Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Quick Question And Answer

There is a man who is a regular at the offramp I take to get home every night after work.

He goes by Pops and has a lot of little stuffed toys and things decorating his cart. He was there almost every night and I started giving him my change, half my lunch that I was bringing home, pizza from the work party, anything I could find / get to give him on the way home.

The other night, he wasn't there. And wasn't there for another three nights. I got worried. The next time I saw him, his cart was gone and he was in a back brace. It was the second time he'd been robbed but this time they beat him up so badly he was in the hospital for three days.

He has a wagon now and is slowly getting things back and he already has a stuffed toy atop the pile. 

What can I do for him? Anything I give him could be taken and the nicer the things the more likely somebody's going to kick the crap out of him again and take it. I don't want him to get hurt but I want to get him a backpack, some jeans, socks, maybe a book... just little things like that.
Would it be offensive to give him $20 and take him to a fast food place nearby and buy him dinner and just sit and talk with him for 30-60 minutes? I really want to hear his story and know who he is but I don't want to offend him. He said he makes about $20 an hour on the offramp before the cops give him the boot and I didn't want to take away his income, hence the $20.

I feel a connection with this guy and my heart tells me I should pay him to sit down with me and talk while we eat. I also know I can't rescue him from the streets but I want to give him something that will make his life a little easier, even for just a few days.

My Answer,
Guys get beat up like that because they allow themselves to be vulnerable.  They are vulnerable, not because they sleep outside but because they get high, either by drinking or taking pills, or smoking crack.  And when they get hi, more than likely they become bellicose, argumentative, mouth off to the wrong people, etc.  This is probably why he sleeps outside.  He can't get along with others enough to be allowed in a shelter.  And from my experience, people like this are angry at the world, suffering from some past hurt that's been too much for him to bear.   With this type of homeless person you are likely to not get much of the truth out of him if you just sit down once to have dinner with him.   He won't trust you enough to be completely honest with you, and will probably consider you an easy mark.  He'll tell you what he thinks you want to hear, all geared towards playing on your sympathies so to get even more out of you, in the way of cash and supplies.  Also, being that most likely he is an addict, he'll probably take anything "nice" you give him and will sell it for money that will go towards his addiction.  These are all things you should be aware of when speaking with him.  Sure, spend time getting to know him, buy him dinner if he's willing to take a break from panhandling, but I wouldn't give him more than that, just your company and a free meal, until you get to know him for who he really is, beyond the facade he will present to you at first.  It will take patience and dedication and many many "lunch" dates before he begins to trust you enough to tell you the truth about himself.   Take it slow and don't expect great changes over night.    Also, know that if this guy is "decorating" his cart, he may be suffering from some sort of mental illness as well, which could be cause for concern.  Don't allow him in your car anywhere, but only agree to meet him some public place, like at a McDonalds.   McDonalds are places homeless people are familiar with and will be more comfortable in, as compared to a nicer restaurant, which may be too intimidating for him.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is This The End Of The Homeless Guy

Well, I've got a feeling that I'm done with this blog. Sure, I've said it before. This time it seems more real. In times past I had momentarily given up on the blog out of frustration, or indifference, or depression. But now as I look over the life of this blog, it feels complete. I've said most everything I've wanted to say about homelessness. After nearly 8 years of blogging about the subject I've been given ample time to say what I felt needed to be said. In these 8 years I've learned a lot too, about homelessness, about myself, about life and people in general. It seems like it's time to move on, to work on other things, pursue other interests.

Pertaining to homelessness, I hope that people remember a couple things.

