THE BLOG

When Desperate Times Turn Into Desperate People

08/09/2012 06:45 pm ET | Updated Oct 09, 2012

I run into situations all the time where a family or person in crises gets an ugly awakening when they find out they can't get immediate help to keep them from losing their housing and ending up homeless. They often end up taking a nosedive into depression, anger and eventually hopelessness but on the other side, many service providers feel helpless because it isn't their fault they no longer have funding to really help people stay off the streets. Add to this the fact that many programs spend more on administrative costs than they do on homeless people and the problem gets deeper and more entrenched.

I've also noticed is that a lot of people that run programs have no clue about what homelessness is like in real time and the problem with that is they often make policy decisions based off everything they don't know! Using data from yesteryear doesn't reflect what's going on RIGHT NOW! Homeless people don't have the luxury of being disconnected from the hardships that come with not having permanent housing and many of them have serious or life threatening conditions that may prevent them from seeing their name finally come up on an indefinite waiting list for housing.

Here's another thing I've been an eye witness to; fraud. I'm not talking about homeless people committing fraud out of desperation to get out of homelessness; I'm talking about parasites that prey on desperate people to take advantage of what little resources they may have then discarding them once those resources are no longer available. How many times have you seen or heard of stories where somebody somewhere got busted for stealing somebody else's social security checks, food stamps or other resources just to pay for their own expenses under the guise of being a legitimate program?

Because of what I see every day I am always amazed when I run into people who, even after all the facts have been presented, still choose to be judgmental and apathetic towards other people as if they are insulated by current trends. No one is insulated from poverty because in one form or another, it will affect you. You can't assume that just because you have what I call "suspension support" that everybody else does too. Suspension support is all those things that keep you from sinking further into hopelessness. For instance, a single parent having affordable childcare or someone to watch the kids while at work without having to pay can mean the difference on making rent or sleeping out of a car every night. It can also determine whether or not there's enough food at the end of a pay period or going without a medication. Having a bus pass means being able to keep getting to a job or keeping up with doctor's appointments. For a lot of vets and single adults I've seen living out of their vehicles, having gas means they can move around and not get towed for being parked in one place too long since, you know, they have nowhere to go?

If you think it's tough for adults out here, imagine what it's like for unaccompanied homeless youth. Bus passes means they can get to a church feed because they may not be old enough to get food stamps or apply for help at a local food bank because there's an age requirement to be considered eligible for help. If they are still in school, they can make it to classes and many have part-time jobs to boot! In the winter, riding buses all night keeps them from dying of hypothermia in a back alley or on a sidewalk. Rather than continuing to live a homeless life with no hope, many youth (and adults) choose suicide as the only way out available to them. I still have nightmares about the man I saw step in front of a train last winter. The year before that, a homeless old timer chose to do the same. Every time I visit a homeless camp no one visits, I often wonder if the person I'm checking on will still be alive when I get there.

As budgets get stripped down to nothing and programs simply evaporate in the shadow of elusive living wage jobs, don't be surprised at what people will do out of desperation.