Not All Homeless People Are the Same; Not All Policies Will Work the Same

 

While on my early morning recreational bike ride this morning I had a conversation with an apparently homeless man who was a real-life reminder that not all “homeless” people are the same, and so policies for dealing with them should probably not be all the same.

The man I talked to was on foot and was looking for a Salvation Army shelter (or presumably some similar overnight sleeping facility that might provide meals). There is no such facility in my town. But I admired the man’s logic for concluding that there must be. He said he observed that he had seen no people sleeping on sidewalks, on benches, or in doorways, so they must be sleeping in a shelter somewhere in town.

Pre-pandemic, I did some work with the primary organization that helps the homeless and (as they say) “marginally housed” in my county, so I actually know something about the “homeless” here. I live in the county seat of a semi-rural county about 25 miles west of a major metropolitan area (Fort Worth, Texas). The homeless of the type who sleep on the sidewalk do not come here. It is a far walk to get here. Once here, the distances between things are very long for a person on foot. There is no public transportation. And there are few resources here to help them. So they stay in the urban metropolitan area. There are a few sidewalk-sleeping people around town, but you can probably count them on one hand.

The homeless who do get here (or who become homeless while living here) generally have a vehicle that runs, and either think they want to find work or seek to escape what they consider the negative culture of the sidewalk homeless of the urban metropolitan area (crime, drugs, alcohol, disrespect). That most of them have a vehicle is key to why we don’t have an overnight shelter – they stay in their vehicles (and many of them have dogs that would be difficult to accommodate in a shelter). With a vehicle, they can get to a central food distribution center on occasion, can store several days’ worth of food, and do not need each meal served individually. I tried to explain to the man I encountered this morning that most of the “homeless” here have some type of shelter, which is why he doesn’t see people sleeping on the sidewalks, and that there really isn’t much demand for a Salvation Army type overnight shelter, though I don’t think he believed me. I did not find out how or why he got here. Did he hitch a ride with a trucker who stopped at one of the truck stops? Did he come on the Greyhound bus that stops at the Pilot truck stop? He wasn’t carrying luggage. Did he leave luggage somewhere? I didn’t pry, but I wasn’t able to give him much real help. He was quite articulate. And as I said, I admire his logical thinking.

We have five major truck stops along the interstate highway that runs across the south end of town. So the homeless with vehicles have places to park their vehicles, to use the toilets, and to shower (if they pay). The truck stops have varying levels of tolerance for the vehicle-based homeless. Some of the homeless don’t always look or behave all that different from some of the truck drivers who also may stay several days while waiting for a load. One of the truck stops has been known to employ a few homeless for odd jobs like sweeping the lot, picking up trash, and emptying trash cans in exchange for lodging in the attached motel. I met a lot with a woman who had such a job. She was completely bonkers, but could pull it together enough to do the work the truck stop wanted. She really appreciated the motel room she got in exchange. And she was extremely determined to stay away from the crime, drugs, and alcohol of the urban homelessness that she escaped to come out here.

Some of the homeless who do get out here are delusional that they have the capabilities to become employed. But that they have employment as a goal seems to keep them away from much of the self-destructive behavior we see the sidewalk-sleeping urban homeless. I met many times with a group of men who lived together in an ancient motorhome that they moved from place to place around town as they wore out their welcome. None of them had the wits to be able to hold regular employment, but they did find enough odd jobs to survive together. Another man thought the owner of the shopping center in which he parked his truck should be more appreciative of the unsolicited work that the man did around the shopping center. The shopping center owner did not agree that the unsolicited work was a net positive for his shopping center, and so there was some conflict about the homeless man continuing to park his truck there. But at least the homeless man grasped the concept of earning his keep.

But the largest category of people needing housing help here is the “marginally housed.” As a semi-rural area, we have a lot of marginal housing – cabins, travel trailers that are no longer mobile, or manufactured houses, built decades ago with no or inadequate plumbing, electricity, heating, or cooking facilities, that may be literally falling apart. “Affordable,” but often a long distance from prospective employment. Which, especially with today’s gasoline prices, puts staying on a budget that was already marginal, almost impossible. The landlords almost universally agree that they should be upgraded, but everyone also agrees that such upgrades cost money, and so the rents would need to increase. So, a major part of the work of the organization for the “homeless” is actually trying to find appropriate affordable housing for these marginally housed people. Shelter or housing for an individual who can find only intermittent employment for limited hours per week but who is otherwise more or less together is different from shelter or housing for a drug-addicted or mentally ill person who will not or cannot take care of even his most basic needs.

