This is based on the post: How to Help Someone Surviving Homelessness
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. This is part 3 in the 3 part series- how to help someone facing 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 third presentation assumes the following: You already know the person surviving homelessness or the person trying to survive homelessness is not exhibiting behaviors that are dangerous to themselves or others.
Identifying dangerous behaviors means you have directly witnessed or experienced violent or dangerous actions taken by a specific person. This entire presentation focuses on the terrible things people do when they act on prejudices, stereotypes and gossip. Do not be that person.
By the same token, anyone who has survived the trauma of homelessness will tell you that it’s dangerous out there and a lot of predators hover around the homeless community because they know they can do pretty much anything they want to homeless people without consequence. When dealing with strangers, keep your prejudices in check and your street smarts turned on. If you don’t have street smarts then find a buddy with experience enough to keep both of you safe.
If you can’t find a buddy and you don’t have reliable street smarts – or if you’re unable or unwilling to keep your prejudices under control – then just walk away. Leave the people surviving extreme poverty and homelessness alone and keep your judgmental comments to yourself.
This third presentation – Seriously just don’t – contains a lot of fire imagery, which is appropriately symbolic. Doing any of these things is akin to finding someone desperately in need of help and choosing to douse them in gasoline and light a match.
We’ll begin with simple verbal abuse – It’s amazing what people feel compelled to say when they find out a person is either facing the possibility of homelessness or actively surviving homelessness. All of the following examples are pulled from my own experience – this is not a compete list.
This is based on the idea that some people deserve to be poor or are inherently different from the so-called ‘good people’ born into a higher financial class. This ridiculous and offensive belief that poor people are biologically suited to poverty generates backhanded compliments like this one!
I’m glad this happened to you and not me because you’ve been homeless before, so you know how to handle it.
Poor people are being punished by god and community – that’s why you’re poor. If you’d been good, you wouldn’t be poor! This nonsensical belief comes out in fun comments like these.
I don’t have that problem. You must have done something wrong. There must be something wrong with you.
People who believe the stereotype that casts all poor people as sneaky, manipulative, moochers will say things like this. Particularly if they are those special members of the upper class who like to keep a ‘poor friend’ in their circle for bragging rights or entertainment purposes. Confiding in a ‘friend’ like that about a current financial crisis will invariable produce a comment like this one.
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.
People who believe poverty only happens to people who are mentally ill or addicted to something, love to recommend ‘getting help’ without knowing anything about the person or their situation. Side note – Mental health isn’t free. A person who can’t afford a place to live isn’t going to have money for therapy. Regardless, the stereotype generates comments such as…
I know a great therapist. I’m sure they can help you address the real problem.
Extreme poverty is just a budgeting issue – who comes up with these things? Recommending a budgeting class to poor people is like telling a starving person to go on a diet. Yes, homeless industry professionals habitually say this:
Have you considered taking a budgeting class? Our services require completing a budgeting class.
Everyone knows that having money automatically makes you more intelligent, better educated and more polite. Proponents of these opinions can’t help but be openly surprised by someone they thought was a peer turning out to be ‘one of them!’ Saying things things like…
I thought you said you had a college degree. But you seem so smart. But you seem so nice.
Where to begin? It is annoyingly common to hear homeless industry professionals and government workers saying this. There are quite a few stereotypes and prejudices tied up into these comments. Poor women are sexually loose, can’t maintain a relationship or are poor because they had children or were simply to ugly or stupid to land a rich man. Leading them to confront women with questions like…
Where’s your man? What kind of a woman are you if you can’t even land a man who can pay your bills?
Please pay attention. Most homeless people HAVE jobs. The vast majority of those who don’t have jobs are trying to find work that pays a living wage. Actually, those that HAVE work are often trying to find another job – that pays a living wage. Asking Have you tried getting a job? Only proves you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Have you tried getting a job?
Variations of this can crop up among religious people of all kinds, but the ‘negative energy’ concern is most often used as an excuse to ostracize someone in the new age, pagan, feminist or womanist communities. Basically, you’re bringing uncomfortable truths into their daily lives and they aren’t allowing it. ‘Energy’ has nothing to do with it.
Your energy is really negative. I just can’t have that in my space. I am a very sensitive empath and I have to protect my space. Until you get rid of this negative energy, you’re just going to have to keep your distance.
Surviving homelessness means living in a state of ostracism. It’s an unfortunate and highly traumatizing fact.
