Part 1: How to Help Someone Facing Homelessness

Video

This is based on the post: How to Help Someone Surviving Homelessness

Discussion forums:
(2) Surviving Homelessness (quora.com)
(1) SurvivingHomelessness (reddit.com)

Transcript of Notes
(not a full transcript)

If you are trying to help someone facing a serious financial crisis and potential homelessness, then this is the place to begin. The following suggestions provide practical advice for anyone attempting to help a friend or relative survive homelessness.

This information is divided into three presentations:
Part 1 – What to do
Part 2 – What not to do
Part 3 – Seriously, just DON’T do this

This first presentation assumes the following:
1) you already know the homelessness person you are trying to help
2) neither you nor this person have ever experienced extreme poverty or homelessness before.

No one is ever just handed help of any kind you have to prove that you’re not – to use a common slur – human garbage. Anyone who’s homeless is always considered guilty until proven innocent and even then most people will assume you just haven’t gotten caught yet. That makes proving yourself to be ‘deserving’ rather complicated.

Actually, you have to prove that you’re human – and then you have to prove that you deserve to live like one.

Spend a little time trying to understand the realities of poverty in your area. Walk or drive around and take the time to actually see homeless people and low-income neighborhoods. Visit the homeless shelter. Research all of the resources available to homeless people in your area. Call around and get some basic information about what it takes to qualify for help. Then spend some time researching news stories about homelessness in the region. This will give you some insight into the way the media portrays extremely poor people and how dangerous it is to be living on the street.

Just remember that you will never truly understand what it’s like until you’ve lived it.

Simply read the biographies of people who have survived extreme poverty and nonfiction books about poverty and homelessness can be helpful. Sadly, these resources these tend to be few and far between – particularly biographies. A readily available online resource is Invisible People, a homeless journalism project that interviews people surviving homelessness and posts the interviews without edits. It’s one of the only resources that provide a voice to homeless people by simply allowing each person to tell their own story. The link is provided in the description.

After your friend or relative has become homeless, continue spending time together. Whenever possible, make a point of doing so publicly.

This kind of crisis will send a perfectly healthy human being spiraling into depression. Simple and authentic acts of friendship can help fight the despair that inevitably comes from living with the stigma of poverty.

Other people will see you together, which will reduce the damage caused by poverty stigma. This will also increase the possibility of making whatever connections are necessary to get out of homelessness.

Making alliances is crucial to both surviving and escaping poverty. Being homeless means losing police protection. Individuals without a support group or network are frequently targeted by predators –including those living financially stable, socially acceptable lives.

Publicly associating with the housed enhances the individual’s standing as a member of the ‘deserving poor.’ The is a matter of survival and an unfortunate reality born out of extremely limited resources.

No matter how altruistic a social worker or non-profit volunteer is, when a program has enough money to cover the needs of 100 people and it receives 500+ applications, decisions must be made and those decisions are often subjective.

Many non-profits are provided opportunities to collaborate with wealthy benefactors or other organizations on a limited basis. These are purposely unadvertised programs made available to ‘hand picked’ clients. Effectively, they will examine the people who have applied for publicly advertised programs and select those who are considered a good fit.

For all of these reasons (and more), it is important to present the best possible argument for being selected as a recipient and that requires being perceived as ‘deserving.’

Community. It’s the one thing everyone surviving homelessness loses. Ostracism and stigma are part of the homeless experience. They are unfair, unwarranted, traumatizing, and will directly hinder any attempts to escape homelessness. Publicly associating with someone even after they’ve become homeless maintains a connection to the community that existed before losing everything. I can’t overstate just how helpful it is to have a public display of that connection. It’s one of the few things that can counter the ostracism and stigma, just enough to begin making additional connections that could help lead a person out of homelessness.

Anytime someone you care about is faced with a crisis it is time to listen and let them talk. Don’t judge, don’t get offended, and (for the love of Pete!) do NOT break confidences!

Brainstorming all possibilities, no matter how outlandish, helps re-establish hope. Some things are not possible right now, but there’s always someday.

Setting a long-term goal can help to clarify the next best move. The financial situation may be desperate right now, but that does not eliminate the possibility of reaching life or career goals in the future. Identifying a long-term goal and looking for immediate opportunities that move in that general direction can both simplify and improve the process of escaping poverty.

By seeing the actions taken in the immediate moment as steps on the path to a much different (better) place, the individual is able to achieve a more positive perspective overall. This is invaluable when writing resumes, sitting through interviews, filling out applications for assistance, looking for housing and so on.

For some reason, brainstorming sessions have a way of making people more aware of opportunities. After taking some time to look at seemingly outlandish goals, something within immediate reach will be identified. A contact, a job posting, a passing conversation…any number of resources and leads might be revealed. It just requires allowing the mind to focus on what is possible.