So, the “homeless” issue in my semi-rural county is very different from the homeless issue in the urban metropolitan area 25 miles to our east. The answers that might work in one place may not work in the other. My experience here is why I get really irritated when politicians and advocates talk as though “homelessness” were some monolithic problem with a single universal solution. Well, that’s true for a lot of problems, but after this morning’s encounter with the man on my bicycle ride, that is the problem at front of mind.

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    A good post about a tough problem.

    Los Angeles is known for having a bad problem with homelessness, and a good part of the reason has nothing to do with wokeness or the left: the weather is great here. As soon as the railroad reached L.A. there were hobos sleeping on the beach. Strict (and let’s be honest, often brutal) law enforcement kept the problem under control. By the time I moved here in 1977, what we then called vagrancy was still under control and would stay that way for another 25 years or so. Then the courts got involved.

    Note that I wrote “Los Angeles”. There’s not much visible homelessness in Santa Monica, where I live, or Beverly Hills, or Culver City, even though all three cities are surrounded by the city of L.A., because the city halls and cops know the residents won’t put up with it.

    The establishment here has a myth that the homeless are largely families, our neighbors!–right out of Father Knows Best or Leave it to Beaver, that mysteriously fell from picket-fence normalcy to sleeping in doorways. One cop I know had a saying–it’s the lazy, the crazy, and the addicted. Only a swift kick in the behind can do anything about the lazy; lack of the old network of state mental hospitals left us with the crazy; the addicted is also a moral issue but with a medical dimension.

    • #1
  2. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    We really need to find ways to infringe on the rights of people who are not mentally capable of taking care of themselves. Drug monitoring clinics might help. 

    • #2
  3. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    A very good analytical, pragmatical post for practicing Jews and Christians. Thanks!

    God has provided for all of our needs, plus a car, some free time, and some extra spending power for gas and so on.

    What do you suppose that Kate and I could do, and how would we get started? I tend to be too theoretical in my thinking.

    I ask on a public thread because others may have the same two questions.

    • #3
  4. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Full Size Tabby: My experience here is why I get really irritated when politicians and advocates talk as though “homelessness” were some monolithic problem with a single universal solution.

    There is a “universal solution” and it’s called the Constitution. People are Free to be “homeless.” And People are Free to work, earn a living, and purchase a place to live. And States, Cities, Juridictions, Counties, etc. are Free to limit “the homeless” presence. Institute laws forbidding vagrants and They’ll stay outside city limits and live in the woods. It ain’t that tough to figure out. 

    And if others are concerned about “the homeless,” then there ain’t nothing stopping Them from spending Their time and money to assisting Them. It’s called charity.

    Great post, Full Size Tabby.

    • #4
  5. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    We really need to go back to the pre-1970s practice of providing institutional care for the mentally ill. That’s one (large) part of the homeless problem that could be solved if we as a people just had the will. The mentally ill are innocents, and should be cared for as such. 

    If only the Democrats had as much concern for the mentally ill as they have for their freedom to kill innocent babies.

    • #5
  6. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Seattle coddles their “homeless”.  They “offer shelter” to everyone, but there are no consequences for refusing shelter, and few consequences for remaining on the street.  Those apartment tenants who have a homeless encampment right outside their building have no recourse.  They complain continuously to the city, and nothing ever happens.

    Here’s a story about what San Francisco school kids have to put up with.

    • #6
  7. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):
    We really need to go back to the pre-1970s practice of providing institutional care for the mentally ill. That’s one (large) part of the homeless problem that could be solved if we as a people just had the will. The mentally ill are innocents, and should be cared for as such. 

    Absolutely. It is inhumane to let the mad rave naked on the street. The organically disturbed can be helped. But I wonder about those who have become mentally ill through drug use. There’s some weird, bad stuff out there, and what I’m reading about New Meth makes it sound as if people get permanently rewired. They may not be amenable to assistance, and that means putting them in New Bedlam. Guaran-fargin’-teed that place will be a nightmare, poorly staffed, prone to mayhem that ends with a 60 Minutes whistleblower expose. And then the asylums are emptied out again.

    What does society owe the people who destroy their minds with chemicals? A minimum number of opportunities to get clean, with emphasis on personal involvement? An endless sequence of interventions? 

    • #7
  8. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    Seattle coddles their “homeless”. They “offer shelter” to everyone, but there are no consequences for refusing shelter, and few consequences for remaining on the street. Those apartment tenants who have a homeless encampment right outside their building have no recourse. They complain continuously to the city, and nothing ever happens.

    Here’s a story about what San Francisco school kids have to put up with.