The most common and vicious attacks against people dealing with a crisis, homelessness included, come in the form of backstabbing gossip.
Gossip never dies. When I was a kid, my family went to public places and collected recycling to help cover the bills. We also pulled things out of the garbage, cleaned them up and sold them at flea markets for the same reason. I personally have had co-workers triumphantly throw in my face the fact that I was one of those ‘trash kids’ and then proceed to make sure everyone else knew what I ‘really am’, which actually created some hostile work environments.
During the years that I followed the standard employment advice to keep my experiences with poverty quiet, this happened multiple times – and I mean 10, 20 even 30 years after the fact. I discovered that posting details about my experiences surviving poverty to my blog and online forums about homelessness lessened the power of this kind of gossip, but it did not eliminate the issue – And I am not unique. This is a sadly common problem.
Outing homeless people – what does that mean?
When the general public hears the word ‘homeless’ they usually think of the ‘visible homeless. These are the people who are begging on street corners, clearly intoxicated or severely mentally ill. This is actually a very small percentage of total homeless population in any area. The vast majority of people surviving homelessness are indistinguishable from anyone else on the street. They are parents with children, single adults, teenagers and kids trying to survive the streets entirely alone. They’re invisible because they go out of their way to hide their circumstances and just blend in.
In many cases this invisibility is an important protection from predators or thieves and a key part of their strategy to escape homelessness. It’s incredibly common for employers to fire employees for being homeless or refuse to hire new employees after they discover the candidate is homeless. Therefore, secrecy is very important.
The people who are notorious for outing homeless people are 1) volunteers at homeless shelters, soup kitchens or food banks; 2) members of religious organizations that provide benefits to people surviving poverty, homeless or not, and 3) librarians at the local public library.
It takes a very small number of vicious gossips to effectively destroy the efforts of a large number of homeless people just trying to get back on their feet.
The moment a family member or friend is surviving homelessness, someone will make it their mission to disclose every secret or embarrassing detail they know. Often, they will follow these betrayals with musings about how much they regret ‘trusting or ‘believing’ or ‘being friends with’ someone who is now homeless because – obviously – something must be wrong with THEM. This is cruel. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s just plain cruel.
Defamation is a legal term so let’s take a look at the definition.
Defamation: The oral or written communication of a false statement about another that unjustly harms their reputation and usually constitutes a tort or crime.
The key element is the false statement – lies, insinuations and exaggerations – that harms a person’s reputation. Outing a specific individual as someone who has survived homelessness and then suggesting that certain stereotypes, such as 1) mental illness, 2) addiction, or 3) criminal behavior are true for that person BECAUSE – and only because – they were homeless…that is defamation. It’s illegal.
Quick bit of trivia: “The first use of the phrase ‘blacklist was in the 1639 tragedy “The Unnatural Combat” by Philip Massinger.
A blacklist is a list of people who have been who are punished or boycotted. It’s unethical, at best. In the United States blacklisting is also illegal in some states – under certain circumstances. The reality is that this happens to everyone experiencing homelessness – because they are homeless – the reasons behind their current crisis are often irrelevant.
From the moment a person becomes homeless they will find themselves blacklisted by people they trust Friends, family and members of the community they previously participated in. This is part of the ostracism and dehumanization process. The blacklisting itself usually manifests in the person trying to survive homelessness being cut out of family gatherings, blocked from community events, and isolated from everyone.
As people talk and it becomes clear family and friends are spreading the word that this person is homeless and warning people against interacting with or assisting this person – intentionally or not. Others will take it a step further and start cutting the person off. Landlords will refuse to consider renting to homeless people. Some businesses will start following the person around and accusing them of shoplifting, provide a noticeably bad haircut or sell them food that has been tampered with.
This can spread to the services provided by the homeless industry, medical professionals, and similar services. As people talk a person can get labeled as ‘underserving’ and when those rumors reach the individuals controlling access to gov’t benefits and non-profit resources, it can influence their decisions and actions, effectively cutting the person off from what little social safety net currently exists.
God blocking refers to clergy or lay members of a religious organization blocking people from participating in religious services, taking volunteer positions within the organization or socially ostracizing a person for ‘religious reasons.’ Usually, the people doing the god-blocking will justify their actions with theories about how they are doing ‘what God wants.’
That brings us to the end of Part 3 – Seriously, Just DON’T when helping someone facing homelessness. Please check out parts 1 and 2 and, as always, thank you for listening.