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.

Social Engineering Technique – The Idiot

When information security professionals discuss social engineering techniques, the conversation tends to revolve around outsiders attempting to gain access to information or physical assets – this is a serious and ever-present threat that must be appropriately addressed. However, a significant majority of breaches are caused by insider threats. This social engineering technique is one of many used by people who hack systems from the inside.

Establishing Trust

All insider jobs involve a period of establishing trust. When an employee completes work and participates in projects, the relative level of skill and competence is a key aspect to the amount of trust extended to that person. It’s also an important piece of data used to determine the relative threat a specific individual presents to an organization. For example:

  • Employee ABC: Is a programmer working on a development team with privileged access to multiple systems. ABC has consistently delivered high quality work, actively participated in complicated troubleshooting and is known for identifying highly effective ‘out of the box’ solutions.
  • Employee 123: Is a programmer working on a development team with privileged access to multiple systems. 123 has consistently delivered substandard work, which has resulted in multiple discussions with management about improving job performance. 123 frequently asks others for help in completing basic daily tasks and is known around the company as being lazy and unfocused. 123 has somehow managed to perform well enough to remain employed.

Both employees have the same level of logical access and physical access. When evaluating the risk of programmers as insider threats, it would be assumed that Employee ABC could caused significantly more damage than Employee 123. From a purely technical perspective ABC is a higher risk.

Employee 123 has established the reputation for being incompetent and lazy, which creates a perception of inability. While 123 has the logical access to do significant damage, it is assumed this individual lacks the technical skills to pursue any kind of advanced programming or clandestine activity.

By acting like an incompetent and lazy employee, 123 has established the trust necessary to act as a significant insider threat.

Getting Fired

After the hacker has completed the tasks necessary to achieve the desired goal, the next step is to make a professional mistake or participate in an activity that results in leaving the company. This could be a technical error that sets back a project by several months, a loud and profanity-laced argument with a member of management or some other drama that further solidifies the commonly held opinion that this individual is an idiot.

Reduced Perception of Risk

After this person is let go, the usual termination procedures are followed, and access is removed in a timely manner. Given the perception of this individual as incompetent, it is human nature to assume nothing more needs to be examined or addressed because it is not possible for this person to successfully modify information systems and assets without getting caught. This assumption is what the hacker is counting on because a more in-depth and careful examination of the systems would reveal multiple highly sophisticated modifications, resulting in a steady breach (or potential future breach) of data and resources.

Insider Threat Protection

While employed: If an individual is skilled and savvy enough to get through all the degrees, certifications, skills tests and interviews required for the job, then their transformation into an incompetent idiot is worthy of attention from management. It’s possible the individual truly is lazy and difficult to work with. It’s also possible that reputation is being actively established to cover their tracks. Either way. It’s worthy of investigation and monitoring. Some questions to consider:

  • Does the employee work at odd hours?
  • Does the employee attempt to access areas that are not necessary or appropriate for the job?
  • Does the employee manage to get around a thorough review of work at any point in the process?
  • Does the employee spend time ‘bothering’ people with higher, complimentary or different privileged access rights?
  • Does the employee spend a lot of time ‘playing with’ their phone?
  • Does the employee regularly bring privately owned equipment (e.g.: USB drives) to work?

While none of these activities, by themselves, is proof of malicious activity, they are worthy of note. An in-depth review of access, completed work and other activities may be warranted.

After termination: Performing thorough risk prevention and proper termination procedures across all systems and all employees are the best protection against this kind of threat. Never assume that a specific measure is unnecessary because the individual in question is perceived as being incompetent.

Poverty and The Law of Compounding Exploitation

As a security professional within a corporate environment, I am tasked with identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities or threats. Information Security (InfoSec) effectively comes down to this: 1) know what you have (valuables), where it’s located and who has access to it, 2) identify potential vulnerabilities/weaknesses coming from both inside and outside the company (or DMZ), and 3) eliminate/reduce all vulnerabilities and weaknesses to the fullest extent possible, while carefully monitoring those that you choose to allow to remain unaddressed (there are many reasons for making this decision).

