Janet Waldstein

When people are homeless they generally want housing, although there are a few exceptions. Some people actually enjoy their lifestyle of eternal camping, depending on the location. With an amused tone, they often refer to this as “rent-less” living. Those who revel in that lifestyle frequently exemplify the classic bindle-bearing, freight-train-hopping, canned-bean-eating hobo. But mostly, people who choose that lifestyle resemble hippies or prospectors at first glance, and are an entertaining diversion for those who are involuntarily homeless. Despite that colorful, romantic scenario, obviously most people would prefer to have a roof over their heads, since being wet and cold is no picnic. Sadly though, finding a place to hang one’s hat is extremely difficult for involuntarily homeless persons. Barriers to obtaining shelter are numerous, overwhelming.

The various agencies set up specifically to deal with this problem are generally ineffective. Ostensibly well-meaning private citizens who attempt to help often create more problems for homeless persons than they already have endured. After having been in a state of continuous anticipation, some homeless persons experience such frustration from the interminable waiting game of seeking shelter and dealing with annoying or dangerous so-called charitable folk, that they become complacent, settling for the meager hand-outs and band-aids given to them in the guise of beneficence. Brick walls, empty promises and false hopes dominate the scene, but are seemingly the only avenue towards a solution.

Even though some folks do have good intentions when homeless people are given help finding shelter, the results are generally not worth the aggravation for those in that situation. For instance, it can take months to gain access to a transitional living facility through an agency, only achieved through incredible struggle. Frustrated, underpaid, inefficient case workers simply cannot handle the vast numbers of people who need that type of service and become jaded, despite the fact that those desperate victims of poverty spend practically every waking minute going from one agency to another, filling out forms and being forced to wait hours to see their workers, while foregoing food and showers. Sometimes the caseworkers are callously absent themselves on appointment days, which costs the homeless individual not only his or her time, but also the money spent on transportation. Besides that, once fortunate enough to gain housing, they must endure strict rules. In some cases, families are separated due to enforcement of sober living policies and curfews.

Also, whether or not one believes, religiously based housing, which includes sermons, is often the norm. On top of that, to be accepted by those in the position of power in regard to housing, one has to be part of a program: bagged, tagged and labeled as having a physical ailment, being part of a special group, or having a mental illness. Without artful pretense, resources are unavailable, so many people pretend to be mentally ill or focus on being victims of substance abuse because they were encouraged to do so by other homeless people, medical personnel and caseworkers. Also, relatively normal mood swings and adventurous behaviors are considered to be of proof of the existence bi-polar disorder, once referred to as manic-depression. Anyone with substance abuse issues is a prime candidate for the popular bi-polar epithet, and is pharmaceutically treated for that supposed illness, promoting job stability for medical and mental health professionals, and generating money for insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Due to all those circumstances, many shelter-seekers simply give up trying to be housed.

Even though attempting to be housed through agencies is dreadful, there are more causes for the continuance of homelessness, personified by “homeless groupies.” For some strange reason, certain people want to make projects of the homeless, but seem more like predators than empathetic benefactors. They target the vulnerabilities of homeless individuals, and appear to enjoy feeling superior, constantly critiquing and finding fault, while believing that they are being helpful. Women are especially subject to that type of treatment, causing them to withdraw from reality, particularly when they must unwillingly accept sexual attention to express their appreciation, virtually turning to prostitution, but that is merely one obvious problem.

In many instances, the homeless are drained of financial resources through extortion tactics by a variety of scavengers. Sometimes homeless people staying in temporary shelters are coerced into handing over cash, food or cigarettes to avoid violence or to maintain peace. On top of that, the lonely magnanimously share everything they have to purchase friendships. After those experiences, homeless people can become so disgusted by predators that they stop trusting anyone who wants to offer housing and continue living outside.

The whole experience of helplessness and dependence on others when homeless can drive one over the edge of sanity, which is particularly true for women. Even if one attempts to accomplish things for himself or herself, he or she is belittled and treated like a needy child, thus negating and discouraging any feelings of self-empowerment. Yet, by avoiding the pitfalls of inefficient or corrupt agencies and predators, and with help from those who truly care, housing can be possible for the homeless. Those with stout hearts and hope prevail with assistance and may be able to find housing, as it exists..

For questions/comments, send an e-mail to: jan@unitedsteps.org