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

Books Are Life

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For most Indians the only special place in front of a library might be a heating grate or a piece of sun-warmed cement but that’s an old joke and I used to sleep with my books in piles all over my bed and sometimes they were the only thing keeping me warm and always the only thing keeping me alive.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Grandma Has Solutions

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“Look!” said peter, “There’s someone waiting for you too. I told you that Grandma always has a solution for everything!

Peter and the Seal by Rick de Haas

Crucial Storytelling

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We had been taught not to look back. We had been trained to disconnect from family and our homelands. We had swapped our stories for a dream. To survive we need to find, and then share, our interlinking stories.

White Birch, Red Hawthorn: A Memoir by Nora Murphy

 

The Supreme Rule of Three

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The sun was high the next day when Long emerged from his camel-hair wrap. He checked the arrow shaft in his side and found that the area was incredibly sore but scabbing over. He was thirsty and began to seriously consider heading back to the outpost. After all, trying to cross a section of desert in two or three days without water could easily mean death. There were also the horse’s water needs to consider. He thought of the Supreme Rule of Three. A person can survive three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without air. The question was, how far did he want to push his luck?

The Five Ancestors Book 7: Dragon by Jeff Stone

Work and the Aftermath of Abuse

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For most people, work is central to their survival—it’s how they make a living for themselves and those they care about and how they pay their way in the world. Work is also about belonging to something larger than oneself, and the relationships that are part of the workplace support that sense of belonging. When work is recognized as central to survival and belonging, it’s a lot less surprising that many victims don’t easily get over workplace mobbing and go on to develop symptoms of PTSD and/or depression.

Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying by Maureen Duffy Ph.D., Len Sperry Ph.D.

Poverty and Dumb Luck

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It seemed to him that in Annawadi, fortunes derived not just from what people did, or how well they did it, but from the accidents and catastrophes they dodged. A decent life was the train that hadn’t hit you, the slumlord you hadn’t offended, the malaria you hadn’t caught.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity by Katherine Boo

From the epilogue:

The events recounted in the preceding pages are real, as are all the names. From the day in November 2007 that I walked into Annawadi and met Asha and Manju until March 2011, when I completed my reporting, I documented the experiences of residents with written notes, video recordings, audiotapes, and photographs. Several children of the slum, having mastered my Flip Video camera, also documented events recounted in this book….When I settle into a place, listening and watching, I don’t try to fool myself that the stories of individuals are themselves arguments. I just believe that better arguments, maybe even better policies, get formulated when we know more about ordinary lives.

Prepared For Danger

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“He’s a big otter now. He knows what to do. Little Otter hopes they’ll follow. Little Otter fears they’ll swallow! Up and down, round and round, in and out, skid and spin – again he screeches, “Danger! Head in!””

Utterly Otterly Night, written by Mary Casanova and illustrated by Ard Hoyt

Avoid the Light

This is a blog post made in response to the Daily Post Daily Prompt: Safety First

Before I explore the scary, I just want to tip my hat to Ngobesing Romanus whose blog post Almost burnt to death inspired me to write this.

I don’t often make biographical posts to this blog. If you were expecting a quote or book review, rest assured, more are scheduled for later today. As for this particular posting – everything you are about to read is true.

Avoid The Light

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I entered an undergraduate program in 1987 and quickly learned that some people held strong opinions about what kind of students belong in college, and people like me (poor, not-properly-connected, non-military and without a scholarship) were not among them. My high school counselor directly expressed this opinion during my senior year in high school and pointedly refused to help me apply to college (any college). There were other teachers (and adults) who made similar opinions clear…but those are stories will have to wait for another day. Suffice it to say that during my first semester at University, a few authority figures made it clear they agreed with the you-don’t-belong-here sentiment. This prejudiced resistance led to my continued reliance on a long-standing habit of ‘passing’ as the ‘middle class white girl.’

Fast forward to late in the spring semester of  freshman year (1988). The weather was warm and the trees had their leaves. A little after 1:00 AM, I went for a run in the neighborhoods adjacent to the University.

It was late.
It was dark.
I was alone.
I was wearing spandex.

In other words, I was doing everything women are told not to do. It was a risk I’d chosen to (repeatedly) take, despite the dangers, for two reasons: 1) college was a stressful never-ending cycle of very late nights, which made it almost-impossible for me to sleep without an end-of-day run and 2) Oshkosh was the safest place I’d lived in for several years.

I was several blocks away when I spotted them and half a block closer when they spotted me. A group of men were sitting in a car parked beside a playground. Their drunken voices were occasionally interrupted by the sound of empty liquor bottles smashing against the ground. The crash of breaking glass was unmistakable, but the voices were what caught my attention. I couldn’t make out the words, only the sound of drunken men getting excited about something. One of them leaned out a car window and glanced in my direction. We made eye contact and I knew exactly what was coming next.

A potentially fatal moment of hesitation occurred as the street-wise poverty-survivor proceeded to push the ‘proper middle class’ persona into the background. This was not a college classroom or an administrative office, this was a nearly deserted city street and I was faced with an extremely dangerous situation. Predators had spotted me. Action had to be taken, but which action?

