Your Homeless: Do Poor People entrap themselves?

Shero Shields symbol of hope

There is a wild debate raging on whether or not the urban homeless are really worth supporting, they are such an eyesore, plus they harass people sometimes. Here is commentary from Your Homeless Blogger

Why homeless people become entrapped in the stereotype

Why poor people entrap themselves into a losing stereotype?

First, we want to thank community shelter programs such as N Street Village and Catholic Charities DC for helping ensure that homeless people can find a place to stay. Tonight it will be in the thirties for the first time in the D.C. metropolitan region and it’s heartbreaking to see that some people sleep outside on a park bench with only a blanket for cover.

Sheltering program savior 

There are people who actually come in from out of town to Franklin Park just to provide the overflow (those who couldn’t get into shelters) a nice hot breakfast. The volunteers are often ordinary people who drive in, serve hot coffee and maybe something like hotdogs. We all burn more calories quickly especially when the temperatures start to freeze.

Living at a shelter program, we are considered much more fortunate, even if it is only low-barrier. The categories come in low-barrier, transitional, permanent supportive housing, and vouchers. Low-barrier is entry-level for anyone that is coming in from the cold, and sometimes people stay in low-barrier for years. D.C. has set a goal of placing 4000 people in affordable housing in 2018, but the numbers are tied to area redevelopments that in turn are tied to the availability of low-cost bonds. 

But because of the Trump Administration, even tools for establishing low-cost bonds for affordable housing projects have been axed under the new federal tax bill. Next City reports how Washington, D.C., like many other cities across the country, is dealing with the housing crisis:

“D.C.’s Council recently approved a new $10 million affordable housing preservation fund, and not a moment too soon. The city lost around 1,000 units of subsidized housing between 2006 and 2014 and another 13,700 units have subsidies that are set to expire in 2020.”

Gentrification is a hot-button issue in many metropolitan areas, but at least our Mayor maintains her promises. Because there are people holding the government accountable, they must also update their lists of current affordable housing projects underway.

Tied to drug abuse history or worse

What makes it difficult for even the most liberal empathetic observers is how homeless people conduct themselves in public. Not all, but many exhibit deranged behaviors which are particularly troubling in communications. Some of this may have to do with their dishabille or their mental habitue. That is amplified by their homeless state, by their sense of insecurity, but also by their excitement when they compare themselves with others. 

In this blog, we described already how those of the rentier class aggravate the humiliations of the poor, but now we want to flip the perspective, how the poor operate to entrap themselves. This is not to say that the security guards and police are not also carrying out acts of intimidation—-they are. But it is also the case that the acts of a few ill-bred homeless people can stand out and breed more contempt by passersby. Passersby even draw faulty conclusions about race and poverty, when it has become a class divide: those who are gainfully employed (dollars) versus those employed but not as gainfully. 

The in-drifters from other parts of the country are setting up near places which are often important transition points. They set up a bed and stay there all day guarding their bedding, blearily conducting conversation with one another, and pan-handling.

Especially this is so because the D.C. has become known as a welcoming place, now certain areas have become homeless congregation points. Because of their mental incapacity, many homeless people literally just sit around all day. They may read the newspaper, watch some entertainment on YouTube, but otherwise they literally don’t seem to do much. 

Giving the shelter a bad reputation

In a conversation the other night overheard among some women at our shelter, they were wondering aloud why certain women, usually the bad-apples in the cart, stand around outside the shelter for hours at a time. It goes beyond just being outside to have a smoke or share some camaraderie. They pointed out some hidden need to negatively mark their turf. 

Why do they have to mark it off in a way that gives our shelter a poor reputation?

It’s a worrying thought when most reasonable liberals observe that incoming reactionaries (of which a predictable lot came with Trump) do try to upset the apple cart when they make known they don’t want said homeless shelter near their luxury apartment building. They have the power to attend neighborhood council meetings, file complaints, and make their views known. 

Don’t shelter residents know this? Can’t they connect the dots between poor behavior and consequences?

Sadly for the decent poor women at our shelter, disturbed residents just don’t give a sh*t. That is really their philosophy—and they call that street toughened—even street smarts—when the don’t give a sh*t manage to scare off, intimidate, delude, or otherwise manipulate someone into believing they are other than what they want from you at the moment.

Why they don’t give a sh*t

The loser-dialectic is similar to the learned-helplessness dialectic and runs along the lines of: 

“I can’t be helped no matter what you do, so let me just wallow in my helplessness.”

Most normal adults quickly grow out of any kind of learned-helplessness because they realize it is not just a crutch but an impediment if they want to become responsible people. However a good percentage of homeless people don’t outgrow their learned helplessness, and it even inflames into the loser-dialectic: 

“You can’t tell me what to do. I can disrespect you however I like, but you better not disrespect me. I will mess with you anytime I want to just for fun.”

Women don’t often display the loser-dialectic in public, but they will inside the shelter. Why? Because for a lot of women, home is their domain, their seat of power. And especially the dorm room, where many mind-games are played to establish “pecking order.” 

The most brutish women repeatedly bait, insult, deride, “dress-down” targets, and when the target reports, the gang will even use group denial, imply target was imagining things, or even counter-attack the advocate. (Advocates themselves can become targets for “breaking in” whether abuse or sistering).

