Tag Archives: homeless


13 Jan

I was walking around downtown Phoenix the other day–and inevitably I’m walking down a street where a homeless woman is sitting on the sidewalk. As I walk past, she says, “Really?!” It was a simple statement that bugged me the rest of the day.

Upon reflection, it bugged me the most because the implication is that I owe you something. It’s not like she had a sign out (like the picture I chose for this post), or a hat, she was just sitting against the wall on an empty street… literally just her and me for blocks. What do I owe the other hundred people I walk past on my way to work and back?

  1. Don’t bug them.
  2. Don’t stink.
  3. Don’t get in their way.

It’s a limited social contract, I realize, but it’s pretty straightforward. My obligation to my fellow Phoenician on a daily basis are those three. Now is that all we should be doing? No. But what was she expecting in this interaction?

The simple answer is money–and I go back and forth on this one. Years ago I felt like, “That’s a shitty way to make money, so if they’re willing to put in the ‘work,’ sure, I’ll throw them a buck.” Now I’m like, “We have a labor shortage in the simplest of jobs. You’re obviously healthy enough to work, screw you.” I don’t care if they spend that money on drugs, booze, or food (but let’s face it, it’s the first two), but I’m under no obligation to help you get those. The reason she (and at least three hundred others) are sitting there is because the county shelter, a food bank, a soup kitchen, and at least three other homeless services are there.

I give to one of those (and occasionally two others) because I believe that the homeless deserve to have help. So I’m thinking there are six locations within easy walking distance of my cube that will feed you, clothe you, help get you a job, and help you get housing. Yet there is a reason why you’re sitting on an empty sidewalk at 2 pm on a Tuesday. It’s not because you’re just down on your luck. It’s because the alternative is inconvenient to you.

In the end, the “really?!” tells me everything I need to know. My experience with homeless and ex-homeless people is that these are people who have exhausted every other connection they have. They have burned out their friends, they have crushed their family ties, and they think it’s all other people’s fault, not theirs. Why should I have to work? Doesn’t the government owe me something? You see me–give me something!

In many ways, that’s the greatest lesson that I learned and that many people haven’t. If I’m sitting in a bad situation, I did something to get me here. Sure, I may have had a bad break here and there, but my choices led me to this place. It’s my choices that will get me out. It’s never too late.

Conversations with Crazy

21 Jul

I was walking to my bus stop and I noticed a homeless guy sitting on the sidewalk, waving his hands, like he was dancing to his own tune. Then I got closer and the crazy began.

I try to give eye contact with most homeless folks, simply because it gives the minimum of decency. I see that you exist. He pointed to his wrist, so I thought, “oh, he wants to know the time.” So I tell him the time, he shakes his head, so I take off my headphones, and proceeds to tell me how foreign intelligence agencies are omnipresent and destroying Arizona.

Now the difference between a conspiracy theory and a crazy person is all in the cadence. A conspiracy theorist will stay on topic, explaining in a step by step way that microchips are getting smaller and smaller, that they are able to put them on smaller things, and they’re cheaper. So they can put them on anything, so the COVID-19 was an excuse to get people to use more hand sanitizer, which has tracking chips, and now the government has chips on all of us.

This guy started on foreign intelligence, then switched to tracking, then switched to being a good Christian, but believing in freedom of religion… And that point, my bus arrived, and I was able to apologize and leave this conversation that was going no where.

I used to think it must be fun being crazy… You can dress how you want, dance and shout, and people give you wide berth. On the train, I’ve noticed at least once a week one of my fellow passengers can’t stop moving. Not just walking or pacing, no… Jerking and dancing around. It’s unsettling.

Which made me think… Imagine if I couldn’t stop moving. Something in me makes it impossible for me to sit down. Maybe it’s nerve damage, maybe it’s a belief that the chairs are full of disease, maybe I’ve taken so many drugs that I can’t sit still for more than five seconds. What a hell that would be. If I literally thought that foreign agencies were after me, and that it was up to me to stop them, yeah… I wouldn’t be able to sleep in the same place every night. I couldn’t stay in the same place every hour!

I have great sympathy for the homeless, but I’m not blind to the fact that many of these are on drugs or mentally ill. We should fund mental illness treatment far more than do. You can’t help someone who believes that aliens from Zardoz are trying to kidnap him. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to stop taking his drug. That’s where we need to focus our help.

But I could be wrong… What do you think? Is our freedom of religion under threat from Zardoz? Let me know in the comments below!

The Tale of Violet

18 Jan

After yesterday’s post, instead of bloviating about my theories of homelessness in America, I thought it would be better to tell a story that happened to me. This involves a nice lady I’m going to call Violet.

Violet is somewhere in her 50’s and spent her life off and on homeless. The times when she has not been homeless, she has always lived with someone else–her boyfriend, husband, girlfriend–never on her own. Apart from being VERY fat and needing a scooter to get around (only in the West are poor people fat), she has never held a job in the five years I have known her, possibly because of her multiple medical conditions, but possibly because it would endanger her social security benefits.

Violet is a very nice gal, but simultaneously, she is also the most infuriating person I have ever met. It seems hard to balance the two, but the best definition for her I’ve heard is “needy.” Violet is “needy,” not just financially, but emotionally. You can teach her how to do something and it won’t stick. I don’t think she does it on purpose, but she would rather have you do it, so she would have someone to talk to while you do it. And she loves to talk... God, does she love to talk.

