During the Great Depression they were called Hobos, my Dad called them Bums, but today, the socially appropriate nomenclature is: “The Homeless”. Yes joblessness, divorce, abuse (both physical and substance) has caused some families to lose their shelter. But these are not the homeless I am concerned with but rather the guys who sit against the post office wall with a cardboard sign and an upturned hat, soliciting change from people passing by.
Often their signs say “God Bless” or “Homeless Vet”. They like to make eye contact with you; wish you a “good day” or ask you how you are. It’s designed to pull at your guilt strings because you have so much and they have so little. And inevitably I routinely see people drop money into their laps. And it irritates me to no end that people can be so naive.
Oh they need the money alright… the liquor store only takes cash. You won’t see these guys in the late afternoon or evening because the daily collection has been consumed from a bottle in a paper bag. How do I know this? I worked in Social Services for 17 years for the State of Oregon. These guys used to tell me all the “tricks of their trade” when they would come in for their Food Stamp appointment.
Enrique told me that he got the most money when he scrawled “Peace” on his cardboard. Frank and some of the other homeless “vets” would get military style coats from the Goodwill store. Most of these guys have never served a day in the armed services; I know because I had their records. I also knew that they sold their food stamps for cash (later sold their debit cards when benefits were shifted from paper to plastic).
They could also ask for small cash distributions for “job search”; to get a hair cut or buy a clean shirt. For a while I made them prove that they were using the money for that. My associates just gave them the cash; they figured that even if the money did get spent at the liquor store it was supporting the local economy.
The gullible public believes that if they don’t drop some spare change on these guys they will go hungry. But in most cities there are ample free food kitchens maintained by churches and local governments. These guys don’t go hungry. Look at them; do they look skinny to you? People don’t put any thought into their actions; they drop their dollar bills on these men not realizing they will go to sleep drunk that night.
True, most suffer what are called Personality Disorders and many are clinically mentally ill. Deinstitutionalization by the Reagan Administration closed off many of the governmental resources to this population and the numbers on the street skyrocketed.
Housing for the homeless is another myth. You could provide free apartments to these men and they would urinate in the corner and move back outside. The reason is that these people have opted out of any level of responsibility; they don’t want the responsibility of earning an income and maintain a place to live, or even responsibility over their own body. These people have opted out of life. The term is now socially incorrect, but it is still true – they are Bums. The most compassionate thing you can do to help these men is to keep your money in your pocket.