Tuesday, April 27, 2010

To Tell The Truth

Trust me, I have heard it all. In the 8 years that I have been blogging I have received well over 100 letters from people fearful of becoming homeless and asking for advice. In the 27 years that I've been living in or near homelessness I have heard countless stories from people on their way in, and on their way out, of homelessness. I have heard the true-to-life heart breaking stories, and I have heard a lot of what amounts to a bunch of baloney.

There are two basic types of dishonest stories about becoming homeless. There is the kind that goes on way too long, and there is the kind that doesn't go long enough. Both start out innocently enough with something like, "I think I'm about to become homeless and need some advice." Or, "I just became homeless and I don't know what to do, can you help me?"

The long story teller can be interesting to listen to, at least at first. But then you realize that, most likely, the person is not going to stop telling his story until he gets something out of you. The long story teller is usually a veteran of the streets. He may say he wants help getting off the streets, or help from becoming homeless, but what he's really doing is panhandling. He'll tell you whatever he thinks you want to hear, what will motivate you to be generous towards him. He'll tell you all sorts of meaningless details that really have nothing to do with homelessness, but is calculated to increase your sympathies. The more he talks, and the more you listen, the more he figures you for a mark, and will be able to get something out of you. If you respond by quickly giving him money, even before he's gotten very far in his story, he'll figure that he can get even more out of you if he continues talking. It is best to quickly communicate to this guy that you're not interested in hearing it, and then ignore him. Usually he'll move on to easier prey.

The short story teller usually has almost no details to share about being or becoming homeless. There is usually one of two reasons for this. He may just be experimenting with the idea of being homeless, he's testing out the sound of it for himself, and testing to see how people respond to him saying it. He may very well be having some difficulties financially or with living arrangements, but isn't really in danger of becoming homeless.

The other reason for the short story would be that he is homeless but doesn't want to confess to the real reasons for his homelessness. In this case he knows that he'll be told to confront these issues, issues that he is unwilling to deal with. Any attempt to actually help this person will be wasted because he's not ready to do what's necessary to address his problems and leave homelessness.

Regardless of the reason for the short story, the person believes there is mileage to be gained, personally or financially, for just bringing up the subject of homelessness. And, a very short story is easily retractable with "I didn't really mean it like that," in case you take his declaration more literally than he does.

So, what is a genuine request for help with homelessness, you ask?

Sincerity in the discussion is almost palpable. There is no B.S. in the story. The person gets right to the point, describes the major events that lead them to homelessness, all without extraneous detail. When telling their story they are usually shy from the humiliation of it. But they are forthright and direct in their desire to find a solution. They don't play around and waste time by talking to just anyone about their situation. They are not flippant about it. Instead they go directly to people they believe can provide help, not just to commiserate or give advice. When suggestions are given to them, they take them seriously and make every effort to apply them. People genuinely desirous of getting out of homelessness will use every resource available to them. Anything short of that and you can be certain they are dealing with more problems than homelessness.

9 comments:

  1. I do not know that I would ask advise from someone claiming homeless status for 27 years. I have been homeless 4 times in my 56 years. Three of those times I had a house but could not live there either because the system was seriously broken, FEMA would not let me live there, and because of a fire.

    I am on the edge right now. BAC (Country Wide incognito)Keeps doing all in their power to take what I have worked so hard and done without for. I pay 90% of my income on housing. I have been lied to and taken advantage of. I'm not stupid, addicted, or mentally ill. I am however, sick and tired of the greed in our society. Of the uncaring nature of the many. And the lack of understanding from each other.

    I have made choices that have directly put me at risk but advocating for others (especially if unable to advocate for themselves) is part of who I am. We never got the chance to sit down and talk. We should. I respect your longevity as "The Homeless Guy" and the way you often cut to the chase. I worked for 14 years helping to move people out of homelessness and in doing so saw over and over how the system is broken, how it perpetuates, causes, and profits from homelessness. I cannot be silent as long as this is the case. Far too long the blame falls solely on the homeless person when in many instances it not s/he that is broken but the system. Thanks!

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  2. I appreciate what you are saying, Cathie. But there is more to it.

    To say that the system is broken is to imply that there used to be a working system. There has never been a system that actually helped people deal with avoiding homelessness, or with being homeless. That is all the more reason why people must do their own advocacy and take advantage of what few genuine opportunities that come their way.

    The official homeless service providers have very limited resources, so waiting on them to deliver you from homelessness is all but a waste of time. It does make for a good excuse though, for staying homeless, by saying you have some case manager or other service provider who's supposed to be doing something on your behalf, and you're waiting on them to act.

    This, of course, gives me an idea for a blog post. thanks.

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  3. Since I suspect I inspired this post, I feel obliged to comment.

    Kevin is right -- I won't soon be homeless (if at all), as Kevin defines it. I have a support network of friends all over this country, all of whom, in turn, would pitch in to make sure I have a roof, a shower and the electricity the doctors tell me I need to live (CPAP). So, in this, I was bullshitting Kevin, as Kevin might define it.

    I also have a scooter, to get around, as needed, for now. It's not 100%, mechanically, but I am a resourceful person.

    I didn't initially tell some "happy medium-form" story about my circumstances, and for this, Kevin was critical. This post implies he would have been critical in any case, unless of course he has some set of criteria for offering sincere advice, and if I happened to luck upon following that form, I might have gained more of his valuable advice and insight.

    Yes -- I fall into that category of "scared, due to financial circumstances, and likely to soon be evicted." Yes -- I've never been homeless, and was hoping to avoid it. By asking simply for his advice, Kevin accused me of drawing on his pity, and in this post, implying that I was trying to con him, somehow.

    Well, bullshit.

    I have a job (for now, that pays later than my landlord can accept), I have skills, and I have options. I don't want anyone's pity.

    What I would like is consultation from people who have found themselves in such conditions, and have managed to work through it. Kevin is apparently not that person, or if he is, he is not willing to engage with people who do not meet whatever "purity test" for scared, about-to-be-evicted people that he uses to deign worthy of advice beyond "get a job."
    .

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  4. Jeff, I have had enough experience with these requests for help to be able to understand them and categorize them. Seems to me that you're just upset that I could see through your B.S. to the reality of your situation. I also see on your scooter website you have "Homelessness Imminent" written above a request for job leads and a paypal donation link. Seems to me, by your comment above, that homelessness is not really imminent for you.

    All the same, it appears your are beginning to be more honest about your situation. I am encouraged by that.

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  5. Kevin, I asked for advice from you -- not "help," although I thought you might be willing to be helpful, in that regard.

    I now think I was wrong, and I will not waste either of our valuable time in that pursuit. My mistake, not to be repeated.
    .

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  6. Well, again, thanks Kevin, for the "help."

    Tell yourself that you are doing your best to prevent homelessness, and perhaps for someone with your particular set of afflictions, towards other not similarly afflicted, you are.

    What's important is that you believe that you are. Your self esteem is paramount.
    .

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  7. Jeff, advice is help. You may not like what I said, they may have not been the kind of words you were expecting from me, but as long as they kept you honest, and perhaps even kept you away from being homeless, then I did my job.

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  8. as long as they kept you honest, and perhaps even kept you away from being homeless, then I did my job.

    You are the rock that keeps tigers away.

    No. I think you're a preening asshole, and I'm done with you, forever.
    .

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  9. Well, I'd rather you hate me and be off the streets, than to tell you things that would endear you to me, and allow you to screw up your life.

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