Brainstorming discussions can help a person remember their worth and remain cautious while job hunting. If an individual goes into the job-seeking process willing to “take anything from anyone in exchange for whatever paycheck is offered” then chances are very good that an unethical or abusive manager will exploit the opportunity. The end result? A terrible work experience, Job loss, a tarnished work record and minimal pay. 

Tangible Help: Helping out in small ways provides more than financial assistance, it lifts the spirits and establishes an ongoing sense of community. It makes taking that next step out of poverty possible.

It is your responsibility to identify what you are both willing and able to do. This is about boundaries. You can’t communicate or enforce your boundaries if you don’t know what they are. Other people can’t respect your boundaries if you don’t know what they are. Identifying those boundaries are your responsibilities.

Sit down and making two lists: 1) things you can do in the short term and 2) things you can do over the long-term (read: years). After you have clearly identified your own limits (to yourself), it’s time to take action.

How you communicate this information will depend on the person facing poverty/homelessness and your relationship. Sometimes simply showing up with a casserole is the best thing you can do. Other times, it’s better to discuss the available options ahead of time. A few suggestions are listed here.

Network with people who know how to utilize the local resources for survival. Most people find good solid information through places of worship, community organizations, and 12-step programs.

Ask the people in your own network of friends and family for recommendations about both resources and people who might know more about local resources.

Helping to identify and arrange temporary paid work can be a valuable form of assistance. Before we get into the benefits of odd jobs, let’s take a look at the realities of the work poor. Most homeless people already have jobs – commonly known as the working poor. Don’t assume that your friend needs additional work

If you have the ability to offer or arrange paid work, then make the offer. If they turn down your offer be gracious about it and let them know the offer remans open if they ever change their mind. Homeless people have the right t accept or refuse as they see fit. Acknowledging and respecting that fact is important.

Here are some reasons odd jobs can be helpful – if they choose to accept your offer.

It enhances the individual’s standing as a member of the ‘deserving poor.’

It qualifies as freelance work and/or self-employment which provides solid networking opportunities.

Helps fill a time gap on a resume.

It’s easier to find a job when you have a job.

Poverty Survivor Pride

Video

The original posting of text covered in this video is located here: Poverty Survivor Pride: No Shame In Being Poor | Adora Myers

Solving Extreme Poverty

The video presentation Solving Extreme Poverty and Homelessness in the USA can be seen on YouTube:

Commentary on Quora can be accessed here: https://qr.ae/pG5f5w

PDF of all slides in the presentation:

The text of the presentation with slide titles in bold:

Solving Extreme Poverty and Homelessness in the USA

This presentation describes a potential solution from a big picture perspective. These ideas are being presented as a starting point for discussions on poverty and homelessness. I am inviting fellow poverty survivors – people with lived experience surviving poverty, particularly homelessness – to participate in this discussion. If you have never experience poverty directly, your support is appreciated but please be respectful and allow people with lived experience take the lead in this conversation.

Big Picture, Big Steps

Three (3) different plans with overlapping goals implemented simultaneously. This presentation covers the objectives of all three plans and then looks at the five-year plan in more detail.

5-Year Plan: Objective

The 5-year plan.

The objective is to meet the immediate needs of people currently surviving extreme poverty or homelessness, those in danger of slipping into poverty and people escaping catastrophic events, 

5-Year Plan

To this end, the 5-year plan focuses on providing emergency support to those surviving poverty, universal support to everyone and the establishment of emergency facilities and basic infrastructure to support providing for a large population a catastrophic event.

50-Year Plan: Objective

The 50-year plan.

The objective is to address the root causes of social inequality, financial inequality, global warming and environmental destruction.

50-Year Plan

This requires digging deep into complicated issues like systemic racism, global warming, environmental destruction and crumbling infrastructure.

500-Year Plan:  Objective

The objective is to address long-term problems through multigenerational planning.

500-Year Plan

The 500-year plan lays the groundwork for making changes while fostering a culture of identifying and evaluating potential risks and consequences across many generations.

5 Year Plan

Now for a more detailed look at the five-year plan.

On its own, this is an ambitious band-aid for out-of-control homelessness and poverty in the United States, designed to keeps people alive while facilitating a transition into the 50-year plan.

Emergency Support

Emergency support is a lifeboat, not a final destination.  It consists of an expansion of both the resources available and the number of people eligible, while simplifying the process for accessing necessary resources.

Government Benefits

Food, housing, transportation and childcare make up the most basic benefits already available. They also address some of the most basic necessities.

Government Benefits

Modifying the existing program is simple: 1) increase the amount o all resources made available to each person, 2) increase the annual income requirements to include the middle class,

Government Benefits

3) simplify access – For example: automatically enrolling everyone whose tax returns indicate eligibility

Government Benefits

And 4) Expand benefits to cover more key issues faced by people surviving poverty, such as student loan forgiveness and free legal assistance

Universal Support

As the title implies, these resources would be immediately available to everyone.