  • When dealing with homeless people always lead with your heart, but don't leave your good sense behind. Only do those things which you know for certain will work towards moving homeless people out of homelessness. Often, people will do things for homeless people in hopes of doing some good, but their efforts end up doing more harm than good. If you don't know for certain that your efforts will move homeless people towards something positive, it's better to do nothing at all.
  • Regardless of what a homeless person might say, no one ever wants to be homeless. Given the hand that life has dealt them, homeless people may believe that being homeless is the best situation to be in. The truth, though, is that these people need to be dealt new cards, and given another chance of having a worthwhile life.
  • There is a lot of misinformation circulating regarding homelessness. Some of it comes from people who hate, or are afraid of, homeless people. Yet some of it comes from the homeless and homeless advocates themselves. Truth is difficult to discern, even in the best of circumstances. In the realm of homelessness, (such as in war), "truth" is the first casualty. Still, I believe whole heartedly in the idea that "the truth will set you free." Help homeless people discover the truth about themselves and you'll free them from the condition that prevents them from getting the help they need.
  • The best thing you can give a homeless person is yourself, your time, your friendship, your genuine concern. Homeless people feel alone and ostracized from society. Knowing that they are still accepted by society, that they are welcome to rejoin the community, is vital.
Thank you for all the support you all have given me over the run of this blog. It has made a world of difference in my life.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Who Will End Homelessness?

The methods currently employed in curing people of homelessness are akin to bloodletting as a method of curing people of ailments. And this is because there has been no serious concerted effort made to understand homelessness with a scientific and intellectual focus. Occasionally a class will be offered on homelessness within a sociology program, and a few books have been written on the subject. But more needs to be done. Just as there are whole fields of study dedicated to subjects like "Women's Studies" or "African American Studies" there needs to be whole schools dedicated to "Homelessness Studies." It was only a couple years ago that HUD, a government agency attempted to place an official definition to a type of homelessness, with their definition of "chronically homeless." This definition was not the most accurate, but it was a start in the right direction. Homelessness is still today a vast, unexplored field. Academicians looking for a unique, undiscovered, unresearched area of study, would easily get their names in the history books of firsts, if they undertook a serious, dedicated study of homelessness.

Until now, the treatment and cure of homelessness has been left up to the religious, based on an inaccurate assumption that homelessness is a spiritual problem. But now people are admitting that this approach to homelessness has failed. Hopefully soon we will see an interest in the scientific approach to understanding and curing homelessness. It is time to drop the notion that homelessness is caused by a dysfunctional relationship with God that can be cured with copious amounts of prayer, and a proper belief in all the "right" things.

In the Christian sphere, a sphere which dominates the homelessness industry, and where supposedly judgmentalism is frowned upon, we find the greatest amount of judgment being passed. It is this act of "judgment" of homeless people that has become a tremendous road block in overcoming homelessness..

When a car accident occurs, emergency personnel rush to the scene. All injured people are treated, and if injuries are serious enough they are immediately taken to a hospital. And all of this is done so to save the lives of these people and to get them back to a productive and meaningful life as quickly as possible. During all this no one takes into consideration who was responsible for the accident. Imagine if the first thing responders did was to spend time determining who was responsible for a car accident, and then decide to refuse any service to them. Imagine all those people left on the side of the road without treatment, and possibly dying, because they were refused treatment, all because they were judged to be at fault. Seeing ourselves as decent, humane, citizens of the world we would never allow that to happen. So, why is it this type of judgment is passed on the homeless? Most homeless people are seen by society as being responsible for their homelessness and so people withhold treatment for it.

So, these are the immediate and overlooked needs of the homeless; to end once and for all the judgment of homeless people regarding who is responsible for their state of homelessness, and to begin treating fairly and equally all who suffer from it; and to create an institution where homelessness is studied, so that the best cures can be developed, and taught, so to bring an end to homelessness. It is time to stop thinking of homeless people as somehow deficient in character, or deficient in their relationship with God, and think of them instead as injured people in need of proper treatment. People used to pray for a cure to polio, but when science focused on it, a cure was found. So, who will be the Jonas Salk of homelessness?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

You Can't Have Just One Contributor Newspaper

The Contributor is Nashville's only street newspaper sold exclusively by homeless and formerly homeless people. Many vendors are able to earn enough money selling the paper to rent small apartments and become unhomeless, so you have to allow for that.