    This San Francisco video is heart-wrenching.  (Notice that in addition to everything else, the kids are still masked.  But I digress…) Three firemen, three cops and 15 minutes with a hose could clean up the block and solve the problem. 

    Why have we lost the will to live like civilized people?

    • #8
  9. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    what we then called vagrancy

    I wish we still called it that.

    • #9
  10. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):

    Three firemen, three cops and 15 minutes with a hose could clean up the block and solve the problem. 

    Why have we lost the will to live like civilized people?

    When we became so secure that we could forget the gods of the copybook heading. As Whittaker Chambers would put it, 

    “You don’t understand the class structure of American society,” said Smetana, “or you would not ask such a question. In the United States, the working class are Democrats. The middle class are Republicans. The upper class are Communists.

    The upperclass are always susceptible to silly ideas that even the upper middle class can’t afford.

    • #10
  11. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I think we need to blame the Democrats for the abysmal living conditions in the ghettoes that rim our major cities, not the poor souls who have to live in them.

    If we were looking at any other country except our own, the first people we would blame would be the politicians and leaders.

    • #11
  12. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Note that I wrote “Los Angeles”. There’s not much visible homelessness in Santa Monica, where I live, or Beverly Hills, or Culver City, even though all three cities are surrounded by the city of L.A., because the city halls and cops know the residents won’t put up with it.

    Wow, things must have changed since I was in Santa Monica in the late 1990’s.  I had several stays at the Hotel Miramar on the Ocean near the Santa Monica Pier.  I never saw so many homeless people in my life!  In some areas it seemed that every fourth or fifth person was homeless, just wandering the streets and begging for money.  In a strange juxtaposition, I was there to meet one of the richest men in America, for whom I was doing a big job.  He was routinely hours late for his appointments, so I strolled out of his building and hung out with the homeless bums on the street, until he showed up!

    I really enjoyed that place, however.  It was just bustling with outdoor activity.  At night on the Promenade, all sorts of street performers would demonstrate their skills, everything from jugglers and evangelical preachers to acrobats and a guy in a tuxedo playing classical music on a grand piano!  It was great!

    Did they kick out the homeless or force them over into Los Angeles?

    • #12
  13. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):
    We really need to go back to the pre-1970s practice of providing institutional care for the mentally ill. That’s one (large) part of the homeless problem that could be solved if we as a people just had the will. The mentally ill are innocents, and should be cared for as such.

    Absolutely. It is inhumane to let the mad rave naked on the street. The organically disturbed can be helped. But I wonder about those who have become mentally ill through drug use. There’s some weird, bad stuff out there, and what I’m reading about New Meth makes it sound as if people get permanently rewired. They may not be amenable to assistance, and that means putting them in New Bedlam. Guaran-fargin’-teed that place will be a nightmare, poorly staffed, prone to mayhem that ends with a 60 Minutes whistleblower expose. And then the asylums are emptied out again.

    What does society owe the people who destroy their minds with chemicals? A minimum number of opportunities to get clean, with emphasis on personal involvement? An endless sequence of interventions?

    Admittedly, there are no perfect solutions, but we should be able to devise a system to separate out the congenitally mentally ill and do something to help them.

    • #13
  14. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    MarciN (View Comment):

    I think we need to blame the Democrats for the abysmal living conditions in the ghettoes that rim our major cities, not the poor souls who have to live in them.

    If we were looking at any other country except our own, the first people we would blame would be the politicians and leaders.

    From RushBabe49.com:   https://rushbabe49.com/2013/03/28/what-do-all-these-places-have-in-common/

    From KOMO News in Seattle today:   Capitol Hill apartment plagued by homeless camp.

    And my article didn’t even mention Seattle, since it was before the worst of the homeless problem.

    • #14
  15. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):
    We really need to go back to the pre-1970s practice of providing institutional care for the mentally ill. That’s one (large) part of the homeless problem that could be solved if we as a people just had the will. The mentally ill are innocents, and should be cared for as such.

    Absolutely. It is inhumane to let the mad rave naked on the street. The organically disturbed can be helped. But I wonder about those who have become mentally ill through drug use. There’s some weird, bad stuff out there, and what I’m reading about New Meth makes it sound as if people get permanently rewired. They may not be amenable to assistance, and that means putting them in New Bedlam. Guaran-fargin’-teed that place will be a nightmare, poorly staffed, prone to mayhem that ends with a 60 Minutes whistleblower expose. And then the asylums are emptied out again.

    What does society owe the people who destroy their minds with chemicals? A minimum number of opportunities to get clean, with emphasis on personal involvement? An endless sequence of interventions?

    Admittedly, there are no perfect solutions, but we should be able to devise a system to separate out the congenitally mentally ill and do something to help them.

