The following is a letter I just received. The author asked to remain anonymous.
There is a homeless man that I regularly see in front of one of the grocery stores I go to, and also on one of the buses I ride. He didn’t seem like someone who would be dangerous to interact with like others I have seen, and I wanted to help him. So one day, I got a can of Campbell’s Chunky soup at the grocery store and offered it to him as I walked out. He refused it, so I asked how I else could help. He first asked for money (I didn’t have small enough cash to give) and then a gift card for movie tickets. That kind of threw me off because gift cards only come in amounts that I’m not willing to give so quickly, and I was not sure if he wanted to go with me or alone. It got awkward because of my confusion, and he said he wasn’t hungry and he didn’t need anything. There were awkward silences and he didn’t seem to trust me because he asked if someone told me to do this. I said goodbye to him and said that he could ask me for help if needed.
The next time I went, I said hello to him and he actually had a conversation with me this time. He told me more about himself, that his mom died when he was a teenager and he has adoptive parents who are not financially (nor probably otherwise) supportive of him. He said he went to college and was at one point making $45 an hour, and he can do things like fix cars and other handiwork. But he can’t get a job and transportation is expensive. I did my shopping and came out with a $5 bill and handed it to him. He gave me a hug and seemed very thankful and appreciative. He asked what he should do and what I would do if I were him, so I said $5 is enough to buy a bus pass for the entire day so that he can go whereever he wants and look for help. I suggested some shelters downtown and if he wanted, I could look up their addresses on my smart phone and write them down for him, but he said no thanks. I said that I would think about letting him stay with me but I also live with two other people being a student, so I couldn’t just offer that to him. I said that he can always ask me for help, and not to feel like he is being a burden to me because I really do want to help. So I left saying good luck and see you later.
It seems to me that this guy is not addicted to anything and he could get back on his feet if he just had the resources. I have the feeling that he keeps refusing help I’m offering him (writing down addresses and locations of shelters, looking up any information he would like) because he feels he doesn’t deserve it or he is scared or unmotivated to take chances anymore. How do you think I could best help this homeless guy? I am thinking maybe one day I can go to one or some of the shelters with him so that he isn’t alone and has me to help him find other options if there is a problem, but I am not so sure he would agree with that, in which case I would have to convince him. I made it clear to him that I want to help him get out of his situation, and I don’t think he has the strength to do it himself. What do you think? Do you know if a shelter is really the best place for him to go to? I want to avoid ones that are faith-based because he once expressed dislike of ministries. Ideally the place I’d like for him to go is somewhere he will be able to stay a while to get proper treatment and/or encouragement and help him find a job (actually changing his situation and not just giving him food and supplies). Any advice would be appreciated.
This kind of homeless person lives with a great deal of internal emotional pain, more pain than he knows how to deal with. and living the particular way he does is the only way he knows to avoid and/or relieve that pain. Any attempt at changing his circumstances would, in his mind, put him at risk of reviving or re-engaging that pain. it would take a great deal of time and effort on someone’s part to get him to a point where he’d feel safe enough to face that pain. I’m talking years worth of constant effort. For now, the best you could do would be to befriend him and help him out with his basic needs, so to gain his trust. (movies are a great escape from real life). More than likely, given the description you provided, it will take years for this person to begin making a transition to a better way of life. Also, I strongly suggest not allowing this person into your home as his emotional and street survival mode will most likely over-ride his sense of right and wrong, and most likely he will eventually steal from you or become destructive towards your things or person.
Something I should clarify too. Part of the survival mode of homeless people is knowing how to present yourself in a way that makes people want to help you, at least with things like food and clothing and money. You learn how to tell people what they want to hear. And this talk and attitude does get people thinking that all the particular homeless person needs is a little help in the right direction. The reality is that when a person has gone so far as to become homeless as a means of dealing with their problems, his/her problems are deep and hidden, even from the homeless person. Solutions will not be easy to come by.