The paper is currently published monthly, although there are plans to make it a bi-monthly publication next year. It is text heavy with articles from a wide variety of perspectives. You're guaranteed to read something you will agree with and something you wont. Such is the nature of a free press and a free people. Yes, even homeless people qualify for the rights and freedoms all other citizens enjoy. Many of the articles are written by homeless and formerly homeless people. But you'll also find articles written by professionals, out reach workers, clergy, shelter directors, etc., who all work with the homeless on a daily basis. And on occasion there are articles written by other people who have something they would like to say about homelessness. (Besides these, you'll find a sudoku, a wordfind, and perhaps a crossword, all puzzles created by yours truly.) You certainly get more than a dollar's worth of information, insight and entertainment in every issue.

New issues are released on the last Wednesday of the month, and within a week, most regular readers will have bought a copy. Besides having the paper, many patrons are just as interested in supporting the vendors. So, it has become common practice for many people to buy several copies though out the month. This may seem silly to some, but there are many good reasons for having more than one.

Chances are, you'll find at least one article in the paper that is worth telling a friend about. Well, go ahead and give your copy to your friend and get another for yourself. Sometimes people buy multiple copies so to share it with all their friends. Some people even purchase copies to share at work or church or other organization.

Still there are more reasons and uses for The Contributor that you might not have thought of. Being that I am a vendor, I want to give you every reason I can think of for buying as many copies within the month as possible.

I'm trying to come up with a list of all the things a person could use a homeless newpaper for, other than read it. If you have any recommendations, please add them in the comments.

  • Line a bird cage
  • house train a puppy
  • wash windows
  • wrap fish
  • party hats
  • other origami
  • paper mache
  • wrapping birthday presents
  • protect floor and windows from paint spill
  • start a bonfire

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Homeless Guy Archive

To find the earliest blog posts from The Homeless Guy, go to This will show you almost all the posts that you cannot find here. There are some posts that have been lost for one reason or another. But between this website and that archive, you'll find nearly all of them.

This particular blog post was written, September 14, 2002. My writing seems a bit goofy to me now. I wouldn't write this the same way, my opinions, and my writing style have evolved since then. Still, it is what it is. Enjoy.

Let's try it again -
You can't live with 'em, you can't shoot 'em.

Ok, so what's the difference between a Panhandler and a Beggar? Well, to my mind there is a difference. The panhandler is stationary, his technique involves picking one place to sit or stand while waiting for you to pass by. The beggar is on the move, his technique involves finding one in the area most likely to buy his pitch. The panhandler works on the odds that a certain percentage of the entire population will walk by him, and throw something into his pan/hat/cup/palm. The beggar is more aggresive, and more cunning; he is the tiger on the prowl, looking for the weak and the young.

Why do they beg or panhandle? Drugs. It sounds too easy to be true. Sorry, it's all about the Drugs. Even when they are honestly asking for help with food, or their electric bill, or diapers, it's because they've spent all their money on Drugs, (which includes alcohol and cigarettes). At first, giving food may seem like a good alternative to giving money, but that only allows them to save their money for Drugs. Drugs, Drugs, Drugs - I can't say it enough. When you give money to these guys, and girls, you are supporting their life destroying addictions.

But you think about Jesus's commandment to give to all who ask; but I don't think He meant for you to give a loaded gun to man who said he wanted to kill himself. Which by the way, is what the homeless are doing - a slow suicide. Life has caused them so much pain that the only way to escape it is by death. Offing oneself is not quite so easy, so for many people they instead drown their pain in drugs and alcohol. And the pain is so great and the addiction is so intense that they will literally do ANYTHING to get it. When the drugs wear off the pain returns, so they are constantly under pressure to keep the drugs flowing. I just can't imagine this to be something God would want us to perpetuate.

The Dope man does not run a charity, but he is willing to take just about anything he can in trade for his merchandize. It's not uncommon for an addict to steal something of great value and exchange it for a small high. When I worked at the convience store I caught a guy with a 300 dollar box of cigars. He would have exchanged it for about 15 dollars worth of crack. Of course he had no idea that he had just taken a full box of Fuente Opus X, easily the most expensive cigars outside of Cuba. I'm sure he didn't care.