Universal Basic Income (UBI)

Universal Basic Income or UBI checks providing a reliable monthly payment to everyone over a certain age, regardless of income, living status or participation in other government assistance programs. Cash in hand goes a long way towards establishing nationwide financial stability and ensuring the basic needs of the population are met.

Universal Health Care

Five (5) years of Universal health care, covering all aspects of mental and physical health care at no cost to the patient, including medical programs normally addressed outside of hospitals, like dental, eye and chiropractic care.

Universal Photo IDs

The universal ID would be designed to be entirely free of charge, reasonably easy to create, centrally managed and regularly updated. To that end, a new ID could be based on anything from standard identification documentation to information provided by the individual verbally or select biometric data types.

Universal Photo IDs

The objective is to get everyone into the official universal photo ID system, including people who already have other forms of government ID, thereby making it commonly available and useful.

Universal Photo IDs

This may require connecting it to a specific purpose, such as voter identification, a centralized medical records system, or the universal medical benefits program.

Emergency Facilities

Emergency facilities are distinctly different from existing resources available to people during a crisis. They are designed to provide refuge to a very large population of people, pets and property during anything from a personal emergency to a catastrophic event or a mass evacuation.

Facility Formats

The resources currently available have three (3) possible formats: 1) a cold site, 2) a warm site, and 3) a hot site.

Cold Site

A cold site takes time and effort to set up and may require additional supplies to get up and running. Examples include bomb shelters, remote summer cabins or an RV only used for vacations.

Warm Site

A warm site is used on a limited basis or has a primary purpose that makes it reasonably easy to modify quickly. Either way it is partially up and running and mostly operational. Examples include schools, community centers, churches and stadiums.

Hot Site

A hot site is fully functioning and continually operating. Examples include hospitals, hotels and homeless shelters. Unfortunately, currently operating hot sites are not equipped to handle a large-scale emergency.

Hot Site

Homeless shelters struggle to meet the needs of people surviving poverty on an average day.

Hot Site

Hospitals and hotels are neither designed nor equipped to handle a large population for an extended time.

Hot Site

Emergency Facilities are hot sites specifically designed to handle the worst-case-scenario by meeting the long-term needs of an extremely large population during a crisis – whether that crisis affects a single person or involves a mass-evacuation.

Basic Requirements

Emergency facilities provide a place to live, a place to die, the resources necessary to live, and the ability to access at least one facility from anywhere in any state in the country.

Handicap Accessible

They are 100% handicap accessible because an evacuation event requires fast and simple processes. Able bodied people can used handicapped accessible housing without modification or difficulty. The same cannot be said about people who are handicapped or injured being placed in standard non-accessible housing.

Handicap Accessible

A facility that is 100% handicapped accessible can provide housing and basic resources to anyone at any time – without delay. Simple. Fast. Efficient.

Known Population

The facilities, supplies and the public transportation connecting them MUST be designed to meet the needs of 150% of the total known population of the entire state.

Known Population

That number includes the housed, unhoused, and temporary residents.

Known Population

Why 150%? First, it’s an emergency facility. During an evacuation, everyone is moved out of the danger zone and into a safe place no questions asked – there MUST NEVER be a moment when people are stopped and evaluated for access.

Known Population

Second, if the entire population is evacuated to these facilities at the same time and the total population count is off by 10%-25% or more, then there’s still plenty of room for everyone, including emergency transfers from other facilities.

Emergency Transfer

Which brings us to Emergency transfers. These are pre-established plans for moving people to different emergency facilities when the local facility is compromised, destroyed or at capacity.

Emergency Transfer

To illustrate, Try to imagine the states of California, Oregon and Washington on a map. All three states share an ocean coastline and problems with regular natural disasters, such as earthquakes, wildfires, floods and drought.

Emergency Transfer

In this fictitious scenario…California has three (3) emergency facilities, Oregon has one (1) and Washington State has two (2). A wildfire rips through Oregon, forcing the evacuation of a large portion of its population to the emergency facility. This works until the fire changes course and starts heading for the facility itself

Emergency Transfer

Despite planning, prevention and firefighting efforts, the fire gets dangerously close, and the Oregon facility must be evacuated. Per the plans already in place, the entire displaced population is sent to emergency facilities in California and Washington State via specially designed public transportation, such as a high-speed rail.

Emergency Transfer

When transfers arrive, they are immediately provided living arrangements and access to all resources. Housing and assistance continues for as long as each person or family needs.

Emergency Transfer

When the Oregon facility re-opens, those who remain at the emergency transfer locations are given the option of being transferred back to Oregon. Transfers are always free of charge and, outside of an emergency evacuation, they are voluntary.