Take this process and apply it to a community of people. For the sake of argument:

  • Make 10% of that population homeless.
  • Create an economic structure wherein people are constantly flowing in and out of homelessness. The population keeps changing.
  • The total % of people who are homeless increases, slowly, over time.
  • 25% of the people who experience homelessness spend the rest of their lives living with a mental or physical illness (disability?) acquired as a direct result of being homeless.
  • 75% of the people experiencing homelessness, at any point in time, are children.
  • The protection afforded to housed people is not provided to homeless, making them perfect targets for criminals, predators and ‘recruiters’ of all kinds.
  • Surviving homelessness requires surviving violence.

If this community has 100,000 people, then a minimum of 10,000 people are being forced to live underground at any given moment in time. 7500 of these individuals are children whose education is being interrupted and/or negatively impacted by the experience. There are also a minimum of 2500 people who are dealing with illnesses and disabilities as a direct result of being forced to live underground while surviving extreme poverty.

Those 7500 children and 2500 permanently injured/disabled adults (we’ll assume they are all adults) are (re)entering society with training, experience, perspective and skills that may or may not positively contribute to the safety, security and positive function of society.

As a security professional, I shake my head in disgust because those 7500 unknowns (at this point, they are not officially threats) were completely avoidable. I did not have to be concerned about them at all. It is a situation that could (should) be eliminated through housing, access to basic resources/necessities, respectful and effective assistance from police forces and safe, quality, reliable and free education.

Now, let’s introduce some known threats.

All of these threats could consist of a grand total of 10,000 people due to overlap (read: the highest number listed above), but it also could consist of a total threat base of 16,200 people – assuming no overlap. So my known threat base ranges from 10,000 to 16,000 people in the total population. Assuming %s remain consistent and all known threats are adults, then it can be assumed 250–400 experienced homelessness at some point.

I’m guessing that you are looking at that relatively low number of homeless predators and wondering: how does this illustrate compounding vulnerability exploitation? Allow me to illustrate…

Compounding force #1: One vulnerability leads to a strengthening of a threat which, in turn, creates another vulnerability.

10,000 perpetrators/threats (10% of the total population) are committing crimes against 10,000 vulnerable (homeless) people (10% of the total population) either by preference or as a form of practice. The homeless are not provided police protection and they cannot defend themselves due to extreme poverty and social stigma. Therefore, a potential criminal who has not crossed the line into full-blown criminal activity, is provided a ‘sandbox’ where these behaviors can be acted out and perfected before perpetrating them against people who ‘matter.’

Compounding force #2: The purposeful allowance of an exploitation, and the refusal to take proper action in response, increases both the threat and the vulnerability.

The widespread acceptance surrounding the degradation, marginalization and violent treatment of poverty survivors (homeless people in particular), creates a pervading social construct (culture) that is less able (unable?) to identify and address these same behaviors perpetrated against the general population. The community has become ‘numb’ to criminal activity and lost a significant (important) portion of it’s willingness and/or ability to properly address these actions.

The culture of a community/environment must be such that threats can be identified and addressed, promptly, properly and effectively. If the culture is negatively affected in one circumstance, allowing a known threat/criminal act to go unaddressed (unpunished), then that same threat will not only continue, but will grow stronger and begin to expand (aggressively).

Compounding force #3: Threats that are mitigated ad-hoc and separate from the whole often generate more vulnerabilities and create new categories of threats.

The widespread refusal to treat poverty survivors (homeless in particular) with the basic respect due to any human being, combined with an aggressively enforced caste system that forces people into permanent association with a ‘lesser-than’ category, directly and negatively affects all poverty survivor’s ability to improve their lives both financially and socially. They are placed between the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place.’

Desperation and lack of options can force people to find creative solutions (this is good), but it can also push them into making alliances and decisions that place them into the community threat category (this is bad).

The homeless are the absolute bottom, they are not the entire community of poverty survivors. Those who are surviving poverty while remaining housed (however tenuous that situation may be) will see what is happening to those trying to survive homelessness. The actions taken against the homeless will directly and profoundly effect the decisions made by those who are ‘merely poor.’

The two communities combined are placed in a state of desperation, trying to improve their situation. This makes them all particularly vulnerable to everything from relatively light criminal activity (e.g.: shoplifting) to criminal association (e.g.: joining a gang or a criminal network) and radicalization (e.g.: joining terrorist organizations like the KKK or ISIL and participating in hate crimes or terrorist attacks).