You can love him, you can hate him, he really doesn't care. All he knows is that if he is persistent enough, he will get what he wants. And that goes for the beggar as well as the panhandler. The only right answer to beggars and panhandlers is NO. You may have to say it more than once before they understand. No - you can say you're sorry for their situation, but still say NO. Only in a situation where the beggar has become violent, would I relent. By this time he has changed his identity from beggar to outright thief. And robbery is a whole different subject, and ciminal. And speaking of criminal, the United States Supreme Court has determined Panhandling/Begging to be a protected right under the First Amendment Freedom of Speech. If you call a cop and the cop carries the beggar/panhandler away, it's because they have found something else to charge the man with - they usually get them for public intoxication. If on the other hand he is arrested specifically for begging/panhandling, his Civil Rights have just been infringed.

If your insistent NO does not deter the beggar/panhandler, the next recourse is to make that person's time with you the most unpleasant experience possible. Yell loud, get upset, tell him to get away from you, threaten to call the police, (and sometimes you have to). Be more persistent than they are. - Part of why they are successful at getting money from people, is because they catch people unaware. Surprised, and uncertain what to do, a lot of people will just give money - if anything, just to get rid of the beggar. If you make enough noise, everyone in the area will become aware of this guy and his intentions, and will steer clear of him. Thus making his task a lot harder. Also, they fear going to jail, though they could care less about threats of being arrested. In jail, they are forced to sober up - for most, a fate worse than death.

In the big world we stress fairness and equality to all people, but in the case of beggars and panhandlers, as we desire to have them end this type of behavior, we must draw the line somewhere. Just like anyother efforts at behavior modification, it's works best to reward the good behavior and punish the bad.

If you are a business owner, I suggest that you share the expense with other business owners in hiring a security guard. You only need the presence of the guard to keep the beggars moving along.

Just remember that Beggars and Panhandlers are a small minority of the entire homeless population, and you should not judge all homeless people by these bad examples. If a person comes to you for a job, appears clean and sober and capable, though you may suspect he's homeless, don't press the issue. Hire the man. You could just be the break this guys been needing.

any questions? what do you think?

The Problem With Advocates For The Homeless

First off, I must let you know that I'm talking specifically about advocates for the homeless in the United States. I understand that the word "advocate" means different things in different countries. In the United States, an advocate for the homeless is someone who speaks out publicly about, or on behalf of, the homeless. They are not, as a rule, professional lawyers.

Very few people make a living talking about homelessness. But, there is no guild, or association of homeless advocates. There is no institution that teaches people how to talk about homelessness. There are some schools of sociology that offer courses on the subject, but there is nothing available to prepare someone to be an expert on the subject. There is no test one must past before becoming an advocate, no certificate to achieve before doing so. There is no over site. Anyone for any reason can declare themselves an advocate for the homeless - regardless of actually knowing anything about it. And from what I've seen, many of them don't.

Homelessness is a complex issue. Even after nearly three decades of being in and around homelessness, I'm just now beginning to understand some of its whys and wherefores. It certainly does not help matters that the scientific community that we depend on to help us understand the world, and to develop cures for what ails us, has for the most part neglected this aspect of life. Very few sociologists has studied homelessness at length, and what information they have garnered, they are not doing much to disseminate it to the general public.

Still, there are many people now posturing themselves as authorities on homelessness. Perhaps they have some personal experience with being homeless, or they ran a soup kitchen feeding the homeless. They then turn up at churches, schools and other public arenas, and talk with authority about homelessness. But proximity to homelessness does not make one an expert. What they say about homelessness may or may not be accurate. How would anyone know? I have listened to a lot of homeless advocates in my time and know that a lot of what they say is hogwash. Sure, there are some very basic truths about homelessness that they talk about, that anyone can find by searching the internet. Yet a lot of the information available on the internet is suspect as well.

When I challenge these advocates, they often become defensive, accusatory, or they will back peddle, and attempt to deflect my points by saying something like, "it's important that people talk about homelessness, and I'm just trying to help facilitate the discussion." To me, that's just a big loophole used to justify not knowing anything about it. They say it's enough to just get people talking about homelessness. Something they can still take credit for as an advocate.

But I don't buy that.

