Part 3: 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. 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.

Lost Ones

I think about the lost ones who are still out there, each thinking that they are the only one of their kind. Somewhere, there is someone like me or Connie, being run out of town or left to starve because we’re not the ones they think will save mankind. People abandon their babies because they want to make sure there are more babies. We are not a logical race.

The Book of Flora (The Road to Nowhere 3) by Meg Elison

Deciding Who Belongs

“It’s a great community,” Don G. was saying. “We all look out for each other. But not everybody fits in.”

In the world he came from, you had to be wealthy to be able to live in an Up City; he and his dad had never fit in there, either. People who lived in Up Cities had access to vaccines and cleaner air and water. Somebody always got to decide who belonged or didn’t belong. Somebody got to choose who to cut out. Zert glared at Don G. And it was never the Somebody who got cut.

Surviving Minimized by Andrea White

Dark Byways and Glittering Motorways

Quote

Amazon.com

…that night, it seemed to me these dark byways of the country existed just for the likes of us, while the big glittering motorways with their huge signs and super cafés were for everyone else.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Concerns Are a Barrier

Quote

Amazon.com

However uncomfortable people were about your existence, their overwhelming concern was that their own children, their spouses, their parents, their friends, did not die from cancer, motor neurone disease, heart disease. So for a long time you were kept in the shadows, and people did their best not to think about you. And if they did, they tried to convince themselves you weren’t really like us. That you were less than human, so it didn’t matter. And that was how things stood until our little movement came along.

Here was the world, requiring students to donate. While that remained the case, there would always be a barrier against seeing you as properly human.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

 

 

Being Spiders

Quote

Amazon.com

Madame was afraid of us. But she was afraid of us in the same way someone might be afraid of spiders. We hadn’t been ready for that. It had never occurred to us to wonder how we would feel, being seen like that, being the spiders.”

 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

 

Defying Expectations of Existence

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Amazon.com

I find it rather hard to accept that I’m not supposed to exist.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks

Fear is Your Friend

Quote

Amazon.com

Don’t ever believe that vampires are fearless. On the contrary. What happened to Casimir could happen to any vampire, at any time. When the whole world hates you, fear becomes your friend.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks

Better Options Mean Better Results

Quote

Amazon.com

Clearly a much better set of options could be provided to African Americans—and poor people of all colors—today. As historian Lerone Bennett Jr. eloquently reminds us, “a nation is a choice.” We could choose to be a nation that extends care, compassion, and concern to those who are locked up and locked out or headed for prison before they are old enough to vote. We could seek for them the same opportunities we seek for our own children; we could treat them like one of “us.” We could do that. Or we can choose to be a nation that shames and blames its most vulnerable, affixes badges of dishonor upon them at young ages, and then relegates them to a permanent second-class status for life. That is the path we have chosen, and it leads to a familiar place.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Antisemitism In The Midwest

The following is created from, and inspired by, answers I have posted to questions on Quora.com.

Whether it’s racism or Antisemitism or classism (or sexism or gay bashing or whatever else) Midwesterners need to break the silence and get past the ‘it doesn’t happen here’ mythology. To this end, I am posting some of my own, personal, experiences with these issues. I am not going to post the worst experiences I have had because I’m not ready to go there, but these are a few examples from my own life:

The Name Adora Myers

The reactions people have to my name are frequently tinged with racial and antisemitic undertones. It’s not unusual for perfect strangers to respond to my name with a pregnant pause, an uncomfortably open examination of my physical being (including peering at my face and scanning my entire body like I was a bug or an animal on display at the state fair), and a growled question that is clearly fishing for proof of ethnicity. The most common questions include:

  • Is that a FAMILY name?
  • What kind of name is that?
  • That’s…different. where are you from?

When people see my name written, the reaction is similar, but they’ve already made their own decision about my ethnicity because of the way my last name is spelled. In the Midwest, this surname is most frequently spelled Meyers and Miers. The spelling Myers is both unusual and presumed to be exclusive to Jewish communities (this is not true).