By isolating and ignoring the safety and welfare of one segment of the community, the threat level is increased for another segment of the community. Due to the ostracism and marginalization of poverty survivors, the actions taken by poverty survivors, in reaction to their situation, are separate from the actions taken by the police and similar organizations in protections of the community as a whole. This disconnect creates an increased number of threats seeking to exploit vulnerabilities found throughout the community.

Compounding force #4: The creation of exploitable vulnerabilities increases with the acceptance of those exploitations.

When the only thing separating those vulnerable to degradation, vicious social behavior and open violence is financial standing, moving a targeted individual into a state of absolute vulnerability hinges on destroying their financial standing.

In other words, everyone is vulnerable, because anyone can have a financial crisis at any moment.

It’s easy to assume that you are immune to such experiences. But it is even easier to examine the life and habits of any individual or family and identify that ways in which they could go from housed and financially secure to living out of shelter – in a stunningly short period of time.

For criminals and predators, this is an important loophole. It permanently establishes a vulnerability within every single household, that can be exploited to reduce or eliminate a threat to criminal operations. Because the vulnerability is entirely financial, exploiting it presents minimal risk to criminals and predators. After all, arranging for a family member for come down with a mysterious illness that requires a lengthy hospital stay, or simply ensuring the primary breadwinner looses his or her job, is relatively easy.

Conclusion

There is no such thing as an isolated threat. Every ecology or environment (e.g.: computer systems, the environment, human social networks, towns and cities, etc.) operates within the push-and-pull of threats-vs-vulnerabilities. Every threat has the potential to grow strong and every vulnerability has the potential to grow larger. Both have the ability to spread to other systems, ecological environments, communities, etc.

Dividing the world into absolute, unchanging, categories of US and THEM is a dangerous habit. A truly effective system of threat identification and mitigation recognizes that there is no them – there is only us.

What To Do When You Are Facing Homelessness

This is a follow-up to my post How To Help Someone Facing Homelessness. If you are trying to help someone else who is facing homelessness, then read the first post – it’s long and detailed, but it contains a lot of important information most people don’t think about. After you’ve done that, start making a plan by thinking through the suggestions in that first post, researching the websites listed below and reading books about homelessness.

If you are facing homelessness…

The events that ultimately result in homelessness are wide and varied. There are literally thousands (millions?) of stories behind the financial emergencies that ultimately result in homelessness. However, when facing the reality of homelessness, focusing on the reasons behind the current crisis is a luxury you do not have.

Here is a list of actions to take and facts to consider. (Note: This information is specific to the United States of America.)

All Homeless, Regardless of Age

  • Contact every trustworthy human being you know. Ask for suggestions and help.If there is an option other than the sleeping on the street, take it. Do not stop until you have exhausted every last resourced you have.
  • Contact every nonprofit, government agency and similar resource you have. If they have help to offer (including advice) take it. Do not stop until you have exhausted every last resourced available.
  • Keep your mind fierce. You are human and worthy of respect. Remain focused on moving through this crisis and into something better. People will try to tear you down mentally and emotionally because they can. Predators will try to convince you that you are worthless and should just give up. Don’t let them succeed.
  • Be polite and practice gratitude for all help received. This for your own mental health. While it is extremely important to remain on good terms with trustworthy people who provide assistance, it is equally important to maintain a positive perspective. A meal at a soup kitchen isn’t fun, but it’s keeping you alive and well-enough fed to avoid a mindset of desperation. Desperate people make bad decisions. remain grateful, recognize the necessity in what little you receive and force yourself to believe that things will get better.
  • The party isn’t worth it. I don’t care who is going to be there or how tired you are of talking to people, politely asking for help and getting verbally kicked-in-the-teeth for trying. Do not go to any parties or bars.  If you are under-aged or if anyone there has illegal drugs and the police show up, you will find yourself on a fast train to prison. When you are homeless, association and prejudice are the law of the land. Without money, you can’t pay for a lawyer – and people who hate the homeless (of which there are many) know this. Avoid those circumstances like the plague.
  • Remember your place. Frankly, it’s unfair and frequently degrading, but it’s reality. Review the expectations of Deserving VS Undeserving Poor and learn to play the game. Simply going out for a beer, and being seen by the decision-maker of XYZ nonprofit, can result in being denied for all sorts of necessary services. Being impolite to the wrong representative can trigger a cascade of nasty phone calls that will stretch out your homelessness and/or make your life significantly worse. There are many truly good people who are really and honestly trying to help people facing financial emergencies, poverty and homelessness. Sadly, there are also plenty of spiteful-gossips (and a few predators) employed by those same agencies. When you are homeless, you do not have the luxury of responding to nasty people in the manner in which they deserve.
  • Trust no one: This applies to everyone but anyone under 21 must be doubly careful. There are nasty adults who will offer desperate children ‘help’ – and the result is far worse than sleeping on the streets. Be careful. Be very VERY careful.