Medical

An emergency facility requires comprehensive medical resources. Because this is a continuously operating facility, those resources are available – free of charge – to anyone who needs them 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Nursing Homes and Hospice Care

A mass evacuation event is going to generate serious injuries, some of them fatal and others requiring long-term care. Evacuations also include nursing home residents and hospice patients in other regions of the state. Therefore, the emergency facility must be prepared to handle the needs of these patients.

Nursing Homes and Hospice Care

Homelessness among the elderly is becoming more and more common. Serious illness often causes financial ruin that leaves individuals and families at the mercy of the welfare system and homeless shelters. Therefore, facilities must be prepared to continuously accommodate the needs of people dealing with a family or personal crisis.

Political

Catastrophic events do not adhere to a political calendar. Citizens evacuated to an emergency facility still have the right to vote in all elections – local and national. Voting options must, by necessity, be made available to all citizens residing at a facility for any length of time.

Communications

Basic communication resources include reliable high speed internet connections and universal cell phone towers designed to allow the entire population the ability to contact family and friends, or to remotely connect to work and school.

Communications

This facilitates communication between individuals, families and government agencies during a disaster. It also helps to encourage people to leave an area in anticipation of a known pending disaster, like a hurricane.

Education and More

Getting back to normal after a disaster takes time. Most likely, people forced to rely on an emergency facility will live there for several months or even years. Life continues.

Education and More

Children must be educated, and college students need to finish school.

Education and More

There are religious events and cultural holidays to observe.

Education and More

Athletes and arm-chair warriors alike need to continue their training.

Education and More

Opportunities to participate in both sports and the arts relieves stress, builds community and helps people continue living their lives. Which, in turn, helps people recover from a traumatic experience and get their lives back on track.

Legal System

Laws and policies governing emergency facilities must be consistent across the entire network to ensure that a flood of people traveling between facilities during an emergency transfer can complete the move as smoothly as possible. The fewer details people are trying to figure out during an emergency, the better.

Community and Culture

Many people will stay at a facility temporarily. Some will take a job and settle down permanently. There will be students who come seeking a free education and individuals who simply choose to remain long-term – these are all good things.

Community and Culture

Anticipating the establishment of a permanent community and actively working to foster a culture that is conducive to the unique nature of life at an emergency facility will help ensure smooth operation over the long-term.

Big Picture, Big Steps

That’s the basic overview of the primary components of the five-year plan à Emergency support, universal support and emergency facilities.

Solving Extreme Poverty and Homelessness in the USA

Thank you for listening!

Please Use Mute

The country would be better served if we allow both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you to do that.

Chris Wallace, Moderator 2020 Presidential Debate, 9/29/2020
USA Presidential Debate, 9/29/2020

The problem with the first presidential debate can be solved with technology. This is a rare moment when a distinctly human communication problem can be effectively solved through technological solutions.

The problem: Constant interruptions of both the moderator and the opponent during a live broadcast debate.

The solution:

Step 1: Place candidates in separate rooms or in clear glass, soundproof boxes on the same physical stage. Separate rooms requires reliable video and audio and clear boxes require reliable audio, thereby allowing the participants to hear both questions and responses.

Step 2: Make it clear at the outset that microphones will be muted when questions are asked and when the opponent has the floor.

Step 3: When it is their turn to speak open the microphone. When they are out of time mute them.

Step 4: If a live mic is in the room recording everything said but not broadcast during the debate, then those recordings may be released and commented on the following day. It must not be made available during the debate itself.

Solving Homelessness: Health Care

Homelessness is unhealthy. In the United States poverty, extreme or otherwise, is unhealthy. For many middle-class families, simply being underinsured in unhealthy. Health care is a wide-reaching issue but the cost of health care, with or without insurance, is frequently financially devastating and potentially deadly.

Doctors don’t work for free. If you can’t pay the bill and the insurance company (assuming you have one) won’t cover the expenses, then medical care and medication are cut off. That’s the way things work.

For people trying to survive extreme poverty (homelessness), the conditions of day-to-day life exacerbate medical issues. The lack of health insurance all but eliminates health care. Trying to find work or other resources necessary to get off the streets is difficult under the best of circumstances, add an illness into that scenario and ‘extremely difficult’ becomes ‘near impossible.’

Universal Health Care

Universal health care would address the financial devastation that pushes middle-class families into extreme poverty (homelessness) when a loved one falls ill.

Universal health care would provide extremely poor people access to much-needed resources and services. Simply being able to address an illness or injury makes finding a job significantly more possible, which makes escaping homelessness possible – not easy or guaranteed but possible.

