Compassion seems to be the key to ending homelessness.  It’s the tipping point, as Malcolm Gladwell would say.   Get the general public compassionate about the homeless and good things will happen.   This works on the individual homeless person’s level, and it works on the shelter and homeless service provider level.

But here is the rub – Telling people the truth about homelessness doesn’t elicit much response in the way of compassion.   It’s only when stories are told that glamorize and romanticize and exaggerate homelessness, that the general public responds compassionately – when people begin donating to homeless service providers.

Here is a basic example.  Donations to homeless shelters increase when their advertisement includes a picture of a little homeless girl – more so than if the advertisement included a picture of a old homeless man.    This, despite the fact that old homeless men are by far the majority of the homeless and shelter population.

It bothers me when inaccurate stories are told about homelessness.   Such stories create the myths that become stumbling blocks to homeless people trying to leave homelessness.   But the core of the problem isn’t so much that people are not telling the truth.  The problem lies in the fact that the general public does not respond charitably towards the homeless when the truth about homelessness is told.  They do not give to meet the actual needs of the homeless, but instead respond to the best story told about homelessness, regardless of its accuracy.   That is why homeless shelters and homeless service providers now must hire Public Relations people.   Their job is to create the best stories, all so that service providers can compete for what few donations are available.  

Sadly, public relations people don’t come cheap.  The money being spent to hire them should really be going to the needs of the homeless.


About Kevin Barbieux

I have been diagnosed as being chronically homeless. I write about my experiences and opinions of being homeless


  1. Speaking as a homeless person, I would have to say that in the city where I am the shelters dont do very much to help anyone but the administrators of the shelter. If you are lucky you get 4 hours sleep per night while having to listen to a bunch of drug addicted volunteers tell you that you would not be there if you would just quit doing drugs and alcohol. Neither of which I do in the first place. Try to tell anyone that and they just call you a liar. If you dont do drugs then why are you homeless they ask.The main purpose of shelters in my experience is to keep the people that run them from having to get jobs working for someone else.


  2. @ begintowin, I really could not speak of the relationship between those two people without knowing them personally. You'd have to ask someone familiar with them, perhaps a worker at a nearby homeless shelter, or a police officer who regularly patrols the area.


  3. Thank you for this blog. Homelessness has always been on my radar…. such a complex issue. More people need to be aware of what happens in the world around them as it is far too easy to live in a bubble. I plan to share this blog with as many people as I can.


  4. I need your thoughts. We saw an old man on a wheelchair twice. We always want to buy him food or something, but we were scared because he was accompanied by a big, smoking cruel face guy. He always stares at us whenevr we want to approach the old man. The old man looks so fragile and his eyes looks so sad. Is it possible that this man is being used as a money bait by this scary guy? I mean, if we give the old man money then the scary guy take it? He is disabled. Maybe he can't ask for help, because I heard that police doesn't listen homeless voice. What should I do?


  5. Kevin, nice website. I just stumbled on it recently and am digging into it more and more. Nice comments as well, by everybody.

    I worked as an instructor for a homeless shelter for a little over three years. The services we provided were extensive, yet the public only thought of us as a shelter that provided beds and food. Our Career & Education Center, with classrooms and computers and a resource room, as small as it was, was an attempt to help our clients transition from homelessness to independence. Early last year, because donations have been consistantly down over last 10 years or so, the shelter made cutbacks, and several staff, including all the instructors except for one, were laid off.

    Homeless people are injured people. That is a hard fact that few people seem to understand. I really like what you have to say here, and i'm wondering if i can quote you on the blog i just started (about homelessness and prison and my life). Also, i'm wondering if i could make a link with your blog, which i've yet to do but i think i could figure out.

    My blog is Last year I'd originally intended on having a website for the homeless to share their stories, but when i left it fallow, i finally turned it into my blog not too long ago.

    Thank you Kevin, for what you do and for sharing your life with others. I'm now trying to do the same 🙂


  6. @Renee, I think shelters have an obligation to tell the general public about it's needs, and I think the general population has an obligation to their fellow man to respond to those needs until those needs are completely met. But neither of those things happen, and that's because the GP does not respond to the actual needs of shelters, and the homeless they take care of. These shelters are thus put in a position of having to stretch the truth, so to get more of the donations they need.

    As I have said before, homeless people are injured people. They are injured to an extent greater than they themselves are able to take care of. Homelessness is not like getting the flu, whereby you just get plenty of rest, take some anti-biotics, and drink plenty of liquids and wait it out. Becoming homelessness is more like being in a serious car accident where you suffer serious injuries, internal bleeding, a ruptured sleen, a broken back. These people need serious attention and dedicated help from smart caring people to help them heal and overcome their injuries. Would you really turn someone away from the hospital, someone with serious injuries, all because they were “at fault” for the accident that caused their injuries? Why then deny someone the help they need, so to get their life back on track, just because they made some mistakes in life which resulted in their becoming homeless?

    And yes, curing homelessness is no easy thing, and it can be expensive. The thing is, not curing homelessness is even more expensive.


  7. Interesting view point. Before I share my opinion, I’d like to inform you that I do support the homeless. I give what spare change I can to anyone I see that needs it. But, I don’t think it is the non-homeless’ responsibility to go and find these homeless shelters and people so they can help out. If an advertisement comes on TV, then that’s when someone becomes aware. People don’t and shouldn’t have to go look for people to donate their money to. Like I said, I donate what I can to the homeless people that make an effort, but, our donation doesn’t seem like it will ever be enough. A majority of America is struggling to support themselves and their families, so why would they give everything they have to someone they don’t know? If the homeless can’t advocate for themselves, I think public relations positions at shelters is a good thing. This will allow more people to see the need of the homeless and they will get more donations then they would without them.


  8. Sure if you juggle numbers just right. Imagine you have 10 homeless women and 100 homeless men staying in a shelter. But over a year's time you end up with 20 homeless women and 110 homeless men. Each group in actuality has only increased by 10 people. But… You could say, the population of homeless women has increase 100%, but the population of homeless men only increased 10% Yep, you better believe it, shelters and homeles service providers play such games with population numbers all for the sake of getting more donations. The fact is, people prefer a good story to the truth when it comes to homelessness. Compassion is easily manipulated, and the general population doesn't seem to care that they are being played. The worst part is that it leads people to believe the falsehoods, and to ignore the reality.


  9. That's interesting, because the tests that the homeless non-profit organization I work for have done on our advertising show a greater response when a photo of an old homeless man is used than when women and children photos are used. But it gets even more interesting because the fastest growing population in our city is women and children. There's just too much fighting for attention out there. It's hard to get any compassion when everyone is asking for it. Maybe our focus should be giving compassion instead of asking for it.


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