Ages 0 to 12

  • Ask your friends for help. Can you stay at their place for a while?
  • Talk to your teachers and counselors at school. Ask for resources and suggestions for places to stay.
  • Talk to coaches or youth workers at local community centers and organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, the YWCA and your place of worship.
  • Contact other family members and/or every trustworthy adult you can locate and ask for help. If you are going to be placed in foster care, then making contact with trustworthy family will significantly help your situation.
  • If you are avoiding DHS and trying to stay out of foster care, then find other kids and team up. A child on the street alone is an easy target. Being properly housed and protected by trustworthy adults is better, but (when that’s not possible) there’s some safety in numbers.
  • Contact government agencies. DHS (a state managed program falling under HHS) is not the only government agency offering assistance, Family and Youth Services Bureau has additional resources.
  • Locate a youth shelter and get connected to their services. (Hopefully, they will have enough room for you to stay there instead of on the street). Sadly, there are far too few of these shelters available and many do not advertise. The local adult shelter will (should) know where these shelters can be found. (See blog post: Homeless Youth Shelters)
  • Contact the adult shelters and talk to the people who work there. They will not even consider providing services or allowing you to sleep at the shelter (don’t be surprised) but they will have connections to the organizations that provide assistance to homeless children.

Ages 13 to 15

  • Everything listed in Ages 0 to 12 applies to you.
  • Find a job. You are now legally able to work a W-2 (legal, above-board) job. Do everything you can to get one.
  • Get your GED. Dealing with homelessness and high school is both stressful and risky. With a GED you are legally eligible for a full-time job, which makes getting a permanent apartment (owned and paid for by you) significantly more possible. Missing out on high school can be a disappointment, but survival takes precedence. Completing a GED as soon as humanly possible directly (significantly) improves your chances of survival.

Ages 16 to 17

  • Everything listed in Ages 0 to 15 applies to you.
  • Get a drivers license and a car. Surviving homelessness is significantly easier when you have a car. Getting and keeping a job is also significantly easier when you have a car.
  • Join Job Corps. Job Corps provides assistance, jobs and training. If you qualify, take advantage of the program.
  • Research technical training programs. Don’t give up on the possibility of college, just plan to complete technical school first. This is long-term planning. being trained and certified as an automobile mechanic translates into immediate and reasonably well-paying work. A bachelors degree in art does not.
  • Look for grants and scholarships. Talk to government agencies and social workers (and everyone else you can think of) and ask for help locating funds to pay for technical school.
  • Look for a women’s shelter. If you are 16, female and running from an abusive situation, a woman’s shelters will (should) provide assistance.
  • Contact an abuse hotline. If you are running from an abusive situation (regardless of gender) there are services available.
  • Get Clean and Sober Housing. If you are recovering from an addiction, contact your local Oxford Houses and apply for the next opening. Each house is completely managed and financed by the recovering addicts living there.

