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Thu Sep 5, 2019, 09:17 AM

Invisible People Report - Why Homeless People Choose the Street Over Shelters

Twelve books into Homer’s Odyssey, the unfortunate protagonist Odysseus and his men must navigate the straits between Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla is a six-headed monster who, when ships pass, swallows one sailor for each head. Charybdis is an enormous whirlpool that threatens to swallow the entire ship. As he and his men keep their ship far from the whirlpool, the heads of Scylla swoop down and decapitate six of the sailors.

Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place! Ancient Greek mythology is so charming. Homer’s Odyssey and homelessness have precious little in common. So, when there is crossover, it deserves contemplation. Neither obstacle that lay ahead of Odysseus was a particularly good one. A classic lose-lose scenario that ended up costing lives.

Homeless people often face the same lose-lose dilemma when choosing between life in shelters or on the street. What should be an obvious choice is becoming increasingly difficult, and many are opting for the latter. What factors are at play here? How can shelter usage improve?

Safety First – Realities and Perceptions
As an example of the extremes that homeless people are willing to take to avoid shelters, consider Toronto, Canada. With winter temperatures frequently dipping below zero, the decision to stay outdoors would seem unjustifiable. However, that’s exactly what Barb and her partner decided to do. “It’s safer out here. There’s no bugs. No one’s going to beat you up or steal your s***.” Their tentmate agreed, citing an additional reason. “I can leave my stuff here when I go work and know it won’t be stolen.”


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Response to Lady Freedom Returns (Original post)

Thu Sep 5, 2019, 09:36 AM

1. WowSomthing people do not understand

Great article.

Every single homeless person has a story to tell. I've had the opportunity to hear some of their stories and it's always jolting how normal their lives were until something happened that led them to not having anymore options. I don't think people in this country realize it can happen to them until it happens to them.

You might have been closer to homelessness than you realized. I know there were times in my life that if I didn't have family to fall back on I would have run out of options. Some people don't have family to fall back on, and just like that you can be out on the street. And once there, it's a long climb back out and there is not enough help.

What would you do if you lost your job, exhausted your savings, and then suddenly got evicted? What if friends and family couldn't help? Where would you go? How would you get back on your feet? Would you live in your car? What if it got repossessed? How would you get a bank account with no address? Where would you shower for a job interview?

I encourage people to volunteer in places where they get to interact with the needy, it's life changing how you will see yourself in each of them. I've met ex teachers, die makers, electricians, and lawyers who were homeless. It can all change pretty fast for people.

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Response to Lady Freedom Returns (Original post)

Thu Sep 5, 2019, 09:52 AM

2. I was homeless for a short period of time in the late 80's in L.A.

I learned quickly to avoid the shelters.

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Response to Lady Freedom Returns (Original post)

Thu Sep 5, 2019, 10:11 AM

3. I worked at a Salvation Army homeless shelter before I retired 6 years ago.

In my Wisconsin city of 50,000 if you're homeless you're not looking to stay outside in our brutal winters. But people were not getting beat up or things stolen here.
In better weather, many did not like to stay at the shelter because there were rules, reasonable rules, but there were those who just did not like being told what they could or could not do.

Many are homeless because they had burned all their bridges for places to stay--no relative or friends where they could crash.
In my city many would be surprised at how many children are in homeless shelters and attend the schools. During the school year a couple of buses would stop at the shelter in the morning to pick up the kids and take them to their schools.

The number one thing the homeless need first are homes, a place of their own, that address which proves to the world that they belong somewhere.
My city made an effort to first find the homeless apartments and then address other issues. It worked well for some but others could not make it because it came with rules and expectations and they didn't like that.

At my Salvation Army shelter, children were treated like gold. If you had kids you were expected to be with them or not leave them unattended. Also, there was no hitting allowed, so no spanking.

But all in all I found the homeless to be very respectful of me and I'd never been called "sir" so many times in my life. They were always asking me for something to do or if they could help in any way, and I was the janitor.

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Response to elocs (Reply #3)

Thu Sep 5, 2019, 10:35 AM

5. Your last line is why I prefer my homeless patients over my mainstream patients.

Since people really are all more alike than they are different, homelessness doesn't necessarily confer sainthood upon a person. I have nearly as many cranky, bad-tempered, and unpleasant homeless patients as I do mainstream ones.

But on balance, my homeless patients are much more rewarding to serve, and I'm not ashamed to say I love most of them. When I have a new homeless patient come in, and they're nervous, deferential, and incredibly polite, as if someone will take away their healthcare if they aren't, it breaks my heart a little, and I don't feel worthy of their trust.

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Response to Lady Freedom Returns (Original post)

Thu Sep 5, 2019, 10:25 AM

4. I've known a couple of homeless guys in my little town.

They drank too much and did whatever drugs they could get.
The shelters won't take people who are inebriated.
So they chose the street so they could drink.

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Response to Lady Freedom Returns (Original post)

Thu Sep 5, 2019, 10:35 AM

6. As with everything else in this world

It's an exceedingly complicated situation, complicated further by the unwillingness of our political leaders and community (largely) to actually critically examine the situation and work harder on coming up with better and more humane solutions. Some kind of housing should be a basic right for everybody who wants it.

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Response to Lady Freedom Returns (Original post)

Thu Sep 5, 2019, 10:36 AM

7. This is an excellent article and gets to the heart of why some people think the homeless 'choose'

to be that way.

In most cases, they're simply exercising the only available choices under the umbrella of homelessness.

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Response to Lady Freedom Returns (Original post)

Thu Sep 5, 2019, 10:38 AM

8. I have to agree about shelters.

I prefer to brave the winters in a tent than deal with the problems in shelters. I mean, I am glad they are their for people, but when you have stayed in one, the reason people avoid them is obvious.

When you are older though, it can be very taxing and uncomfortable sleeping outside.

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Response to Lady Freedom Returns (Original post)

Thu Sep 5, 2019, 10:41 AM

9. I think lumping all honeless people as one homogeneous group is unfair

There are various sub-groups which are vastly different. There are people and families fallen on financially hard times. There are drug addicts. There are mentally ill. There are people who love to be street urchins. They all have different needs and desires.

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