    Systems are for the homeless to cheat and the government to fudge. 

    • #15
  16. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    My wife and I were doing some street ministry in Seattle 10+ years ago.  Homelessness was known then to be a serious issue in Seattle.  It’s true that not everyone who lived on the street was in the same boat, and the solutions to each person’s problems, even in Seattle, were not the same.  

    Of course now it’s even worst in Seattle and coming (or has come) to Bellingham.  And the crime that comes with it has come to my little town of Lynden.  

    • #16
  17. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Are there no churches in your area that would help out this man?

    I have inside my brain the idea that churches help out the poor.

    I seem to remember this rebel kinda character who was a sore thorn in the society where he preached  once saying something like “If you should do for the least of my brethren, you do for me.”

    The Lefty churches seem intent on the pronoun issue and the congregation washing the feet of some token African American as part of reparation.

    In Clearlake we have one minister who runs programs for the homeless in his neck of the county.

    It can be a difficult group to care for, due to mental illness aspects.

    Years ago, I had a friend who erected a storage shed/cabin kind of building, on abandoned property near his business. A local vet used the 14 by 10 foot place as his residence.  This stabilized the man’s mental condition enough that he was holding down odd jobs, making friends and doing much better than if hitchhiking from place to place.

     

     

    • #17
  18. JoshuaFinch Coolidge
    JoshuaFinch
    @JoshuaFinch

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    A good post about a tough problem.

    Los Angeles is known for having a bad problem with homelessness, and a good part of the reason has nothing to do with wokeness or the left: the weather is great here. As soon as the railroad reached L.A. there were hobos sleeping on the beach. Strict (and let’s be honest, often brutal) law enforcement kept the problem under control. By the time I moved here in 1977, what we then called vagrancy was still under control and would stay that way for another 25 years or so. Then the courts got involved.

    Note that I wrote “Los Angeles”. There’s not much visible homelessness in Santa Monica, where I live, or Beverly Hills, or Culver City, even though all three cities are surrounded by the city of L.A., because the city halls and cops know the residents won’t put up with it.

    The establishment here has a myth that the homeless are largely families, our neighbors!–right out of Father Knows Best or Leave it to Beaver, that mysteriously fell from picket-fence normalcy to sleeping in doorways. One cop I know had a saying–it’s the lazy, the crazy, and the addicted. Only a swift kick in the behind can do anything about the lazy; lack of the old network of state mental hospitals left us with the crazy; the addicted is also a moral issue but with a medical dimension.

    Any homeless person in Los Angeles who wants shelter can find it. But the homeless in LA prefer life in the streets.

    • #18
  19. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Are there no churches in your area that would help out this man?

    I have inside my brain the idea that churches help out the poor.

    I seem to remember this rebel kinda character who was a sore thorn in the society where he preached once saying something like “If you should do for the least of my brethren, you do for me.”

    The Lefty churches seem intent on the pronoun issue and the congregation washing the feet of some token African American as part of reparation.

    In Clearlake we have one minister who runs programs for the homeless in his neck of the county.

    It can be a difficult group to care for, due to mental illness aspects.

    Years ago, I had a friend who erected a storage shed/cabin kind of building, on abandoned property near his business. A local vet used the 14 by 10 foot place as his residence. This stabilized the man’s mental condition enough that he was holding down odd jobs, making friends and doing much better than if hitchhiking from place to place.

     

     

    Every church in town that has considered setting up a system for dealing with the sidewalk-sleeping homeless has stumbled over the reality that their numbers are extremely small (we think there’s fewer than ten of them most of the time), and they’re interested in help only a few times a year (usually a few nights in the winter when the temperatures get below freezing). The ones regularly in town seem to have found ways to cope. And the ones who occasionally find their way into town are so rare as to be almost impossible to have a system ready for them. There would be very little demand for an aid system for the sidewalk-sleeping homeless, yet it would take work to establish and to maintain such a system for such rare use. Hence the churches pool their resources for the community program organization that works with the vehicle-based homeless and the marginally housed. 

    • #19
  20. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Hence the churches pool their resources for the community program organization that works with the vehicle-based homeless and the marginally housed. 

    Well obviously a large federally mandated government program organized by people who have never worked with the homeless before would work better.

    • #20
  21. Roderic Reagan
    Roderic
    @rhfabian

    Anyone who has actually gotten down in the trenches trying to help the homeless knows how difficult it can be.   The best intentions will fall flat, and it can be very frustrating.  The few tools provided by government are often ill suited to help many people.  Providing shelters won’t help people who value their independence and freedom.  Providing free housing won’t help people who can’t pass the drug tests.  Even something as simple as handing out free food to the homeless can be rebuffed because they’ve learned to distrust such largesse.