Ages 18 to 21

Ages 22 and older

  • Look for an adult shelter. Adult shelters will now admit you – and youth shelters will (literally) refuse to unlock the door if you come knocking. Contact an adult shelter and talk to the people who work there. If the shelter is safer than the street, try to get admitted.
  • Get a car. Having a car greatly improves your ability to survive homelessness and get a job. If at all possible, get yourself a working and reliable vehicle.
  • Get your GED. If you don’t have a high school diploma or a GED, then make it your top priority. Not having one will make life very difficult.
  • Get Clean and Sober Housing. If you are recovering from an addiction, contact your local Oxford Houses and apply for the next opening. Each house is completely managed and financed by the recovering addicts living there.
  • Apply for assistance. Start locating agencies and filling out forms. Keep it up until you’ve applied for everything (EVERYTHING!).
  • Apply for the military. The military offers many benefits that are extremely helpful to people trying to get out of poverty. If you qualify and have a personality that is suited to the military, then it is an excellent choice. However, the military has a very specific and extreme culture. Not everyone is suited to the environment and early discharge does not look good on your record. If you realize the military is not a particularly good fit after joining, then do absolutely everything in your power to keep your nose clean. A dishonorable discharge is a HUGE BLACK MARK on your record. Employers rank this right up with a felony on your criminal record. Follow orders, remain polite and respectful and do not attend parties where drugs may be involved. Just be careful, finish your time, get an honorable discharge and move on with your life.
  • Get a job. Everyone you encounter will give you this advice. It’s going to become annoying very quickly. Bite back your pride, proceed with the job search and target the highest paying work you have the qualifications and skills to perform.
  • Apply for work through targeted work programs like those offered by AmeriCorpsVolunteers of America, the Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and non-profit Restaurants.
  • Apply for Senior Assistance. Be honest about your age. If you are old enough to qualify for programs targeting seniors (housing, employment, medical, etc), then take full advantage.

Originally published: 05/01/2016

How To Help Someone Facing Homelessness

how to help

If you are truly trying to help someone facing a serious financial crisis and potential homelessness, then begin by familiarizing yourself with the realities of poverty. In the United States, there are resources available, but they are limited. Extremely limited. That means survival depends on multiple factors, including: 1) identifying available resources by researching local agencies and organizations, 2) applying for said resources and 3) finding alternative resources.

Anyone who has survived poverty or homelessness for any amount of time is acutely aware of the power held by those who make resource-distribution decisions, and the frequency with which said decisions are based on a subjective opinion about the recipient’s relative worth. This is 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.

Also, keep in mind that 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.

The following suggestions provide practical advice for helping a person survive poverty or homelessness while laying the groundwork for (re)establishing financial security. The links embedded within this post provide further information and additional examples directly related to the points covered.

what to do

Educate Yourself

  • Deserving vs undeserving poor: The concepts of deserving vs undeserving poor are extremely important to understand. An examination of these terms can be found HERE. For the purposes of this blog post, remember the following: surviving homelessness or a financial emergency requires help. Finding a way out of these situations requires more help. Getting that help is heavily dependent upon convincing those controlling needed resources that you (or your friend) are deserving of assistance.
  • Realities of poverty: Every region is different. Walk or drive around the area and take the time to actually see homeless people and low-income neighborhoods. Visit the homeless shelter. Research both resources available and news stories about the deaths of poor and homeless people in your area. Try to get a sense of what this person is actually up against, and then remind yourself that you will never truly understand what this is like until after you have lived it.
  • Biographies and books: Another source of information are the biographies of people who have survived extreme poverty and nonfiction books about poverty and homelessness:

Publicly Associate: Continue spending time together. Whenever possible, make a point of doing so publicly; here’s why:

  • Lifts the spirits. This kind of crisis will send a perfectly healthy human being spiraling into depression. Simple and authentic acts of friendship can help fight the depression that inevitably comes from living with the stigma of poverty.
  • Networking. It improves the possibility of positive networking, and that could lead to a job.
  • Protection from predators. Surviving homelessness or poverty requires making alliances. Individuals without a support group or network are frequently targeted by predators.
  • Deserving Image. It enhances the individual’s standing as a member of the ‘deserving poor.’
  • Community. Provides access to and a sense of community, which has been proven to be a key factor in getting out of poverty.

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

  • Initial Crisis: Act as a supportive, confidential and reliable sounding board whenever this person needs it. This is a situation that will push every button a person has. Chances are very good that all sorts of angry words, profound thoughts, offensive opinions and absolute nonsense will come pouring out of their mouth. Just let it flow. When they return to their rational selves, gently help re-direct that energy into brainstorming possible solutions.
  • As Time Passes: Like it or not, there are no quick fixes for financial problems. This is going to take time. How much time? It’s impossible to say – weeks, months, maybe even years. Keep listening. Sometimes listening is hard, but surviving is harder. Remember that.

