For those who don’t know me, I’m a homeless man who has lived here in Boulder County, CO continuously for the past eight years. If you prefer to call me a “bum” that’s okay; I have more important concerns. To wit:
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 to where the homeless congregate, and you’ll see the groups 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-Against-Them mentality quickly takes over. Sadly, and I freely admit this also angers me, the do-gooders 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 the homeless gather: “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 . . .
Remember, donating to a nonprofit is NOT the same as helping the homeless.
Max R. Weller