I never asked her history, but you couldn’t avoid most of it, since she loved to talk. She grew up in rural Oklahoma and claimed to be descended from a Cherokee princess. Of course, being half-Irish, she also claimed descent from the fairies, so if you can be one princess, why not two? She got pregnant rather young, and ended up having three kids, of which I only ever met one. At some point, she moved to Texas, possibly with husband number two, where she raised kid number two… who doesn’t talk to her. I have no idea what happened to kid number one, and she never mentioned them, so I’m guessing adoption.

Somewhere between husband two and three, she lost custody of her kids, and moved to Phoenix where her sister lives. Then she ended up on the street. Then after a year, she found a program to get her off the streets, which may or may not have been instituted by the LDS church (she is a Mormon, I’m guessing mostly because missionaries love to talk). However, the moment I finally understood Violet was when her daughter moved to town.

Violet asked me to pick her her daughter, let’s call her Periwinkle, at the bus station along with all her worldly possessions and her toddler daughter. No problem. When I picked up Peri, she was very grateful, and I loaded her into my car. Instead of going to her mom’s house, she asked to stop downtown, because it had been years since she been there. Okay, sure. After checking out the fountains, she asked if she could just stop and register at the county shelter, so she could get her benefits started in this state. Okay, I dropped her off and waited… for two #(*$*$@ hours! Peri didn’t call me to explain the delay and I didn’t have her number. Nor did her mom. So I’m steaming, but I keep my calm when she finally arrives, and she asked to be dropped off at her aunt’s house. Not her mom’s house, her aunt’s house. So I did and never saw her again, even when Peri called me to ask for an additional ride later, because I was done with her.

For me, that explained everything about Violet. She and her daughter didn’t talk to each other. Peri turned to her aunt first, and after a couple months exhausting her, moved in with her baby daddy. When he got exhausted after a couple months, Peri moved in with Violet and her husband. And when they got exhausted, she moved in with a new boyfriend. This I heard from Violet and her husband later–and that relationship broke up after a year and a half. Violet is living with a girlfriend who seems about as needy as she is.

What does this have to do with homelessness? Well, if you’re in a jam, and need help getting back to your feet, you can count on your family/friends/church. But if you exhaust your resources, and you’re not getting back to your feet, you end up on the street. To me, that explains about a third of the homeless population–people who have exhausted their resources and have no one to take care of them. Another third is crazy–mental illness or drug abuse, take your pick–but they simply can’t function in normal society. The final third have not exhausted them and are simply transitioning back to low-income.

It’s the final third you can help; the ones who want to be helped. Not taken care of, helped back to a normal life. I personally support Family Promise of Greater Phoenix, because they help homeless families. Shelters are segregated by gender, so if you have a teenage boy with his mom, they have to be separated… and boy, is that scary. They also provide programs to get them back on their feet, and having visited their building, I’m confident they are doing a great job.

What do you think? Do you think my theory of homelessness is way off? Do you have a similar story? Let me know in the comments below!

“Maybe they don’t want to be found.”

17 Jan

In 2018, National Crime Information Center entered in 612,846 missing persons cases–1800 people a day. 80% of those return or are found after 3 days, but most don’t… and it’s not a crime to go missing. So if the cops can’t help, who do you turn to? The Salvation Army.

The LAPD Adult Missing Persons Unit (yes, they have an entire staff dedicated to this) points to the Salvation Army as a resource to find missing people. This was a surprising discovery to me as well–you don’t think of the Salvation Army as being an investigation arm–but it didn’t take long for me to figure out why. The “army” is very active among the homeless population, and as a “holiness congregation,” they take Jesus’ message to feed the poor very seriously. Which is why their churches are always in the worst parts of town–because that’s where their mission field is.

Despite the uniforms and the military organization, the Salvation Army is a just a Christian denomination, based on a quote by their founders back in the late 19th Century. Ministers are “commissioned officers,” starting off at the rank of lieutenant while in seminary, and then becoming captains for most of their career. A minister with long service might become a major, but colonels and above are limited to administrative roles (what most other denominations would call bishops).

Now why would the Army be able to help when the cops couldn’t? Well, if you can’t afford a private investigator (which is what the LAPD suggests first), they’re free. Since they deal with the homeless, they’re probably the best resource in tracking homeless populations, and they have a century of experience to back them up. Even so, the Southern District of the SA (Salvation Army) says that out of the 2,000 inquiries a year, they open 600 cases, and locate 350 people on average. Even if you add up all four districts within the US, that seems like a drop in the bucket, but remember… they do this for free, so they don’t have a lot of resources to dedicate to this.

Now the SA gets a lot of flack from the low-income and homeless community–“the Starvation Army,” I’ve heard one person call them. Yet I find that people tend to resent anyone helping them–they feel guilty, so they lash out in anger–which in my opinion, explains why a lot of the homeless I’ve met are homeless. However, let’s flip the numbers. If we assume 80% of missing persons are found come back on their own, and you deduct the SA’s efforts, that still leaves over a hundred thousand people a year.

That’s a lot of people who don’t want to be found, and that assumes that every person who goes missing as a report filed. Criminal justice professors teach that half of all crimes go unreported, so that means it might be closer to a quarter million a year, and that doesn’t even include underage children. I could write another post on my theories on homelessness, but suffice it to say, in a technological world where people are so interconnected, there’s a lot of people who we simply don’t see.

What do you think? Is the Salvation Army doing the Lord’s work or just getting in the way? Why do you think people don’t want to be found? Let me know in the comments below!

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