In my case, the name is a modification of Mayotte, bestowed upon my family by United States government employees because my father’s family arrived to the United States (from Canada) illiterate and speaking only French – it’s a classic American story. Unfortunately, it’s a history I did not know until very recently, so I was unable to respond to conjecture with fact.

My first experience with direct antisemitism occurred in the first grade, when a teacher decided to help me along in life by ‘fixing’ my name.

My name is pronounced Adora (uh DOOR uh) Myers (MY ehrs)

The teacher pulled me aside and explained that I needed to spell it like this:

Andora (AN door uh) Meyers (MY ehrs)

This effectively erased the perceived non-white ethnicity and ‘Jewishness’ from my name.

A short time later, my mother was going through my school work, per her usual habit, when she stopped, pointed to the ‘Name’ field and said “Who is this? These aren’t your papers.”

“Yes they are,” I replied.

“This isn’t how you spell your name.”

“I know, but that’s what the teacher said I had to do.”

My mother had to walk down to the school and explain, in person, that her daughter knew how to spell her own name. The teachers stopped making me change my name on school work, but they never (over 12 years of k-12 school) stopped expressing their…opinions…of my ‘weird name.’

Interestingly enough, my school mates (the children) had no problem with it – until high school when adult/teacher/parental opinions had fully seeped into their perceptions.

Religion

I was raised a mish-mash of Christianity but the neighbors were convinced they knew what were ‘really were.’ We had no social connection to a Jewish community, so these perceptions were based on physical appearance and naming conventions. s illustrated in the example above, I had an unusual name by Midwestern standards. However, it was the early 1970s and ‘unusual names’ were something of a fad. My mother liked unusual names and my father didn’t really care, so we all had names that were real, pronounceable, reasonably easy to spell AND just outside the acceptable norm for Midwestern children.

Out of all of my siblings, my physical appearance is the closest to the stereotype of a Jewish person – as defined by people who hate Jewish people.

Children in the neighborhood would call me things like ‘Yid’ and ‘Kike’ and ‘Judas Priest’ (the rock band was big back then) to let me know they knew my family was lying about who and what we were – and they were angry and offended by both the perceived lying and what we ‘really were’.

These anti-Semitic slurs were short lived because people in the Midwest don’t say things like that to your face. Obviously, they were being said behind our backs with consistent regularity because the children knew all about it. However, the ‘we know what you really are’ comments continued with regularity throughout the Midwest and in other regions of the United States (I have done some traveling) for the rest of my life.

My best childhood friend was raised in a family that was ultra extreme far-right Christian. They made a point of aggressively recruiting me for religious events out of ‘concern for my soul.’ This resulted in several…interesting…encounters with the Christian community, but one stands out from the rest:

I agreed to attend a teen retreat. It was an all-day-Saturday thing with meals served, games, movies and prayer sessions (the usual). I attended these things mostly to support my best friend, but I generally tried to suspend judgement and hold on to a small hope that I would make some connections with truly good people. The kind of people religious-types (of ALL religions) are always claiming exist only within the halls of the faithful.

By this point I had started to notice a trend in the prayer sessions and revivals I was dragged into. There was always a point in the service when new people were expected to go up to the front and ‘accept Jesus’ in front of the community. During the first event I attended, I followed protocol (because I was an outsider) and went up to the front and did the whole thing. The next time I was expected to do the same thing, again; and I noticed I was the only person being pushed into doing this multiple times.

The same thing happened during the service at this retreat. This was the third time in a row and (being who I am) I refused to leave my seat. There was no reason for me to be placed on display over and over again, and I did not like this trend, so I decided to test the situation by quietly and pointedly remaining in my seat. I was just like 90% of the teens in attendance who did not ‘feel called’ to go to the front of the church and acted accordingly.