Universal healthcare would begin the long and arduous process of addressing the medical resource caste-system currently built around government-provided Medicaid and Medicare programs. People who receive health insurance through an employer have significantly more options and receive markedly better care. There are large numbers of doctors and medical care providers who refuse to accept patients reliant on government-provided benefits – unless they are government employees, in which case they receive the same care as people in the private sector. Since extremely poor people are overwhelmingly dependent upon these programs, this creates a prejudiced resource distribution wherein people at the bottom are treated very differently from people who have more social and financial ‘value.’

A true universal healthcare system would help to place all Americans on equal footing within the medical care system. It would place every person under the same medical payment system, giving all citizens access to the same medical resources without fear of financial devastation.

The social stigma surrounding extremely poor people will take significantly more time and resources to change. Medical professionals who harbor an aversion to interacting with extremely poor people (homeless or housed) will continue to shun these individuals, provide substandard care or participate in abusing vulnerable populations for the same reasons that racists treat the objects of their hate in the same manner.

The cascading effects of hatred towards extremely poor (homeless) people will have to be addressed in another way.

Solving Homelessness: Legal Assistance and Reform

Legal problems can, and often do, force people into extreme poverty, homelessness included. A court case can take over a person’s life, draining time, resources and funds. Depending on the reasons behind the case, it can cost a person their reputation, job and family – justifiably or not. Any involvement with the legal system is costly and winning is often the result of simply having more resources to devote to the process. If the issue at stake is important enough, people will (and have) devote every last resource to the fight, leaving them financially destitute.

Surviving extreme poverty (homeless or housed) is a legal quagmire of vagrancy laws; restrictions based on lack of a permanent address; illegal evictions; and accusations of theft, fraud, trespassing and simply existing (e.g.: sleeping in public). Attempting to report violent attacks or rapes is practically impossible and police brutality is not uncommon.

Those are just the most commonly known legal issues facing people trying to escape extreme poverty.

Any form of legal entanglement is devastating to impoverished families. Criminal cases are common and many of them are based on racial profiling or ridiculous laws specifically designed (and selectively enforced) to criminalize the existence of poor people because those with power don’t like seeing extreme poverty in public spaces.

I wish I could say that last sentence was an exaggeration or an analogy or even representation of worst-case-scenarios that pop-up through the country. Sadly, it is the cold-hard-reality faced by people surviving extreme poverty everywhere in the United States.

There are free legal aid programs, but they are inundated with requests for help, run by a small staff of volunteers and universally refuse to even discuss anything that is considered criminal. Legal representation provided within the court system is also overloaded and poorly managed.

As the experts in mass incarceration have pointed out, simply being part of a targeted racial group almost guarantees problems with the criminal justice system, regardless of your commitment to living a good and honest life. The same can be said for people surviving poverty – particularly those faced with extreme poverty and homelessness.

Extreme poverty and homelessness will not be significantly reduced, much less solved, until prejudiced and predatory laws are eliminated, all people are provided access to quality legal assistance and addressing an issue through the court system does not require being either extremely wealthy or a willingness to face complete financial devastation.

There’s a lot of work to be done here.
I don’t have a clean or easy answer.
It must change.
Period.

Mass Incarceration and Vagrancy Law Resources:

Solving Homelessness: Living Wage Work

“Get a job!” is one for the most common insults screamed into the faces of homeless people and individuals begging for change. Extremely poor people are stereotyped as being lazy, unreliable and unwilling to hold down a regular job. In reality, a significant number of extremely poor (homeless and housed) people hold down multiple jobs, working between 40 and 80 hours a week, month-after-month and year-after-year. The problem is not the ability or willingness to work – it’s the extremely low wages being paid by the vast majority of available jobs.

All over the country, the struggle is the same. Good paying jobs are inundated with applicants and almost every other opportunity pays less than the cost of living. Simply paying rent on a full-time minimum wage paycheck is impossible. Add in other expenses and holding down 2-3 jobs may not bring in enough cash to simply live.

The irony of this is the fact that there is plenty of work to be done and plenty of resources to go around. Take a walk around your neighborhood. How much would the 2-3 blocks surrounding your home benefit from a crew of people dedicated to simply cleaning, maintaining and fixing things? Expand that to the entire town or city. How much work needs to be done? How much of it get’s pushed aside year after year?

Then consider the number of small family businesses and start-up companies that struggle to survive in a market where large corporation not only dominate but reduce prices to the point where it’s impossible to compete. Providing people to work at small, local, businesses at a reduced cost to the business while paying the worker a living wage could help boost the local business economy.

A very simple program that simply provided a living wage job to any and every person who applied would go a long way toward reducing poverty (extreme or otherwise), preventing homelessness, and providing homeless people a much-needed opportunity to move into long-term housing.

