Everything you never wanted to know about living on the street

Two years ago, I made a post on an internet forum about homelessness, offering to answer questions on the subject, given that the overwhelming majority of people on the forum (like the overwhelming majority of people in the real world) were fairly misinformed on the subject.

Much to my surprise, this thread quickly became very active and popular. People asked questions and instead of arguing, they paid attention to the answers. Leslie and Charles joined to talk about their experiences and field questions, and there was a surprising amount of press involved in the whole thing. (Several times over the next year, I would find threads and forums elsewhere where libertarians and other such creatures attempted to discredit my opinions and experiences.)

Countless people posted or messaged to say that they had gone out of their way to give money to a person they usually walk by, bought a street kid mittens and a meal, or volunteered at a soup kitchen. Posts by activists and advocates on the internet are a dime a dozen, but this one actually made a difference to a few cold and hungry people around the world. I didn’t think much about it when I started the thread, but by the end of it I was floored at the impact it had on people.

Every now and then, I’ll get an email or message out of the blue from someone who read the thread. Today is one of those days.

While wandering around in the forums, I stumbled upon a thread asking about homeless people. In this thread, someone linked to another one in the archives. I’m sure you know what I’m about to say; it was yours.

Now, if it had just been a good read, I wouldn’t bother you. Good threads aren’t hard to find. But your thread didn’t entertain me, it changed me. I know it sounds cheesy, like something you’d hear on an infomercial about a revolutionary abs machine, but it’s true.

I’ve taken the Montreal Subway for 5 years now, and I’ve always looked at the homeless people with, at best, disgust, and at worst, hatred. Even worse, I don’t know why. I guess I was convinced that being homeless was a result of laziness… Deep inside, I knew it wasn’t, but I didn’t care enough to look for another reason, so I convinced myself it was.

Your thread from 2005 really opened my eyes, and will definitely change the way I look at homeless people, and more importantly, act with them. I thought you deserved to know that I feel like you enlightened me, like I’m sure you did for a lot of people here.

Thank you for teaching things you don’t learn in school.

15 thoughts on “Everything you never wanted to know about living on the street

  1. It is so funny to me that you posted this today.
    I was just thinking about this.

    Well, okay, maybe that’s because I got back from TO last night.

    But still.

  2. I don’t think you ever heard this story. One day when the Pagan was busy one of the street kids (none of us saw him before or again) walked in and handed one of us a stack of JTHM, Lenore and Squee’s (at least a full run of each) telling us that the person who took them had been talked to and it would never never happend again.

    Too bad people do not see that side, they only see the bad ones.

  3. I think you’d have to be prepared to overcome some skepticism (everyone’s an internet detective these days), but if you can do that, then go for it.

  4. i meant to post this in my lj, but a lot of things i never seem to get around to posting:

    http://cityjournal.ca/v4/pages/resultats.php

    When I walk past a pandhandler downtown, I…
    Reader Poll November 22nd 2006
    Always give them change 0 %
    Give them change if they’re elderly, or physically disabled 0 %
    Give them change if they promise not to use it for alcohol/drugs 0 %
    Donate money directly to a homeless shelter 12 %
    Never give them change 88 %

    Granted, I doubt it is a random sample (not even sure how many ppl answered the poll), but it sure as hell made me depressed.

  5. …it also appears that there’s a word filter on the site in place to change all instances of fucking into loving. I am not nearly so flowery, I assure you.

  6. i’m really proud of that thread, all the work we put in to it…it’s fulfilling to know that there are people willing to open their minds and just listen, and hopefully learn, expand, enhance their realities.

  7. I did some volunteer work at a nonprofit that was helping people transition from homelessness, and one of the things I did for a while was help moderate a writing group there. It was pretty eye-opening to see the variety of reasons why people became homeless, and very few of them had to do with drug or alcohol abuse or rampant mental illness. In a lot of cases, I think it was denial of how bad things were getting for them financially and a deep unwillingness to ask other people for help because they came from a stiff-upper-lip, don’t-bother-the-neighbors kind of mentality (a mentality that also made it very difficult for them to negotiate the labyrinth of social services AFTER they became homeless, of course). I’m speaking now of people who had been comfortably middle class and either through divorce, chronic illness, unemployment or other misfortunes got very deeply into debt and ended up losing all their money and their homes. And of course, once they were in trouble, no one in their old circles wanted to help them.

    I think a lot about how close I could have been to homeless at various times if I hadn’t had family who were willing to help me cover rent when money was tight, etc.

    Excellent thread. Thanks for calling my attention to it.

    I’ve always though that one of the greatest things homeless people could use (besides, um, HOMES, duh) is a reliable and secure place to keep the belonging they do have and don’t need on a daily basis. Just trying to lug what they do have around with them seems to mark them as even greater pariahs (and is a pain in the ass when you’re trying to ride buses all over from one service to another), but shelters won’t provide storage.

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