After the service I found myself surrounded by a group of adults and teenagers, all of them were male and my best friend was among them. My friend was angry and started almost-shouting at me about my ‘poor behavior’ during the service. What did I do? Refused to go up in front of the church and ask God for forgiveness.

I remember looking around the group and realizing that these adults had pulled together the teenagers and pressured my friend into fixing ‘the problem.’ I had to be dealt with and it was their responsibility to make sure ‘people like me’ were properly addressed. How did I know this? The teenagers kept looking at the adults for confirmation and/or direction.

My best friend was completely worked up into an emotional tantrum, throwing his finger in my face saying (and I quote): “You! You of all people should be BEGGING God for forgiveness!”

As he walked away, clearly furious with me and the situation he was placed in (I knew him well enough to figure that part out), he growled under his breath “we all know what you really are.”

That was when I stopped associating with any form of Christian-right community. I did not like what it did to my best friend and I refused to be used as proof of the Christian superiority in any from, most particularly through the performance of weekly public-humiliation-of-the Jew ceremonies.

High School

I attended two high schools. I could tell stories from both. This story is from the school I graduated from.

It was the home stretch. I was months…weeks!….away from graduation. I had been planning my escape from Wisconsin farm country for months, including putting great effort into researching colleges. This was during a time before the internet, so researching colleges required an encyclopedia-sized book listing colleges and/or assistance from a school counselor. I pestered my counselor repeatedly, despite his adamant refusal to provide assistance because (and I quote): “the best you can hope for is technical school and marriage.”

My grades were good enough to get into college (despite the odds – but that’s another story) and my ACT scores were actually quite high. I’d managed to secure the contact information for exactly one college and had my acceptance letter tucked away among what little I owned back at the family farm.

In short, life had been tough for a long time but I was finally seeing a small glimmer of light in the form of college.

Then HE entered the picture. My home room teacher was one of many adults who did not approve of my existence (in general) or my presence in their community (specifically).

7 weeks before graduation, he started openly and blatantly handing me detention slips for the actions of other students. On several occasions he actually stood up and announced that I was getting another hour of detention because THAT KID, on the other side of the room, was making noise.

I am an introvert who loves to read and used study hall to finish homework and help my friends study and/or understand assignments. My life as a poverty survivor was difficult and working part-time jobs and the family farm took away a lot time. I needed study hall to complete catch-up work. I was NOT a problem student. If anything, I was entirely to quiet.

Rgardless, I was given detention for things I did not do, EVERY SINGLE DAY for several weeks. This quickly added up and the school had a serve-detention-or-do-not-graduate policy. In other words, anyone who had unserved detention was denied a diploma.

One particular morning, this homeroom teacher handed me yet another pink slip for the actions of others with a sneer, a little reminder of the graduation policy and the words: “We don’t need any more of you people in the colleges.”

Luck came my way in the form of the vice principal. When I was called into his office, I sat in the bad-student-chair looking around at all of the football trophies and though we are not going to get along.

He went over my file, explained the policy to me, tated that I was very close to having so much detention that it would not be possible for me to graduate, even if I spent the rest of the school year serving it out. He was doing the tough-man-talks-to-wayward-teen routine and I’d reached the point of being beyond done with this situation, this town and all of the crap these people insisted on dumping on me and my life. This resulted in my getting uncharacteristically tough in return.

I explained exactly what happened, who committed the acts recorded on those slips and how I had absolutely no intention of serving detention for things I did not do. I fully expected to be expelled and was already beginning to rack my brains for GED resources – maybe I could take the test and continue on with college as planned.

Unexpectedly, the vice principal responded with stunned shock and proceeded to negotiate with me. I had to serve two weeks of detention, because he couldn’t get away with clearing it all out. Thoughts of completing a GED eliminated what fight I had left. I agreed to the deal.

The teacher was replaced in my homeroom for the rest of the semester. To the best of my knowledge, he was never fired or disciplined outside of that one change during that semester.

So, I got lucky and was allowed to graduate.