    There are are crazy Catch-22 situations that people trying to claw their way back up run into.  You can’t get a job without a permanent address.  You can’t get a place to stay without an income.  You can’t make it to work without transportation.  You can’t get transportation without some money.   And on and on.  Obviously people in that situation need a leg up, but backing them will often fail, so some amount of failure has to be factored in.

    • #21
  22. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Roderic (View Comment):

    There are are crazy Catch-22 situations that people trying to claw their way back up run into.  You can’t get a job without a permanent address.  You can’t get a place to stay without an income.  You can’t make it to work without transportation.  You can’t get transportation without some money.   And on and on.  Obviously people in that situation need a leg up, but backing them will often fail, so some amount of failure has to be factored in.

    Man, is that a true description of the situation for many poor people, one that most people don’t understand.

    I saw it over and over, in different variations, when I was doing charity work. It is much more common for men than for single women with children. (Nobody wants homeless males, not even the homeless shelters.)

    Example: One guy came in to our center and lacked the paperwork needed to become part of the bureaucratic machinery of modern Administrative State “charity”.  Technically, I wasn’t even supposed to help him, even though we were a church-run charity: he didn’t have a food stamp card to prove he was needy; he didn’t have an address in our “jurisdiction”.

    • He couldn’t apply for SNAP (food stamps) because he had no documentation.
    • He had no documentation because during a recent storm, his cardboard box full of paperwork had been soaked and ruined (he lived in a tent in the woods along the bike trail, where by the way his belongings were frequently stolen by other homeless people)
    • He didn’t have an address because he was living in a tent by the bike trail (perhaps it was in our supported municipalities, but he had no Duke Energy or Rent bill to prove it).

    On and on.

    • #22
  23. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Roderic (View Comment):
    There are are crazy Catch-22 situations that people trying to claw their way back up run into.  You can’t get a job without a permanent address.  You can’t get a place to stay without an income.  

    These are some of the issues the primary aid organization here in my town works on. As I noted earlier, the homeless in our town are not the sleeping on the sidewalk category (with a few exceptions). Most of them do have transportation, and many do want to work, but yes the lack of a residential address is a major roadblock. So, the organization does a lot of work to help those who are serious about work to get a regular address. 

    • #23
  24. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Roderic (View Comment):
    There are are crazy Catch-22 situations that people trying to claw their way back up run into. You can’t get a job without a permanent address. You can’t get a place to stay without an income.

    These are some of the issues the primary aid organization here in my town works on. As I noted earlier, the homeless in our town are not the sleeping on the sidewalk category (with a few exceptions). Most of them do have transportation, and many do want to work, but yes the lack of a residential address is a major roadblock. So, the organization does a lot of work to help those who are serious about work to get a regular address.

    Perhaps a program (I know, I know) that allows a license plate to qualify as an address when it appears at a post office. But I suppose there would have to be a fee and then why not have a PO box. 

    • #24
  25. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Are there no churches in your area that would help out this man?

    I have inside my brain the idea that churches help out the poor.

    I seem to remember this rebel kinda character who was a sore thorn in the society where he preached once saying something like “If you should do for the least of my brethren, you do for me.”

    The Lefty churches seem intent on the pronoun issue and the congregation washing the feet of some token African American as part of reparation.

    In Clearlake we have one minister who runs programs for the homeless in his neck of the county.

    It can be a difficult group to care for, due to mental illness aspects.

    Years ago, I had a friend who erected a storage shed/cabin kind of building, on abandoned property near his business. A local vet used the 14 by 10 foot place as his residence. This stabilized the man’s mental condition enough that he was holding down odd jobs, making friends and doing much better than if hitchhiking from place to place.

     

     

    Every church in town that has considered setting up a system for dealing with the sidewalk-sleeping homeless has stumbled over the reality that their numbers are extremely small (we think there’s fewer than ten of them most of the time), and they’re interested in help only a few times a year (usually a few nights in the winter when the temperatures get below freezing). The ones regularly in town seem to have found ways to cope. And the ones who occasionally find their way into town are so rare as to be almost impossible to have a system ready for them. There would be very little demand for an aid system for the sidewalk-sleeping homeless, yet it would take work to establish and to maintain such a system for such rare use. Hence the churches pool their resources for the community program organization that works with the vehicle-based homeless and the marginally housed.

    That is an excellent activity and must be providing a great deal of relief to the homeless in vehicles.

    Kudos to those making this happen.

     

    • #25
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