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By Sethuraman S
People can become homeless for no fault of their own but simply because there’s no safety net for vulnerable people.
Homeless people are often blamed for their plight when, in fact, it often reflects the failure of a system. As Robin Williams famously told the U.S. Senate, “You can’t keep picking people up, you have to stop them from falling.” A Reddit user said those with resources and wealth often misunderstand homeless people and the cause of their situations. They asked homeless people to share the knowledge they wished others knew about them. “People who’ve experienced homelessness, what do you wish more people understood about being homeless?” asked a Reddit user, and the replies were eye-opening. Many explained why homelessness is a vicious cycle and how those trying to get out of it are one small step away from being sucked back in. Here are some of the top replies we came across:
The reason why some homeless people can be seen talking to themselves because every day people treat you like some garbage on the sidewalk.
2. Can’t sleep
A good night’s sleep is a rarity.
3. Bad circumstances
Homelessness may not necessarily be due to drugs or bad decision-making. It may be just honest good folks who have found themselves in a string of bad circumstances in life. It does happen to such folks more often than you think.
4. Different levels of homelessness
First “level” is you don’t have a place of your own but have friends or family you can stay with little/no rent charges. This is usually temporary because you have a support system, and is because by something generally quick to fix (lost a job, house had a sudden flood, etc).
Second is you don’t have friends or family to help, but you have a car or cheap RV/fancy tent you can stay in. You can work to pay basic bills, use a gym membership for a shower, etc.
Third is the worst. No job, no car, no help at all. You might get lucky enough to stay in an empty lot or tent city for a while but there’s never consistency.
The thing to know is 1) because of the terrible economy, there’s more people at the first or second level, and 2) not having a physical address can make it damn near impossible to get your life together. Most job applications want a physical mailing address — not a PO BOX. Most places won’t hire you if your clothes have a few holes.
I’ve only been through levels 1 and 2, thankfully, but I know people who went through the third level. It’s hell.
5. That it can happen to anyone
There’s SOOO much truth in that short sentence. My ex and I were homeless in western Washington for about 3 years, sleeping in the rain and snow and always keeping a watchful eye open for people who want to steal/fuck you over in a heartbeat. Personally, I don’t believe addicts who live on the street streets can stay sober, my addiction went into full rampage mode while I was on the streets, I needed something to blunt me from my thoughts and the reality that I was facing day after day, being looked at as less than by others, having to steal food just to eat once a day, my list could easily go on. I just wish people would realize that homeless people are still human beings and not kick someone while they’re already down.
6. Material possessions matter
Losing all the material possessions was the worst part for me. On the one hand, it’s just stuff. On the other, it’s stuff that represents your memories, preferences, accomplishments, etc. Hell, even just knowing that you have enough to have things is significant. It’s demoralizing to know that everything you gain is likely to be lost, because when you no longer have enough to have things you become much more likely to lose what little you have.
7. It isn’t as simple as “just get a job”
Not having a permanent address makes it nearly impossible. Employers also know where the sh*tty neighborhoods that the effectively homeless often end up in or where the shelters are. The further down you go, the harder it is to get a job. If you’re from a neighborhood that people know is rough a lot of places will just bin your application. The places that do intentionally hire from the bottom do so as they know they can exploit you pretty badly in that situation. Places that work with special programs that offer jobs to ex-cons are actually the absolute worst for this.
Poverty and homelessness also come with a certain amount of inertia. You need to get your hands on things like presentable clothes, savings, a functional car, and so forth to really get back on track. This can take months or years. This is one reason that being among level one (called “effectively homeless”) even itself can be difficult to escape. Climbing up from that far down is hard. Not just is it hard but it can put people in situations that are actually completely impossible. If your solution involves the word “just” then you don’t get it.
8. The toll it takes on your mind
Everyone knows that the mentally ill are more likely to end up homeless but few people seem to know that being homeless will make you mentally ill.
9. Once you give someone money, it’s not your money anymore
We can spend it however we want. I was a kid when I was homeless and I remember being cussed out because I used the money to watch a movie and eat popcorn by the guy that gave me it because ‘it was meant for food’ in the lobby. Also. There are a lot more homeless children and teens out there that most would never notice because they couchsurf with families that “take them in” for a bit and the system in place to take care of children is a massive joke.
10. Gotta make hard choices every day
You only have 2 dollars in your pocket. Do I gas up or buy food? Gas gives me one more day of not being arrested by police for parking anywhere. I haven’t eaten breakfast and lunch, but a churchmate promised to treat me to dinner, so gas.
11. Don’t complain if someone uses the restroom to clean up
Don’t make comments or complain if you see a person using the restroom at a business to clean up, resting on public transit, or sitting in a corner charging their phone. Many shelters won’t allow people to rest during daylight hours and they often don’t have a safe place to go.
12. Don’t take necessities for granted
When you’re homeless, you are without so much that others take for granted: clean, running water; sewer services; cover for the weather; food source; bathing; privacy; safety.
13. Hot as hell
Seriously though. Being stuck out at night, in super hot climates, with no way to cool down really messes with you…hard.
14. Programs to help pets of homeless people
We need programs to help people in housing crises find temporary placement for their pets. Being torn away from them and not knowing if they’re safe is one of the worst feelings.
15. Being homeless is expensive as f*ck
You have no fridge or stove so you can only buy stuff that’s ready to eat, three times a day. If you want stuff that’s nutritious, that’s even more expensive. You can’t buy stuff on offer for later because you have nowhere to keep it. You can’t bulk buy cheap stuff because you have nowhere to put it. You can’t carry or wash cutlery or crockery so you buy disposable stuff constantly. Staying in a place for one night costs way more per night than rent.
16. Being hungry changes how you think
A lot of people who believe they would always stick by their morals have never been truly desperate.
17. Empathy is everything
The difference between sympathy and empathy, and what absolute abandonment feels like. Sympathy is as useful as thoughts and prayers. Empathy is looking them in the eye and understanding that our only difference is luck.
18. It isn’t always our fault we are homeless
Some of us were kicked out by family, some of us were affected by bankruptcy and not being able to land a job, some of us were never taught how to fend for ourselves in the real world. It really does feel like the world is against you at times.
19. Out of your control
All that stuff you have — your job, home, boy/girlfriend, pets, car — all of it’s just a bad day away from going up in smoke. The average American doesn’t have any savings, and if you lose your job it only takes a few missed rent payments before you’re in trouble. And it might be totally out of your control. Maybe you screwed up some major life decisions, like the classic image of being homeless, or maybe some coked-up douchebag bankers on Wall Street just crashed the economy again. It’s not always poor decisions that lead to the streets.
20. The constant harassment by the police and non-homeless people
I was homeless level 2 for a year. I was constantly having to move. I’m clean, worked 2 jobs, and was only in my car at night to sleep. But it didn’t matter, non-homeless people were the worse to me.