Saturday, November 29, 2008

Homelessness--Some Thoughts

I've never actually been homeless. The people I have known who were homeless happened to be so by choice; generally they were travelers who had no home but did have money, a way to earn more money, and a purpose (usually getting to the next country or the next experience). However the topic has fascinated me ever since I followed the blog of a guy who was homeless at NYU quite a few years ago. Recently I read the book "Breakfast at Sally's" and also had the opportunity to interview some illegal immigrants who came here with nothing and were basically homeless. I did a bit of further research and the following are some thoughts I have on the topic:
  • Anyone can become homeless...a divorce, long term injury or illness, fleeing from violence, losing a job...all of these can move a person from a 3000 square foot home in the 'burbs to a downtown alley.
  • Alcohol, drug, domestic violence, and mental health issues seem to exacerbate such situations.
  • Stuff to have if you're homeless: a PO Box, ID (passport, ID card, driver's license), a prepaid cell phone would be nice, a bank account, social skills, a monthly bus pass, a monthly membership to the Y or a gym (for showers), a library card (for free computer use), contacts in the community for couch surfing opportunities also would be nice.
  • Stuff to be if you're homeless: presentable (if you look homeless you seem to be hassled and targeted much more often), creative and clever and able to identify and take advantage of any opportunity that arises.
  • Challenges: finding a dry place to sleep every night, the possibility of violence, social stigma, being shunned by society/friends/former coworkers/family, not being able to trust anyone in your new circle of associates.
  • Resources: free meals in the community for the homeless, social service benefits (food stamps, maybe housing, etc), discounts (low income bus passes, low income cell phone service).
  • Cars: some homeless have cars or motor homes which adds a bit to the person's safety, dry sleep environment, and ability to get around however paying for gas, maintenance, repairs, and insurance can be a challenge.

I guess the best way to avoid becoming homeless would be to stay sober and sane, have a wide variety of contacts who would help you out if needed, keep money in an emergency fund (especially if you are in a domestic violence situation or if your job is in a tenuous situation), and be proactive in whatever situation you find yourself in (ie: some people see their job being more finite than expected yet they still keep shopping and spending like they will have the job forever or they know they are losing their house but make no concerted effort to find another place to live or a bundle of new jobs to pay for it).


  1. I've been homeless twice. Right out of high school in 1979 and also during the recession (which was a depression in some areas) in about 1991 and 1992. Got laid off after quite a time of reduced hours (3 or 4-day weeks).

    With no real family, I was pretty much on my own at that time, squatting in a tent on National Forest land. It's a good thing I know how to live off the land.

    To me the worst part was seeing some people I knew who were on welfare and living in subsidized housing - while the system failed me, my tax money was at work providing housing, television, appliances, clothing, medical care, and plenty of food to families that chose not to work and made careers out of the welfare system.

    But good came of it. I decided to try and start my own business. I would make my own work. Best thing I ever did.

  2. I'm glad to hear you had a positive outcome and hope your blog is doing well--it's full of great information! I think many people have trouble helping the homeless and people who beg on the streets because you often see them smoking and drinking (if they can afford smokes and alcohol why can't they afford some type of shelter?), while others live in subsidized housing yet have huge flat panel TVs and $200 sneakers...incredible.