Couple this program with standard employment assistance services and people who have been out of work for a long time will be provided a much-needed opportunity to return to the workforce. Even if every person working is doing low-skill manual labor, the possibility of being hired for completely different work significantly increases because it’s always easier to get a job when you have a job.

Also, presenting yourself in an interview becomes both difficult and complicated when you are stressed about finding your next meal, a place to sleep, the possibility of being evicted, or the overall safety of your children. These are things that employers consider liabilities and reasons to remove a person from consideration – if they should find out. They are also things that make remaining cheerful and pleasant a challenge.

A significant number of the seemingly insurmountable hurdles faced by extremely poor people could be addressed by simply providing a job that pays enough to cover the cost of living to anyone who wants one, regardless of their work history, background, criminal history, skill set or age.

This program would have to provide opportunities for teenagers, including those who are trying to help their family pay the bills, trying to care for siblings on their own or simply surviving without the help of a family. An education is crucial, but being open to helping these kids cover the cost of living through a job (full or part-time) presents a multitude of opportunities to address things like obtaining a GED.

Providing people with a criminal record or a less-than-perfect background with work that covers the cost living – guaranteed – helps to reduce criminal activity because it makes crime less necessary. When people have the ability to choose to live a good honest life, then making the decision to pursue criminal activity is more complicated because they really and truly do not have to break the law just to survive.

Making work available to anyone who needs it, at all times, also acts as a safety net for individuals who:

  • Lose their job due to cutbacks or a large corporation shutting down.
  • Quit a job due to a hostile work environment.
  • Leave their spouse due to abuse or a crumbling relationship.
  • Were forced to close a small business.
  • Are faced with the loss of work and/or income for any reason.
  • Many more…

The bottom line is simply this, providing a living-wage-job to anyone both willing and able to work benefits everyone in a specific geographic region and goes a long way toward reducing homelessness overall.

Stalking and Social Engineering: Wheel-of-Slander

Abusive individuals, stalkers and criminals specializing in destroying or selling human beings (e.g., human traffickers, pimps, etc.) all have one primary goal: isolate the target. The wheel-of-slander is one of many methods commonly used to isolate a victim while simultaneously convincing other people that the victim ‘deserves’ whatever horrible crimes the stalker or criminal chooses to perpetrate.

Establishing Trust

This technique does not require establishing a level of trust. It only requires identifying established gossips and their hot-button topics.  A period of observation and casual interaction is usually sufficient.

Initiating the Gossip

The stalker approaches the gossip with ‘news’ about the target, who just happens to be [hot button issue]. The stalker purposely crafts an enticing story, specifically designed to get the gossip emotionally involved in attacking the target. The story leaves out all concrete evidence, details about the stalker and the source(s) for the ‘facts’ provided. Instead, ‘proof’ is provided in common everyday actions and interactions, such as: the way the person walks or speaks, the type of clothes they wear, their physical address or even the color of their eyes/skin/hair.

The less concrete or valid the evidence, the more effective the gossiping campaign. This is because the people who enjoy verbally attacking another person (just for fun) will jump in and elaborate, while individuals who are more naïve will begin to believe that these things truly are concrete proof of [hot button issue]. Sadly, the individuals who see through this game will often remain silent and watch it play out from a distance, out of fear of becoming a target themselves.

Wheel-of-Slander

After the first gossip has been inspired to act, the stalker locates the second gossip with a different hot-button issue and proceeds to create an equally fictitious story about the target. This second gossip proceeds to spread vicious rumors with loose (at best) and completely irrelevant (at worse) indicators of ‘proof’ that the target is [second hot button topic].

Sadly, most people will not consider how highly improbable it is for multiple extreme accusations levied at a single individual to contain any amount of verifiable truth. In fact, the accusations could completely contradict one another, and the crowd-response will usually consist of a poorly defined sense of fear and revulsion that can best be defined as this is a bad and dangerous person – stay away.

Common slanderous accusations used during a Wheel-of-Slander assault in the United States:

  1. Abuser (e.g., Child, Animal, etc.)
  2. Criminal Activity (e.g., They claim to be trustworthy, but they are really [hot button issue] – they just haven’t been caught yet)
  3. Cultural Heritage (e.g., They claim to be X, but they are really Y)
  4. Dating or ‘Interest’: (e.g., They claim to be single or in a relationship, but they are really dating or trying to date [hot button issue])
  5. Drug or Alcohol Addiction (e.g., They deny it, but they are really getting high/drunk in secret – they make sure no one sees them buying or using the stuff.)
  6. Hate Group Association (e.g., They deny it, but they are really a member of [hate group])
  7. Mental Illness (It’s important to note that ‘crazy’ never has to be proven, it only needs to be stated. Most people will believe another person is ‘crazy’ based on rumor alone.)
  8. Physical Illness (stigmatizing)
  9. Political Affiliations or Beliefs
  10. Racial Heritage (e.g., They look [race], but they are really [race])
  11. Secret Religion (e.g., They claim to be X, but they are really Y)
  12. Sexual Identity (e.g., They claim to be X, but they are really Y)
  13. Stalking (e.g., They claim to be dealing with a stalker, but they are really the stalker themselves.)
  14. Witchcraft (It’s important to note that the beliefs behind the Salem Witch Trials perpetuate in the present day – people actually believe witches are real and must be eliminated through lynching.)

