I received an email recently from the good people at StoryCorps. StoryCorps is a great program where average citizens from every walk of life can have their life stories recorded for posterity. It's a project of the Library of Congress, so it's no joke. You can learn more about it at http://storycorps.org.
The email I received asked about homeless people, and how StoryCorps could get homeless people to participate. This is what I told them.
Thanks for writing. I think the StoryCorps idea is a great one.
I'm glad it's being done. With homeless folks though, there should
be a caveat. A problem can and often does occur when the general
public "listens to the stories of the homeless." The majority of
homeless people on the streets, the chronically homeless, have a
difficult time with the reality of their situation, and so the
"stories" they tell about themselves are not often true, or accurate,
in any demonstrable way. There is also the problem of non-homeless
people's prejudices towards the homeless. The homeless feel motivated
to tell stories they think non-homeless people will want to hear. So
for this also, the stories the homeless tell often mislead the
public about the realities of homelessness. When people with good
intent attempt to help the homeless, they often start first by
listening to the stories of the homeless, looking for ways they can
help. These well intentioned people then address the issues presented
in the stories of homelessness, instead of addressing the realities of
homelessness. These inaccurate stories become obstacles towards
creating real solutions to the problems homeless people face - they
become stumbling blocks to people actually trying to leave
Now, after all that, you still wish to reach out to the homeless for
their stories, the best location, and best people to help you with it,
will be the folks at http://roomintheinn.org