Also certain women (and men) come to love shelters because of the voyeurism-exhibitionist possibilities. They love the idea of undressing and sitting around nude for others to see. 

The pecking order is usually arbitrary and even morphs, but it generally is done to test the system, to challenge authority, for entertainment, and to “break” vulnerable residents. We say it is arbitrary because the losers are not motivated by any kind of ideals, but often from ingrained psychological habitue. It doesn’t matter who the victim is except that they are seen as more vulnerable than the rest. The victim could be liberal, easy-going, working part-time in education, and except for residency at the shelter, even a well-adjusted person in society.

Or it could be someone who “they” observe who “farts too much, coughs without covering her mouth, sneezes too much, doesn’t bathe often enough.” Or it could be someone who “keeps to herself” and therefore doesn’t have enough allies to defend her. Whoever it is, they just try to keep at it, every day, no matter what measures are taken to smooth things over.

Institution treats the stereotype

Something any resident must get used to is the hardened jaded social worker. Someone who has bounced from one job to another in penal, hospital, group homes and such so much they, too, “no longer give a sh*t.” One’s impression when one encounters the institutional sergeant is exactly what they intend more or less:

“You better not tell me what to do. I can disrespect you however I like, but you better not disrespect me. I will mess with you anytime I want to just for fun.”

In other words, they are the mirror image of the “don’t give a sh*t” inmates or residents; they even aid and abet one another in their schemes, as one sees in movies like “Escape from Alcatraz.” So long as residents float along contentedly with the day programs, they get a free meal ticket and some positive strokes. Residents who are the targets of bullies, ironically, even become the targets of institutionalized social workers. 

Gratefully, N Street does know about their bullying problem by now. They can’t help but take action in an area which is churning out new social workers every semester, with some of the more hapless college students ending up having to live in the very same system. Social advocates and workers are encouraged to rotate floors and even shelters. Other methods are also being created to prevent too much bonding which can create favoritism, etc. 

But the bottom line is whether or not homeless people are really helped? Beyond food, housing, clothing, does their outlook and person change? The social worker perspective, much like Carl Rogers philosophy, is once the whole person or student is provided for, they are empowered to learn, change, grow.

Can’t change people from the outside

Maybe the bottom line is you can’t change people from the outside. Spiritual types such as Jains, are known to starve themselves in order to improve their potential for enlightenment. If you institute religion, mandatory courses, that the homeless residents must take there can be some improvement. It really depends on the individual and quality of the classroom.

For instance, at the low-barrier shelter, we used to have daily morning programs. To save money, they cut that out early in the summer. The results are not that much different. When the program was in place, at least a quarter of the women would attend at least one class. The class topic usually included communication, assertiveness, motivation, art, computer learning, etc. These are very basic classes because of the spectrum in abilities. 

Our observation was it seemed to help, but the positive improvement didn’t last. For many “street-hardened” types, these kinds of classes are like sugar-coating on a cough drop. It can help the taste of cough drop, the cough drop will help control the coughing, but the underlying problems are still there. 

Another analogy is the “don’t give a sh*t” who attends church, maybe even bible school. This gal genuinely embraces bible-learning, knows the readings, knows all the parables, has formed friends, and by all appearances has advanced in spirituality. Yet for the most part her behavior at the shelter is much the same. She is exhibitionist, voyeuristic, loud, meddlesome, and sides with other bullies often instinctively. For her part she believes that she has advanced reasoning skills because she reads a lot, talks a lot, learns a lot. Nevertheless her taste for gossip-mongering, her expression of prejudices, her scheming tendencies are very much embedded in her character permanently.

Its not that “don’t give a sh*t”will never change. One cannot fault her for not being “street smart” enough since she always knows where the next bazaar is going to be. She essentially loves where she is at, and she can commiserate with so many who also reinforce her worldview and prejudices and behavioral tendencies and high self-regard. 

High self-regard will be confuted for self-esteem

As long as a bevy of women can sit around and cite intelligently the details of Empire tv show they all share a high self-regard. This self-regard is founded upon the notion that they are empowered to act empowered by whatever means necessary. This includes embellishing their biographic details, obsessing over things loud and long, switching personas, etc.

Inside, although they know that should they actually challenge themselves, they have barriers to overcome. Separately, as they stand outside the shelter or hang around the neighborhood, they know they are not doing what other people are doing; they know that they may see their peers at the shelter working part-time or full-time, and feel jealous. 

But that is really the extent that they challenge themselves is to try to balance their feeling of jealousy by bullying vulnerable residents or the working resident if they decide it is convenient. The self-regard is stroked by assuming the responsibility for predicting outcomes in a t.v. show. Our society recognizes and rewards delusional self-regard, and no one is explaining where true self-esteem comes from anymore. You might even say that the national model for overcoming jealousy is by enacting whatever is necessary to remain first; therefore, beating up on minorities by other minorities is vicarious social-learning.

Put another way, “don’t give a sh*t” are satisfied knowing how to spell, define and characterize what self-esteem is, but are content to look the other way when it applies to themselves in a genuine way. Whether homeless people are just another manifestation or product of a society that is given to superficiality and exploitation is a topic for another day.

Photo: Artwork by day program artists symbolizing hope for Shero 2018 Fundraiser