Remember what happened to Moses and the Jewish people when they left Egypt? They wandered around the desert, lost for 40 years. You can talk all you want about homelessness, but without some direction, without someone knowing where they're going, you can end up talking about homelessness for 40 years and not get anywhere, and not learn anything. And you end up helping no one that way.

When I became homeless for the first time in the early 80's, it coincided with a nationwide spike in the homeless population. And the homeless population growth continues to out pace attempts to feed, clothe, and shelter them. Yet, homelessness is a very popular. Google the keyword "homeless" and you'll find over 25 million references. One would think that with so much discussion being had, that our country would be adequately dealing the homeless population. Clearly, discussion is not enough. Answers need to be found. Cures need to be discovered and implemented. We need to be heading toward the end of homelessness and not just wandering around yacking.

When you engage any advocate for the homeless, don't just take their word for what they say. Challenge them, especially if what they say doesn't seem to make sense to you. That goes especially for me.

In a later post, I will give some examples of bad information coming from homeless advocates.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Homeless Guy Is Socially Inadequate

Sheila McKechnie once said, "People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes." To this I must say, "I don't agree."

Those who are critical of homeless people are usually mean spirited bigots, spouting all sorts of vulgar and inaccurate statements about the homeless. So, it is not uncommon for the more compassionate to rush to homeless people's defense against such cruelties. These defenders of the homeless attempt to meet fire with fire, but often do so by countering inaccuracies with inaccuracies.

These days, people do not like admitting their imperfections. Certainly on an intellectual level people know and admit that there are no perfect people. Yet whenever specifics are mentioned, people fiercely defend themselves, denying their own foibles and faults.

Could you expect anything less? Contemporary society is founded on Capitalism which forces people to compete against each other in every aspect of life. Looking as though one "has it all together," or at least appearing to be better than the next person, has become a focal point of human existence. "First impressions are the most important."

Being that we people have been at this competition thing for so long, pushing the bar of perfection ever higher, yet knowing within ourselves how limited we really are, we have come to accept, and even expect, that people will lie about themselves in all manner of social situations. From trying to score in a single's bar, to filling out a job application, people lie about themselves. At least the successful one's do.And there seems an unwritten code that giving permission to people to lie means receiving permission to lie as well. We are all in it together and we are all guilty, so lets not make an issue of it - seems the rule of the day.

So, when considering the plight of the homeless, when talking directly to the homeless about their issues, when allowing homeless people to "tell their own story," we take what they say at face value, just like we do when we hear any other lie. But the homeless are lying about themselves and their situation. Our society, our culture has taught them to so do. Besides, when a homeless person admits the very problems that caused him to become homeless, he'll then be put in a situation of having to deal with those problems. And homeless people avoid doing this like the plague.

This particular lie is a problem because we also want homelessness to end, and the only way to make that happen is to be completely honest about it. If we are to eradicate homelessness, then everyone, homeless and non-homeless and homeless advocates must drop their defenses, admit to themselves and others the reality of the situation.

The biggest obstacle to ending homelessness is our inherent dishonestly, the second biggest obstacle is that the vast majority of homeless people are, indeed, social inadequates. Yet, admitting this reality is a good thing. Social inadequacies are things that can be overcome. Teaching people how to be adequately social is an achievable goal. When you look at what successful case managers, social workers and homeless advocates are doing in the field, you'll see they are teaching homeless people how to get along in society.

The only way to reduce homelessness to any significant degree is for everyone to accept and come to terms with these very important truths regarding homelessness, and society in general. I hope that someday soon they will, but I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Not Quite Rolling Stone, But Close

Not only was I mentioned in the article appearing in Sojourners Magazine, my name was in bold type. woot!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Is There a Right to be Homeless? by Vivian Rothstein

I don't agree with much of the premise, but it seems that many agree with it. Could this book be the current excuse being used to harass homeless people? Boston Review | Is There a Right to be Homeless? by Vivian Rothstein

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Homeless Guy Contemplates Tent City

These days the term "Tent City" is applied to any grouping of self determined homeless dwellings. But, they weren't always called that. Actually the name is relatively new, and has political underpinnings. The name connotes functionality and permanence - aspects of which seem necessary to promote in defiance of government agencies seeking to demolish them. When a homeless encampment near downtown Nashville was threatened with demolition, advocates for the homeless began using the term, Tent City, to describe and identify it.

