Dear Barb—Home is where the Heart Is

Dear Barb:

I was out with some friends recently and we were confronted by a homeless man asking for money. My first reaction was to search for some change in my purse but my friend’s husband had a totally different reaction. He told the man, rather aggressively, “Go get a job and work like the rest of us.”  The man didn’t react, he just turned away. He was clearly not well, and struggling. His clothes were torn and dirty and he was in need of a shave and a shower.  My friend then asked why I would give someone like that money. Saying I was just contributing to the homeless problem and that as long as people keep giving them money, they will never go to work.  I am not a confrontational person but I couldn’t let this go. I told him I did not believe someone would actually choose to live like that unless they were suffering from a mental illness or other serious condition.  My friend said I was just sticking my head in the sand and choosing not to see the reality that some people just don’t want to work. The rest of the evening was tense, to say the least and we haven’t gotten together since. Maybe I should have said nothing and at least we would still be friends. I’m just not sure what would have been the best reaction in that situation. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks, Tina.

Hi Tina:

Homelessness is an important issue in our society and there are many causes for it. Being poor is the strongest precipitator for becoming homeless. If a person is living pay cheque to pay cheque and something happens where they become ill and are not able to work for a while, or get laid off from their job, they could end up homeless. Also, mental illness and substance abuse are strong predictors for homelessness.  Prior to the 1960s those suffering from mental illness were kept in hospitals and institutions where their medication was monitored and they were cared for.  A movement to deinstitutionalize these individuals caused many of them to became homeless. Often these people stop taking their medication and are not able to manage their lives, or get taken advantage of by others. As a result, they begin begging on the streets. Undoubtedly there are people who are perfectly capable of working but choose this lifestyle, but they are the exception. I agree with you that most people would not choose this lifestyle. I commend you for not judging these people and putting them into a category that you really are not sure they fit into.  You followed your heart and that can never lead you in the wrong direction.  If your friend or her husband don’t want to have a relationship with you because you see the world differently than them, do you really want to have them as friends? Thanks for writing Tina.

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