July 22, 2005

Security Nets and other things

I ducked out of a conversation here at work yesterday, mostly because of the insane possibilities for argument and I wasn't in the mood. Also because I know the person who started it, and from what I've seen their view of the world comes only from the big tv stations, newspapers and gossip. She tried telling us this: Homeless people choose to be homeless. Ok in my opinion blanket statements like this should be grabbed, strangled, stomped on a couple times and then thrown in the deepest pit you can find, because they just don't belong in a forward thinking society. Upon this statemtent I merely said "I'll just sit here drinking my coffee, I'm not getting into this", and luckily the "discussion" ended not long after that. As I was driving home I thought more about it and came up with some thoughts I had to post, to get them out of my head.

From my perception, albeit limited to my experience and knowledge, homelessness comes from a variety of beginnings:

  • Poor family, bad neighborhood, parents die, no support group
  • Abuse in the family (sexual or mental), runaway
  • Psychological problems or substance abuse, no support group
  • Financial trauma, loss of income and housing

If I've missed something out please let me know.

The instigator of the "discussion"s one argument was that there are so many social programs available for people that they have no reason to stay on the street, that they can get help if they want it. Ok yes, there are many social programs, and yes, they could probably pull themselves out of the gutter in say the 4th instance I listed, where they had recent memories of things being better. But when you were born to poverty, abuse and/or depression, there's apparently a big chance that you also will continue that poverty, abuse and/or depression unless something happens or you are smart/willful/hopeful enough to make something of yourself.

I read once in the Scientific American (ok, now I can't find a free link to the article) that extended sadness, where there is nothing that relieves misery, no good things happen, can actually change the makeup of the brains chemistry and create clinical depression where there was none. I truly believe this because before my little guy arrived I'm absolutely sure my world would have taken the down road to depression. When you continually perceive that nothing matters, that nothing will make it better, and that you really don't deserve better, you're view of this world is a flip-flop of what a "contributing" member of society is. I'm sure I could have found help, but I truthfully didn't think it was worth it. I'm lucky that I have a wonderful family, and I had that to fall back on during difficult times, others are not so lucky.

It's so easy to make snap judgements when you grew up with sane parents in a "normal" family where you went to school without the constant worry of going home to find no one or constant fighting or the threat of violence. Those of us who are the lucky ones take for granted that we always had food, and clothing, and a hug from a parent when we were sad. I thank God every day for my parents and they way they brought me up; we never had excess but we always had enough.

Posted by Oorgo at July 22, 2005 12:43 PM Permalink - Category: Best of Me | TrackBack

"Ok yes, there are many social programs, and yes, they could probably pull themselves out of the gutter in say the 4th instance I listed, where they had recent memories of things being better."

Ok no. "social programs" where a person living in a box can get a job, a home, food, support... I don't think it's that easy. If it is, you should punch her in the face for not being out there telling all the homeless people about these magical programs.

Posted by: jaime at July 22, 2005 03:16 PM

This is a great topic. Here in Norway things are much different.. This "welfare state" as some repubs like to call it, is very generous. It helps to have only 5 million people and 50 BILLION in oil revenue every year too. But they they believe everyone deserves a certain standard for living. EVERYONE. You should only pay a certain percent of your income for housing... they help with the rest. I think it is around 20%. That includes mortages too. The same goes for almost everything else.

So one day I asked a native Norwegian about the system. I asked, "What about people who abuse the system?" He replied, "No matter what it is people some people will abuse and misuse it. We factor that in and believe it's worth it. There are a far greater number of people who don't abuse it." I liked that.

My neighbor had a serious childhood trauma.. He, often, is paralyzed when being around too many people. He's on permanant disability, can buy a house and lives a very modest, but ebjoyable life. I suppose it's all how you look at it.

In the US we look down on people with problems. It's weakness..

Posted by: Dr Pants at July 22, 2005 05:10 PM

That lady was right - about a very small percentage of the homeless. There are some that choose to live that way.

Dr Pants, I so disagree with the European way. In the US, individuals decide how their money will be spent, and that includes charitable contributions which run to the billions of dollars per year. In Europe, the government taxes you and then they decide how to spend your money. I much prefer the American model.

You said "I suppose it's all how you look at it", and that's precicely correct. But that doesn't mean either side is wrong either, just different.

Posted by: Ted at July 23, 2005 12:43 PM

I don't know how many people actually choose homelessness. The word alone implies that they would like a home but can't. People may choose not to live in a particular type of home that the government so generously offers because the conditions are so abhorrent that living is dangerous. (I'm including people as homeless who are not living in the streets but either in shelters or jumping from one home to another.)

I like the system in Norway frankly, better than in the US and similarly run situations. Of course there will be abuse, there is always abuse of any system (and the wealthy can abuse the system on their behalf as well as the poor.)

I think the problem is poverty is considered in some people's minds as a failing of the person. The idea that everyone who wants to do well can is a myth that exists in the USA. It is however just a myth.

Wish I did know what a real solution would be.

Posted by: Rachel Ann at July 25, 2005 10:52 AM

Rachel Ann, believe it or not, the news had an item about a guy who was by choice homeless. He lived out of his car camping at the beach, and made his living by freelance writing, working at the library (free internet). He had a nice car, good clothes, cell phone, ate at nice restaurants, etc. He decided that paying rent wasn't a good use of his income.

I live in the DC area, and it seems like every year some known homeless person dies and it turns out that they had a big bank account. Maybe those cases it's a mental problem, but there have been folks who visited their family at home once every week or two to shower and do laundry, then head right back out to the street.

"The idea that everyone who wants to do well can is a myth that exists in the USA."

Nobody promises that "everyone will do well". The words are "pursuit of happiness". No garauntees. At the same time, everyone has the opportunity to do well if they work hard and have a little luck. That's the difference right there. In Europe you're promised a minimum, but not much more, in the US you're not given the same universal safety net, but there is no artificial class barrier.

It's a difficult problem with no easy answers, for sure.

Posted by: Ted at July 25, 2005 06:00 PM

Ted I think those reported instances are few and far between, our media likes to report on people like this because it makes good reading, and helps reinforce the myth. People love to hear about the rich guy who has given up his worldly anchors to become a hobo, or the mythical woman who makes more money than you do living off welfare.

I want to know who would pick sleeping on the cold hard ground under a cardboard ceiling, frostbitten hands trying to warm up over a grate/burning trash can over sleeping on a soft bed in warm dry sheets and turning on the tap to get a drink of clean water.

Posted by: Oorgo at July 25, 2005 06:38 PM

I didn't say they were common, but they do actually exist. I also said that they many of them may have mental problems.

And as for the guy living from his car, the news show slanted the story to make it sound like he had no choice about it. It wasn't until the very end when they mentioned his decision to do that, up until that point, it was "feel sorry for the homeless guy".

I'm not unfeeling towards the homeless, but every time someone wants the government to do something, it means that they want to take away my money to do it. Taxes go up, voluntary charitable contributions go down. Every time.

Posted by: Ted at July 26, 2005 10:04 AM
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