Brainstorming: This is an activity that most helping professionals and assistance-providing-organizations actively and aggressively squelch due to a pervasive social-cultural belief that people in poverty must completely focus on taking any work offered for any amount of pay. This is the worst possible advice, and here’s why:

  • Hope: Brainstorming all possibilities, no matter how outlandish, helps re-establish hope. Some things are not possible right now, but there’s always someday.
  • Direction: 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 any number of life or career goals at some point in the future. in fact, if the person is able to identify a long-term goal, then looking for immediate opportunities that move in that general direction can both simplify and improve the employment-seeking process.
  • Perspective: 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 or sitting through interviews.
  • Possibility: 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 will be revealed. It just requires allowing the mind to focus on what is possible.
  • Toxic Work Environments: 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 manager will use the opportunity to exploit the individual to the fullest possible extent. The end result? Job loss and a tarnished work record. Possibly worse.

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. Therefore, I suggest sitting down and making two lists: a) things you can do in the short term and b) 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/examples:

  • Make dinner once a week.
  • Help with laundry.
  • Offer to babysit.
  • Provide access to a shower.
  • Help establish a permanent mailing address.
  • Regularly meet up for coffee and conversation.
  • Research local agencies, organizations and shelters offering assistance. Make a few preliminary phone calls, inquiring about options and requirements.
  • 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.

Odd Jobs: Helping to identify and arrange temporary work is a valuable form of assistance. Whether it’s above-board, under-the-table or in-trade, odd jobs provide access to resources and opportunities:

  • 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 while helping to fill a time gap on a resume.
  • It’s easier to find a job when you have a job.

what not to do

All of the suggestions included here under “What Not To Do: apply to anyone going through a crisis. For more detailed information, look for workshops or books focused on helping people in crisis. Homelessness (potential or realized) is a crisis of enormous proportions. It involves grief, fear, anger, and many other emotions. Another source is books about helping people (or yourself) through a crisis:

Platitudes: When a person is facing a crisis, the only thing they should be focused on is securing real, practical help. Saying things like ‘it will all work out,’ ‘god has a plan’ and ‘think positive’ aren’t particularly helpful. Before you speak, stop and ask yourself: who am I trying to comfort, me or them?

Accusations: Throwing on the guilt, expressing your opinion of purchases made in the past (near or distant), and lecturing on every single bad decision you believe this person has ever made is simply not helpful. Chances are very good these things are already running through their head (over and over). Focus on finding solutions for the immediate problem and planning for what lies ahead. Let your opinions of the past remain unspoken until a more appropriate time. Learn to accept the fact that this day may never come.

Minimize The Pain: Yes, it really is that bad. This person is going through a tough time and it hurts. Saying things like ‘stop whining,’ ‘cheer up’ or ‘look on the bright side’ while trying to insist that it’s ‘not that bad’ is not helpful. It IS bad. Pretending otherwise will only lead to more disaster. Learn to accept the discomfort.

Try to Fix It: There is nothing worse than false hope, particularly when it is immediately followed by the complete disappearance of the ‘friend’ who can’t handle the uncomfortable realization that this really and truly cannot be fixed. Accept reality and be brutally honest with yourself about what you can (or cannot) do. If you are a fixer by nature, keep your mouth shut and your ears open – there will be plenty of opportunities, usually on a smaller scale. It is your responsibility to 1) focus on identifying those things you truly have the power to change and 2) wait for it.