Proper middle class female college students choosing to take a risky run, alone, after midnight, all follow the same rules – stick to safe, well lit roads in populated areas. Good girls do not run in shadows.

I was on the appropriate well-lit path…and the drunks in the car were pulling away from the curb.

Proper middle class girls do not leave the lighted path, they keep their eyes on the sidewalk and ‘ignore’ the men until they ‘go away;’ just keep going, trust in the rule of law and it’s ability to protect.

My real self was neither proper nor middle class. I knew better.

Ducking down the first dark side road I came to, I scanned the area for a place to run and felt the first real shock of fear: the houses were built into low but surprisingly steep hills and divided by fences. Being cornered here meant climbing a hill and a fence to get away. Yet, the streetlights were burned out and every house had turned off both interior and exterior lights, making it comfortingly dark – they couldn’t catch what they couldn’t see.

Picking up speed, I made for the end of the street which was equally dark, turned right and felt a moment of relief as the sidewalk leveled out and opened up. This area presented many options for both running and hiding, all of them lit by a small number of street lights. I could make it back to campus, almost entirely in  shadows, in a reasonably short period of time. If the drunks found me, I had options for escape.

This realization was interrupted by a second stabbing of fear as the car slowly drove by the side street I’d just left. I’d seen them watching me when I took the turn. One of the drunks was leaning out a window, craning his neck and peering into the shadows. He was looking for something.

Looking for me.

They kept driving. I don’t know how far they went before giving up, but it was many long minutes before I saw the car double back towards the park at a much faster pace, with voices and music returned to full party-mode.

Later, safe in my dorm, I stretched, changed and re-lived the entire experience. Only one fear remained: what if someone saw?

I couldn’t risk being exposed as both lower class and street wise. I do not have a criminal history, my pre-college grades were (despite all odds) good-enough to get in and remained good-enough to graduate. There were no legitimate legal, behavioral or academic reasons for making me leave school. Sadly, these kinds of facts have no power over prejudice.

Standing there, alone in the dorm, I did not review the faces of potential rapists. What I saw were those specific individuals who had already tried to either prevent or end my college education.

Anyone dead-set on eliminating me from the student rosters had only one real option – create the illusion of scandal out of a toxic combination of truth, fiction and virulent gossip. If enough people believed I needed to be removed, then I would be removed. It was that simple. Thus far, those who disapproved had neither the reason nor the material to take up that kind of campaign. A story like this could provide enough ammunition to inspire wicked action.

Call it paranoia, but I had already lived through and witnessed this exact scenario, and all of it’s devastating results, multiple times. It was possible, but was it probable?

Finishing college was my one and only goal. Literally. I had no post-college plans. That meant convincing the powers-that-be that I belonged there…or, at least, wasn’t worth close examination.

Reporting the incident, talking about what happened and how I handled it, admitting to having the skills required to survive that kind of situation as a direct result of surviving it prior to entering college…this was what I feared.

The exhausting act of ‘passing’ had significantly affected my youth. Here in the halls of higher education it continued to infuse every breath and color every thought. My faux ‘proper middle class white girl’ persona slowly crept back into place and asked one stupid question: how did I know how to do that? Of course, I knew the answer; but I also knew the game. The stakes were too high. It was time to keep silent and, if necessary, play dumb.

Predatory Excuse Making

Over the past few decades, I’ve made a few attempts to talk about this experience with a variety of different people. What I find most disturbing about these conversations are the most common responses provided by other women:

  • Nothing happened so they probably weren’t really after you.
  • If they’d wanted to do something, they would have caught you.
  • You’re being so negative, what if they were really nice?
  • They were probably just trying to help you.
  • You’re looking at it wrong.
  • You don’t know they were after you. Maybe they were looking for something else.
  • You’re exaggerating.
  • You made it up, that didn’t happen; if it had, you’d be dead.

I’ve had similar conversations with men, some of whom were members of various security and protection services (e.g.: police, martial arts, etc.), and the most common reaction was this: you’re lucky to be alive.

I include this information here because I believe it’s an extremely important aspect to rape culture. Not only do we teach our children do not get raped instead of do not rape; we also train women to discount the experiences of others and view potentially deadly situations through a dangerously distorted lens.

This is an example of something I call predatory excuse making. Sometimes people do it will full knowledge and ill-intent (e.g.: accessory to a crime). Sometimes it’s a response to complimentary manipulation (e.g.: I can’t believe that person would do something like that). Sometimes it’s born out of culturally enforced ignorance, naivete or an inability to face facts (see above).

The only people who benefit from predatory excuse making are the predators.

Think about that.

Getting To The Dawn

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“A new day has dawned, and today the whole world looks different. Just take a peek out your window. You never noticed all those sunflowers in your yard, did you? And check it out: a naked kid on a horse! Wow! You sure didn’t see that when you peeped out through the blinds at midnight. In fact, you didn’t see anything at all but the blackness of your own despair. Well, it’s always darkest before the dawn, they say. And they’re right. The trick is surviving the night.”

The White Magic Five & Dime by Steve Hockensmith, Lisa Falco