(This list could contain hundreds of examples, but you get the idea.)

Exercise: Randomly select four (4) numbers and pull those items off the above list. Put that list together into a single description. Imagine being the victim and trying to address any one of these assaults. How would you make sense of what people are saying and why? Now try to imagine creating a method for addressing the problem. Where do you go? Who do you confront? Who do you sue for slander?

Spotting Manipulation

Gossip is never factual. People who regularly participate in gossip do so for the thrill of destroying another human being. Therefore, gossips are inherently unethical and untrustworthy individuals. It is important to learn to recognize when this behavior is occurring and call it out for what it is.

Facts are verifiable. Human beings are creatures of habit, and most people say and do things that are logical – or, at least, follow a well-defined pattern. This makes fact-finding reasonably easy – as long as the person researching the facts is sincerely looking for FACTS instead of ‘proof’ for what they’ve already decided to be true.

  • Always question gossip.
  • Always question inflammatory statements.
  • Always question ‘facts’ provided without clear or verifiable proof.

Stalkers and Social Engineering – Selective Memory

Abusive individuals, stalkers and criminals specializing in destroying or selling human beings (e.g.: human traffickers, pimps, etc.) all have one primary goal in common: isolate the target. If the targeted individual has a protective, supportive, reliable and reasonably healthy community of people, then perpetrating the intended crime is extremely difficult, if not impossible. One method of isolating a specific person is through identifying and targeting their inner circle of friends and family.

Establishing Trust

This requires establishing rapport with those individuals, which can be done in any number of ways including (but not limited to): flattery, gifts, professional introductions, presenting the ‘good person’ persona (e.g.: at church), telling jokes, flirting, presenting professional credentials (e.g.: clergy, police officer, social services worker, doctor, teacher, psychologist, employee at a respected company, etc.), etc.

Creating an Accomplice

After the relationship has been established and the stalker has built up the trust of the inner-circle-member (read: friend or relative), discussions about the target are initiated.  By this point, the stalker has also identified enough of the prejudices, concerns and overall history of the friend or relative and will use this information to convince them to go along with attacking the target.

Invariably, the goal is increased power over the target, potentially absolute control, up to and including selling the individual into modern slavery. The accomplice will either be convinced this goal, as awful as it may sound, is for the best; or they will be told (and believe) the actual goal is something else entirely – but the permanent removal or isolation of the target is usually assumed and accepted.

Selective Memory

If the friend or relative has qualms about manipulating the target or other people on the stalker’s behalf, then the selective memory technique is used. This technique involves taking on the role of teacher and training the friend or family member to carefully focus on specific negative memories.

The stalker patiently walks their accomplice through identifying the worst memory they have associated with the target. That one fight they had in the fifth grade, the 12th birthday party that didn’t go as planned or that Saturday night during college when the evening did not end well. It could be a legitimately awful thing the target did, or it could be a normal falling out that occurs during every relationship. What is important is not the legitimacy of the event but the feelings the accomplice had as a result.

In short: remember that one time this person made you feel bad. Every time you’re not sure you can do this, remember that one time he or she made you feel bad.

This is repeated over and over, within the context of a patient and concerned teacher walking the accomplice through necessary painful steps to reach a specific goal.

Spotting Manipulation

Training another person to use selective memory to achieve a goal is a form of manipulation. It distorts reality, clouds thinking, and grooms the accomplice for additional activities that are equally unethical and (possibly) illegal.

When a person attempts to convince you (or another person) to focus all attention on a single event, consciously disregarding all other aspects to the relationship, it’s a huge red flag and a clear indication that this individual needs to be kept at a distance or eliminated from your social circle.

Social Engineering Technique – The Shell Game

When discussing social engineering techniques, the danger of an insider threat cannot be underestimated. The shell game technique is a subtle form of social engineering most frequently used by individuals with control over key documentation and specific collections of data. It is one of many techniques used by people who maliciously hack systems from the inside.

Establishing Trust

The trust that must be established for this technique to work is twofold, the malicious actor (hacker) must have: 1) a job title or role that provides access to the collection of data being manipulated and 2) an established reputation for being the go-to or definitive source for questions about (or access to) the data being manipulated.