Hold a Fundraiser: This may seem counter-intuitive, but fundraisers and requests for donations or other financial assistance from individuals and similar private sources must be kept to a minimum and restricted to very specific and targeted goals. For example, if a person needs to pay back rent and child support in order to get a drivers license and, thereby, qualify for a job, a fundraiser may be in order. If there is no employment in sight, no money in the bank and no one really knows what to do, then a fundraiser is not the right place to begin. Here’s why:

  • Expectations: People are accustomed to fundraisers run by huge non-profits, where a donation is made once or twice a year, an official thank you is provided with assurances that this donation has helped solve the problem, and everyone continues on their merry way (until next year). Similarly, everyone who donated will be expecting tangible, positive, and immediate results (e.g.: we gave you money, why isn’t this fixed?)
  • Amount: In a real-life financial emergency, even the most successful fundraiser will only go so far. $10,000 may seem like a lot of money until you do the math: six (6) months of rent and utilities, plus childcare, and that money is gone. Add in food, transportation, and other essentials, and the time-frame covered is significantly reduced. Unless the fundraiser can eliminate the housing problem, it is better to pursue other avenues.
  • Deserving Poor: The inevitable social backlash generated by a) accepting charity and b) not being pulled fully, completely and immediately out of poverty, will be extremely damaging over the long-term.
  • Problem Solving: Focus on identifying both immediate needs and long-term solutions. Addressing the immediate without considering the long-term will result in failure.

Vocalize Your Classism: A few infuriatingly common examples of stereotype-based responses:

  • I’m glad this happened to you and not me because you’ve been poor/homeless before, so you know how to handle this.
  • I don’t have that problem; therefore, you must have done something wrong and/or there must be something wrong with you.
  • I knew this was going to happen. My family told me you couldn’t handle living right. I knew you would be coming around asking for money. I never should have made friends with…one of you.
  • I know a great therapist. I’m sure they can help you address the real problem. (Read: Financial emergencies are proof of mental illness.)
  • Have you considered adoption? Obviously, you can’t handle being a parent. I know an adoption lawyer who makes loads of money, so you know they’re good people. (Note: Forced adoptions are commonly assumed to be a relic of the past. They are not. Adoption is a multi-million dollar industry and both illegal and unethical practices continue. Women and children in poverty are primary targets.)
  • Have you considered taking a budgeting class? (Read: Financial emergencies are the result of financial or mathematical incompetence – it has nothing to do with low wages and high costs of living.)
  • I thought you said you had a college degree. (Read: Higher education magically eliminates the possibility of future financial problems.)
  • But you seem so smart. (Read: Financial emergencies are restricted to those with a substandard intellect.)
  • But you seem so nice. (Read: Financial emergencies are restricted to those who participate in immoral or criminal activities.)
  • Where’s your man? What kind of a woman are you if you can’t even land a man who can pay your bills?
  • Have tried getting a job? (Note: Most people living in poverty or facing homelessness already have, and actively maintain, one or more jobs – in addition to spending a lot of time trying to survive.)

seriously just don't

Most of the following actions are justified like this:

“This will force them to change. We have to force them to do what it takes to avoid being homeless, instead of taking the easy way out. We’re just giving poor people the kick in the pants they need to get ahead. This is helping.”

Let’s be clear about one thing, none of these actions will help anyone out of poverty or homelessness. In fact, most of them will seriously impede their ability to get back on their social and financial feet. For more research-based information on this fact, look into books about the Housing First method for addressing homelessness:

The decision to participate in any of the following isn’t about them – it’s about you.

Public Humiliation: I am forever amazed at the number of people who really and truly believe: a) poverty is a lifestyle choice and b) acts of public humiliation will force poor people to ‘choose another lifestyle.’ Using this logic, acts of public humiliation are deemed to be a form of HELP.

Before you jump on the opportunity to indulge your inner predatory high school mean-girl, take a moment to imagine yourself in the same situation. Consider all aspects of this individual’s reality and ask yourself this one question: how, exactly, does this HELP? In what way is the situation improved by my behavior?

Ostracism: “When you get back on your feet, call me,” is one of the most common acts of cruelty faced by people dealing with a financial crisis that could plunge them into poverty. If this friendship is based solely on class-association and enhancement of your own public image, then you are not a friend. Telling people that they will earn the prize of being allowed to associate with you, once they have returned to a proper financial status, is disturbingly classicist and disgustingly narcissistic.

It’s this same attitude toward class that leads members of the upper classes to treat poverty survivors as though they were living with a deadly and contagious disease. Treating poverty survivors with the disgust generally reserved for extremely filthy garbage, is sadistic. This does not have a positive effect on the problem – it merely inflates your own ego.