When I first arrived in Nashville, and subsequently began my experiences with homelessness, homeless people were already occupying the area. Every ten years or so, someone would declare this encampment as the source of the majority of criminal activity in the downtown Nashville area, and crews were dispatched to "clean up" the area. The camp would be demolished. In the process, homeless people would lose all their possessions. But once media and government attention was drawn away from the camp, the homeless would return and rebuild it. It was an accepted part of the cycle of life of homelessness. But that has changed.

Now, there more people involved in homeless care. These people have learned they cannot depend on organizations like rescue missions to pick up the slack, so they have become personally involved. Homeless people are no longer defenseless against the will and whim of the powers that be. When I first became homeless, the only homeless advocates were other homeless people. Even homeless service providers such as the Nashville Rescue Mission, and the Salvation Army, remained silent in the face of mistreatment of the homeless. (Perhaps their preoccupation with sin and punishment precluded them from doing so.) Today, there are professional outreach workers, church clergy and lay people, and political and religious bodies whose sole purpose is the care and concern for homeless people.

Plans for demolishing Nashville's Tent City have been postponed, allowing advocates to work with the homeless in the camp to get them the services they need, and to get them into regular housing whenever possible. From the time the government postponed the demolition until now, some 50 homeless people have been placed into housing, and many more have received vital care for the issues they struggle with. At last count, 140 homeless people resided in Tent City.

Then last weekend, literally out of the blue came a storm of epic proportions. More rain fell during those two days than ever recorded in Nashville. A week of sunshine later and the cost to the city is still being calculated. For any homeless person living along the river banks, it was a total washout. Tent City was destroyed and the residual toxins that came down the river with the flood have made the area uninhabitable. At least that's the official word from city government. And of course they will enforce that.

Currently, the 140 former residents of Tent City are living in emergency shelters alongside other Nashville residents who lost their houses to the flood. Once those shelters are closed, these homeless people will have to find new digs.

The typical Tent City resident is what I would call hardcore homeless. Of the homeless journey, living in an encampment out in the woods is the end of the trail. Camp living is the harshest and often the most dangerous. A homeless person usually gets to the point of living in a camp only after exhausting all other options. They have usually been banned from, or cannot stomach living in a typical homeless shelter like a rescue mission or salvation army. They are fiercely independent and have grown to distrust organizations that claim to want to help them, or even other homeless people. Only the necessity of safety motivates them to locate their camps close together.

Now, with having to start over, these homeless people will most likely go back to camp living, but in a different location. From what I understand, there were 15 encampments similar to Tent City around the county, not all of which were along the river. And when Tent City was still functioning as a place for homeless people to get assistance, the police were working to close down these other camps and relocate those homeless to Tent City, so to get them the services they needed. More than likely these homeless will return to those other camps, or create new ones.

The system that was developed, the coordinated efforts of outreach workers, advocates, clergy, and government officials, may be gone. The homeless who were in Tent City will again scatter about the county. They will be difficult to locate and getting services to them will be near impossible. The progress made with many of the homeless will be lost. The work will have to start over from scratch. That is why there is an effort underway to locate an area of approximately 2 acres near downtown to be used for the development of a temporary Tent City. That is, until a more permanent location can be found. It has always been in the best interests of everyone to reduce as much as possible if not completely end homelessness. The work being done in Tent City was making progress in that regard.

A website has been developed as a focal point, There is more at and and and
to be continued....

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Homeless Guy Asks

Is there any law in the United States of America that requires people to have a home?

Nashville Downtown Flood Panorama

Many homeless people had camps along the river. They have lost all they had. They will need help moving on. Contact Otter Creek Church at for more info.

Flickr Photo Download: Nashville downtown flood panorama

Free for All, Sojourners Magazine/May 2010

This article talks about the role of libraries in this day and age of at-home technology. And I happen to be mentioned. Free for All, Sojourners Magazine/May 2010

Welcome all you Sojourners.