Wrong Messages

In reality, everything is complex, but that is not to say that things are so complicated that they cannot be understood for what they are.  It is just that something like homelessness cannot be understood in 160 characters or less.   Now we can debate the merits of encouraging citizens to not give money to beggars, there are good points to be made on both sides of that issue.   But, such debates are worthless when the basic concepts of homelessness are set askew.

Take for instance this photo:

This particular campaign has been tried in cities throughout the country, all with no effect on the amount of panhandling taking place. It remains as it always has.   The people who put on this campaign obviously are no experts on homelessness.  But, that doesn’t stop them from trying such things.

In most cities in the U.S., organizations have sprung up, all with titles similar to “The Downtown Partnership”.  They consist of business owners, developers, bankers, and others with a vested financial interest in the metro areas of their cities.   These “partnerships” use money they’ve raised to hire groups like “Block by Block” who provide services of “cleaning up” the neighborhood.   One such service has been to deal with the homeless.    It seems these partnerships hoped that Block by Block and others would make the homeless leave metro areas – and they certainly tried, but all to no avail.  It takes more than being rude to homeless people to make them “leave”.  These partnerships since learned that lesson, notwithstanding the harm they caused the homeless in the process.  Of course, these city “partnerships” could have just asked the people who work with the homeless, if such tactics were a good idea.  But, they had good reason to believe that true homeless experts would not tell them what they wanted to hear.  Signs like the above still remain.

So, what is wrong with that sign?   Lets look at the first line – “Panhandling Promotes Drug & Alcohol Abuse.”  The reality is panhandling does NOT promote drug and alcohol abuse, but the opposite is true.  Alcohol and drug abuse promotes panhandling. People do not panhandle unless they have a strong motivator such as the need to feed an addiction.  Knowing the actual cause and effect of a problem is key to overcoming it, and the above signage proves that whoever put up the sign doesn’t know what they are talking about, and are actually making things worse by promoting their own ignorance.   

The second line – “give help – not money” I actually don’t have a problem with this concept on it’s own.   For those who panhandle, a lack of money is not their problem, and so money is not the solution to their problem.  Their problem can be found in what they are doing with the money once received.    Know that when a person panhandles, he is in an area of town where food is usually not readily available for free and so sometimes they will take their panhandled proceeds and buy food with it.   But that doesn’t change the fact that they are panhandling to feed an addiction.   I have always said that, before people give to a panhandler, they should first take the time to get to know the person and determine what that person real needs, and then supply those things, bypassing the exchange of money altogether.

The third and last line is just as misleading as the first.  In the context of the rest of the sign, it implies that all homeless people are addicts.    It also implies that people should not get directly involved with homeless people and their rehabilitation from homelessness. It implies that people should leave all interaction with the homeless to “charities.”  And it also implies that charities are qualified to deal with homelessness. Again, the exact opposite is true.   If homeless people are going to overcome their homelessness, and all the other issues in their lives, they need people in their lives, people who care, people who will help.   They need community perhaps even more than people who don’t have such debilitating issues.   Regardless of what people might think, homelessness is not something a homeless person can overcome by him/herself.   Yet people do overcome homelessness all the time.  The average homeless experience is only 3 to 4 months in length, and they were able to overcome their homelessness because there were people who cared enough to lend a hand.

The real difficulty is with those who have become chronically homeless – they are the one’s who need help the most and are least likely to receive it.


About Kevin Barbieux

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