Gossip: Anyone facing a financial crisis is dealing with a world that is literally falling apart. The opportunities for viscous gossip will be plentiful and easily identified. Making up a juicy story out of the wreckage will do more than stir up a little dust and hurt a few feelings. The damage carries the potential for devastatingly permanent consequences.  If you can’t keep it positive then remain silent.

Call The Boss: Employers are not charities. Employees who are facing serious financial difficulties are generally viewed as unreliable (at best) or a liability (at worst). This is a difficult conversation and a private one. It is the employee’s responsibility to speak with a boss/employer when and if necessary. It is unprofessional and unethical to disclose to a current or potential employer another person’s private information.

Call The Landlord: Informing a landlord of impending financial ruin will hasten the move to the street. Landlords are running a business, not a charity; they are not going to assist a tenant facing difficult times, they are going to eliminate a risky customer and make room for reliable income flow.

Call The Landowner: If this person is already on the street and squatting in a building or on private land, contacting the owner of said property will (most likely) result in an arrest and the beginnings of a criminal record. People do not generally choose to squat. Criminal records never increase the possibility of finding viable employment. This is not helping.

It must be pointed out that there are various Faux Poor communities who choose to squat. This is not to be confused with actual poverty. People who have the ability to leave a Money-less or Stripped Down lifestyle at any time they choose are not truly poor. They are frugal, which is admirable, but distinctly different from homelessness and poverty.

There is much to be said about the Faux Poor and the ways they affect Poverty Survivors, but that will have to wait until another day.

Call DHS: DHS is the Department of Human Services. Every state in the union has a DHS office, which is responsible for evaluating reports of abuse, removing children from abusive homes, placing children in foster care, etc. They do not help families locate financial assistance or address problems related to poverty. They examine a situation, determine whether or not there is reasonable cause to initiate an investigation and remove children from the care of parents or guardians.

  • Poverty Is Not Abuse: If you are concerned about the effects of poverty upon the lives of the children, then calling DHS is not the right thing to do.
  • Double Standards: Check your double standards. If you had to turn in everyone you knew who was doing [parenting action], how many people would be on that list? Are you going to report all of them, or is this limited to a specific category of people?
  • Actual Abuse: If you have been keeping your mouth shut about a truly abusive situation because they had a nice home and a good paycheck, then a) report the abuse immediately and b) educate yourself about the realities of abuse – people with money do not get a free pass.

Assist a Stalker: Having money does not make a predator less dangerous. Being poor does not negate the right to live a safe and terror-free life. Owning property does not transform a manipulative and violent individual into a ‘good parent’ or a ‘good spouse.’

final commentsI have noticed that much of the advice given in the area of grief and bereavement is very appropriate and applicable to people surviving poverty or facing homelessness, for example:

“Research has shown that the more distressed the bereaved person appears to be, the more discomfort this will evoke in others, and the more they will avoid, derogate or blame the mourner. This means that those who are most in need of support may be least likely to get it.”

Offering Support to the Bereaved: What Not To Say, Grief and Loss Blog, PBS.Org, by Camille Wortman, PH.D.

“Unfortunately, many people associate tears of grief with personal inadequacy and weakness. Crying on the part of the mourner often generates feelings of helplessness in friends, family, and caregivers…Yet crying is nature’s way of releasing internal tension in the body and allows the mourner to communicate a need to be comforted. Crying makes people feel better, emotionally and physically.”

Common Myths About Grief, Center for Loss and Life Transition, Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

“In the end, most of the silly things we say to grieving people could be avoided if we simply keep our mouths shut. Silence is better than stupidity, I think. In some of these sayings, we mean well, but the sayings don’t effectively communicate our concern. In others of these, we’re not really concerned about the grieving person, we’re concerned with our own discomfort”

10 Things You Should never Say To A Grieving Person, MinistryMatters.com, Tom Fuerst

“Don’t let a fear you may say something foolish frighten you into saying nothing. Say something—then listen. Friends who are grieving don’t expect you to toss off some wise advice that will instantly wipe away their sadness. What they could use most from you is an open heart and time spent listening.”

Things No Grieving Person Wants to Hear (and What to Say Instead), Oprah.com, Scott Simon

More books about grief:

Originally published: 01/24/2016