2/14/2010

Homeless Shelters. Why won't the people come?

Finally there a blogger who understands the intricacies of working with people who are homeless! His article is linked below. You'll want to take a minute to read it.

It's not that homeless people don't want help (well some don't but that's a different blog article) but they need help that works. This means we have to listen and understand before riding in on our white horses.

People who are homeless are just like you and me. The only difference is that they don't have homes. We decide what we think they need and expect them to act accordingly. They try to tell us what they need. We walk away. It's like people who say "if you need help you can't get it". Sadly, this is often true. That's because we decide who needs help and who doesn't. We set up structures and rules and we expect everyone to understand them.

I helped at a food pantry in North Carolina one time. The organization also had a homeless shelter attached to it. Proper recordkeeping demanded that we fill out a card on every client. A volunteer adamantly thought that each person picking up a pantry bag should show ID and give us an address. In her mind, if someone didn't want to give this information they didn't need the food. If they could afford a cell phone they certainly didn't need a food pantry bag.

In reality she didn't understand the people she was trying to help.

Homeless people often don't have ID. They may have a cell phone - or even a camera phone - but that doesn't mean that there are minutes on it. It also doesn't mean that they are the ones paying the bill. Wouldn't you give your homeless relative a phone if you could? Most people would say yes.

Sometimes helping means thinking outside the box. A homeless couple stayed with us for a while. He had the possibility of a job. An interview had been scheduled and he was excited. He had also not had a bath in awhile. I asked what he needed to prepare for the interview. He asked me for $5. My board member got mad when I gave him the cash. The morning of his interview he went to a truck stop and bought a shower. Guess what? He got the job and isn't homeless anymore. He also repaid the $5.

The blog below offers more insight on people who are homeless. I hope you take a moment and read it. The article is worth the time.

earthtalk: Why won't the homeless go to the shelters?

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1 comment:

  1. Yeah, more thinking outside the box and less stupidity and the world would be a better place. I read the article and regrettably understand it all too well. Then again I've spent more time homeless in my life than I like to think about, so I can relate on a personal level.

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