good Intentions And Reality

The following is a letter I just received. The author asked to remain anonymous.

There is a homeless man that I regularly see in front of one of the grocery stores I go to, and also on one of the buses I ride. He didn't seem like someone who would be dangerous to interact with like others I have seen, and I wanted to help him. So one day, I got a can of Campbell's Chunky soup at the grocery store and offered it to him as I walked out. He refused it, so I asked how I else could help. He first asked for money (I didn't have small enough cash to give) and then a gift card for movie tickets. That kind of threw me off because gift cards only come in amounts that I'm not willing to give so quickly, and I was not sure if he wanted to go with me or alone. It got awkward because of my confusion, and he said he wasn't hungry and he didn't need anything. There were awkward silences and he didn't seem to trust me because he asked if someone told me to do this. I said goodbye to him and said that he could ask me for help if needed.

The next time I went, I said hello to him and he actually had a conversation with me this time. He told me more about himself, that his mom died when he was a teenager and he has adoptive parents who are not financially (nor probably otherwise) supportive of him. He said he went to college and was at one point making $45 an hour, and he can do things like fix cars and other handiwork. But he can't get a job and transportation is expensive. I did my shopping and came out with a $5 bill and handed it to him. He gave me a hug and seemed very thankful and appreciative. He asked what he should do and what I would do if I were him, so I said $5 is enough to buy a bus pass for the entire day so that he can go whereever he wants and look for help. I suggested some shelters downtown and if he wanted, I could look up their addresses on my smart phone and write them down for him, but he said no thanks. I said that I would think about letting him stay with me but I also live with two other people being a student, so I couldn't just offer that to him. I said that he can always ask me for help, and not to feel like he is being a burden to me because I really do want to help. So I left saying good luck and see you later.

It seems to me that this guy is not addicted to anything and he could get back on his feet if he just had the resources. I have the feeling that he keeps refusing help I'm offering him (writing down addresses and locations of shelters, looking up any information he would like) because he feels he doesn't deserve it or he is scared or unmotivated to take chances anymore. How do you think I could best help this homeless guy? I am thinking maybe one day I can go to one or some of the shelters with him so that he isn't alone and has me to help him find other options if there is a problem, but I am not so sure he would agree with that, in which case I would have to convince him. I made it clear to him that I want to help him get out of his situation, and I don't think he has the strength to do it himself. What do you think? Do you know if a shelter is really the best place for him to go to? I want to avoid ones that are faith-based because he once expressed dislike of ministries. Ideally the place I'd like for him to go is somewhere he will be able to stay a while to get proper treatment and/or encouragement and help him find a job (actually changing his situation and not just giving him food and supplies). Any advice would be appreciated.

My Reply:
This kind of homeless person lives with a great deal of internal emotional pain, more pain than he knows how to deal with. and living the particular way he does is the only way he knows to avoid and/or relieve that pain. Any attempt at changing his circumstances would, in his mind, put him at risk of reviving or re-engaging that pain. it would take a great deal of time and effort on someone's part to get him to a point where he'd feel safe enough to face that pain. I'm talking years worth of constant effort. For now, the best you could do would be to befriend him and help him out with his basic needs, so to gain his trust. (movies are a great escape from real life). More than likely, given the description you provided, it will take years for this person to begin making a transition to a better way of life. Also, I strongly suggest not allowing this person into your home as his emotional and street survival mode will most likely over-ride his sense of right and wrong, and most likely he will eventually steal from you or become destructive towards your things or person.

Something I should clarify too. Part of the survival mode of homeless people is knowing how to present yourself in a way that makes people want to help you, at least with things like food and clothing and money. You learn how to tell people what they want to hear. And this talk and attitude does get people thinking that all the particular homeless person needs is a little help in the right direction. The reality is that when a person has gone so far as to become homeless as a means of dealing with their problems, his/her problems are deep and hidden, even from the homeless person. Solutions will not be easy to come by.

Good Luck.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tell Us Your Story

"Tell us your story." When folks decide that they actually want to engage a "real life" homeless person, and yet have no idea how to do so, that's the question they often ask. I want that you should know, 99% of what comes after that question in the form of an answer is a combination of bull and shit. I just heard of another first person account of homelessness coming out in book form. The girl gained a bit of fame off her blog, (you're damn right I'm jealous, where the hell is MY book deal?) But I have read a good bit of her blog, and I just don't by her story about how she became homeless. Of homelessness in general, she has some good info, which can easily be found on a number of online resources, such as my blog. There's no telling what she lifted from my writings. Still, how she became homeless is suspect. I don't think she deserves that little badge of "honor."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mommy Says


Heater

Heater is a movie about homeless people. Someone ordered it for me off my Amazon.com wish list. Thing is, it never arrived. Whoever ordered it should check with Amazon.com and find out what happened to it. Thanks.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Impersonation Is Not Always Flattering

I hate to even give this person any attention, but I feel I have to clear my name as well. The person using the name "thehomelessguy" on twitter is not me. What this person is doing is foul and disgusting and perpetuating the very stereotypes I've tried to fight against. I have filed a complaint with Twitter.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dressing Up Is Important

Hi Kevin ,

My name is Kristen Lowery and I ran across your blog. I think your site is great! It’s relevant, informative and tackles a serious issue.

Recently, my company (macduggal.com) sponsored a homeless beauty pageant contestant and we thought your readers might enjoy knowing about the story.

You can see more information on the sponsorship here:
http://www.macduggal.com/news/mac-duggal-supports-homeless-beauty-queen.aspx

You can see more about our company, Macduggal, here:
http://www.macduggal.com/

Would you be willing to mention the article in your blog? Please let me know if you have any questions.

All the best,
Kristen