This post originally appeared here on May 8, 2012.
DONATING TO A NONPROFIT IS NOT THE SAME AS HELPING THE HOMELESS!
By Max R. Weller
(I’ve already been adopted, thank you).
Consider the abject failure of Denver’s Road Home, that city’s so-called 10-year plan to end homelessness; after 7 years and almost $60 million spent, Denver has more homeless people on the streets AND more “formerly homeless” people as permanent dependents of the social services industry than ever before! The situation there has reached a crisis stage, according to an editorial in the Denver Post, despite hundreds of Denver’s homeless using neighboring Boulder, CO as an overflow destination for shelter/services. (It must be noted here that emergency overnight dorms at Boulder Shelter for the Homeless will be closed as of May 1st, not opening again until October 15th). It’s just terrible, unless you’re employed in the industry and making a living from the misfortune of others; in that case, you’re sitting pretty.
Perhaps the biggest factor keeping the chronically homeless people I’ve observed in a “marginalized” state, here in Boulder and other cities I’m familiar with, is their isolation from Real People living in the Real World. Go down to Central Park, especially, and you’ll see the rat packs of transients who only associate with each other. They seem to fear approaching Real People for anything other than a handout, and tend to neglect personal hygiene since no social interaction is expected to occur. Of course, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy to the detriment of everyone involved, as the Us-Versus-Them mentality quickly takes over. Sadly, and I freely admit this also angers me, the Joy Eckstines of this world reinforce the homeless person’s isolation — all you have to do to confirm that dynamic is to watch what happens at places like Bridge House. “People hate us! They want to keep us down.” As if Real People in the Real World have the time for a conspiracy against the homeless, rather than getting on with their own lives in a Real Way.
All of which brings me to my proposal for caring folks, who are tired of the ineffective approaches used by the shelter/services industry, to adopt a bum. Just one homeless single adult, chosen by careful observation of that individual’s basic character over the course of days and weeks. Casual conversation is an important tool, because you certainly don’t want to get involved one-on-one with any homeless person who is suffering from mental illness or actively abusing mind-altering substances. You’ll discover that many are rational and sober, albeit somewhat defensive in their current circumstances. Be a friend; encourage them to talk about anything, especially subjects other than homelessness; take them to lunch once in a while; offer something like packets of Starbucks VIA instant coffee, a treat they might not buy for themselves; ask them if they might need a new winter coat or a monthly bus pass; if and when you become comfortable enough and you have the room, invite them to spend especially cold and snowy nights in your home. The list goes on and will vary, depending on you.
Yes, I enjoy being such an adoptee. In fact, I’ve been adopted by a family and by a few other individuals. It has given me tremendous peace of mind, having a personal family-like safety net to fall back on, and I’m finally able to avail myself of these kind folks’ compassion without being too self-conscious for asking. That took a while, given my status as an avowed hermit.
As to what they get out of it, that’s a question best left to them to answer . . .
You can’t save every homeless person, but you might help just one.