For the purposes of this article, I will use the following scenario: An Information Security Manager involved in the IT Security Policy decision making processes who actively manipulates key decisions by using the shell game technique with IT Security Policy.

In this scenario, the manager is responsible for developing, managing, securing and representing IT security policy. He or she has control over the creation of the content and the data repository where it is officially maintained. The manager is also responsible for enforcing security across the company, which is based on policy, so employees are in the habit of going to the person holding this job title when copies of existing policy or answers about the interpretation of policy are needed.

Historic Shell Game

The shell game is an old standby used by con artists. It involves gambling on three cups and a ball (or discarded shells from a large nut and a pea). The con artist places the ball under one of the cups, scrambles the cups, and then challenges the target to locate the ball. At some point, a wager is placed, and the con artist secretly removes the ball from under the cups while quickly scrambling them, causing the target to lose the money gambled.

IT Shell Game

In IT security, data repositories are the cups and the data within them are the balls. It’s important to remember that ‘data repositories’ can be databases, shared drives, intranet sites, hard copies (paper) and human beings (accessing knowledge and skills of an employee or expert).

IT Security Policies are collections of key decisions. Like legal documents, they are the data referenced when determining what will or will not be done under certain circumstances. IT Security Policy covers everything from 1) how access is granted to every asset the company owns to 2) logical security requirements applied to specific data types. The person who controls these documents has significant power over decisions concerning changes that are (or are not) made to the physical and logical environment.

The hacker in our scenario has control over all IT Security Policies. The next steps are as follows:

  • He or she sabotages efforts to create company-wide transparency through a central repository, accessible to all appropriate individuals.
  • He or she keeps printed copies of old versions in a locked drawer or an untidy pile of papers on a desk.
  • He or she keeps track of the many different versions saved to different locations on the intranet.
  • He or she takes the draft version of policies being revised or developed, modifies them, formats them to look like a final copy, prints them out and saves them to the same drawer or desk pile.
  • He or she modifies policy immediately after it has been approved, without discussing the changes or acquiring additional approval, and save the modified version alongside the approved version.

This lays the groundwork for the shell game. The ‘shells’ are the many different versions and repositories established in the manager’s office and throughout the company. The ‘ball’ being chased is the final approved copy of an IT Security Policy, which is necessary when making key decisions concerning all aspects of IT security and IT development.

Acting as a malicious actor (hacker), the manager answers requests for copies of the policy by sending different people different versions. Sometimes these documents are pulled out of the messy pile on the desk or out of a drawer after the hacker makes a point of fumbling around while searching for the copy that he or she knows is “here somewhere.” Other times a link to an old copy saved on the intranet is provided or a modified electronic version is emailed out.

This is the equivalent to a shell game con artist pointing to a shell and saying, “the ball is here.” But when the shell is lifted it reveals a blue ball and the wager was specifically placed on the red ball.

Using Microsoft Word’s Compare feature to identify the differences between multiple documents would reveal the discrepancies, but that requires having a Word formatted copy of all variations. PDF files can make this comparison process difficult and PDFs created from a scan of a physical copy complicate matters even further.

Also, the individuals receiving the copy trust both the person and the job title and never stop to question the accuracy of the document.

At some point, someone may notice the differences between two or more copies and confront the hacker. This is (usually) easily handled through an apology, excuses about keeping track of things, and a copy of a version that may or may not be current or properly reviewed and approved.

This misinformation campaign has many malicious uses including (but not limited to): 1) eliminating employees who stand in the way of malicious objectives (e.g.: the employee is fired for failing to implement security requirements clearly detailed by IT Security Policy – the copy the person was not provided) and 2) reducing the security established on a specific system, which is then targeted by the hacker for clandestine modifications and ‘mistakenly’ left off the several-hundred-item list of systems available for review by external auditors.

Additional Application

This technique is a favorite among malicious actors who rely on falsifying data presented in reports. IT Security Policy is just one example of the many ways that this technique can be utilized.

Insider Threat Protection

There are a few things to consider:

  1. When managers are actively involved in distributing misinformation, particularly when that information concerns key decision-making documents, it should raise a red flag.
  2. All key decision-making documents (e.g.: legal documents, IT Security Policy, HR Policy, etc.) should be taken through a proper review and approval process before being published to a central repository accessible by all appropriate individuals.
  3. Consider establishing security controls around key decision-making documents that are similar to those placed on key financial assets. The person responsible for the accounting ledger does not have the power to write the checks due to the possibility of fraud. Similarly, a company may choose to place control of the repository housing these kinds of documents into the hands of someone who is not involved in the modification of systems or testing of IT security controls.

Industry standards dictate that IT Security Policy must be reviewed and approved by appropriate members of management on a regular basis (preferably annually) and made available to employees who require access. The additional controls listed above are examples of the kinds of measures that must be taken to prevent this form of exploitation.