A reply to a Streetflips blog post about giving clothing sales profits directly to the homeless:
I just read about your blog post to tricking and handing out cash to the homeless. Its great to see someone influential raising awareness of and promoting charity for such a good cause.
I wanted to mention this, because years ago I used to give money directly to the homeless, and was advised against it being told ‘they rarely spend the money on food and shelter’. At the time, I thought this was a gross misjudgement, stuck to my guns and continued helping random people on the street. It made me feel good, therefore I was helping. Correct? No. I since learned that the advice given to me was from someone that worked for the Samaritans, and he was very educated on the subject.
10 yrs later and I am by no means an expert in this area, though I have read a number of books and reports on homelessness documented by the Audit Commission in the UK. Now clearly you’re not in the UK, but the study also covers the social and psychological causes behind Homelessness which is naturally a global issue.
One read of the book: ‘Stuart: a life backwards‘ by Alexander Masters and the quote ‘Homeless people aren’t homeless because they haven’t got a home, they’re homeless because there’s something extremely wrong going on in their head’ will stay with you forever.
If you consider the factors that creates homelessness:
1) Financial: Poverty, Unemployment, Mortgage/rent arrears
2) Health: Drug or alcohol misuse, Mental health problems, Poor physical health.
3) Social: Family breakdown (inc. domestic violence), sexual / physical abuse in childhood, Lack of social support networks, Leaving care, prison, or the armed forces.
4) Behavioural: Causing nuisance to neighbours, Antisocial behaviour, Offending behaviour, School exclusion and lack of qualifications
This all means there’s only a 1 in 4 chance that giving money will actually have any affect on the recipients lifestyle.
The Audit Commission study states that Local Authorities in England and Wales alone spend £313million on homelessness services for 81,000 documented people. I’m guessing proportionally the US will do the something similar? The point being, money clearly isn’t an issue in the lives of homelessness.
With this in mind, its reasonable to assume that most homeless people we come across on the street not only have shelter and accommodation to go to at night, but choose not to be housed for many various reasons. For 3 out of the 4 key factors stated above. Eg: they own a pet dog, but their accommodation doesn’t accept animals – therefore: homeless. Other examples might be persistent drug taking / dealing or violence towards other residents… All are perfectly adequate reasons to refuse entry or accommodation to a residence.
You also mentioned in your blog post about giving directly instead of ‘blindly throwing money into a bucket or envelope’. Whilst this direct giving is a great ‘feel good’ method. All it actually does is make ourselves feel better (just like I did 10yrs earlier) rather than actually helping the persons immediate situation (staying warm, keeping dry and eating) Giving to a charity ‘is’ the most responsible way to donate, as they ensure that money is spent on what the homeless need most (blankets, hot food etc) rather than leaving it up to the destitute themselves to have it and risk being robbed of it from another similarly destitute person.
In fact this ‘being robbed’ factor is the single most persuasive point for ‘not’ donating directly to a person on the street. Having a few bits of change is fine, but flashing around notes is likely to lead to an attack.
I don’t want this message to come across as patronising at all, because the sheer fact that you’ve have decided to support the cause in this way is much better than nothing being done at all, and also the fact that you’ve blogged about it, means a whole bunch of people that wouldn’t have normally thought about homeless people, probably now are, and its for that reason that I feel a balanced view on homelessness is worth adding to the discussion.
Please feel free to add, edit, amend or delete any or all of this response on your blog, its your space after all, I’m only adding it here so people can become more informed, and I will be cross posting it on my own blog anyway.
Keep up the good work, keep qwerting and I’ll keep visiting.
All the best – mark