Welfare

The Tyranny of Shelter

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A homeless man explains why he prefers life on the streets to life in a shelter. Here's an excerpt, but you ought to read the whole thing:

1. Shelters usually require that you enter early in the eve and then remain there until early the next morn when you must leave. This can totally waste HOURs of otherwise possibly productive time, just sitting around in unpleasant to worse circumstances—and a time when EVERY resource, including time, must be marshalled.

2. The shelters I've been to are designed to try to keep alcoholics, drug addicts and criminals from being able to do those things. I don't do those things, so the preventative measures simply needlessly and oppressively impose upon my own adult freedoms. Like going around the corner for a coffee in a cafe and looking for work or some other way to earn money using the wifi.

3. Literally "imprisonment" with some of the worst people. This is a lousy way to spend evenings and is COUNTERproductive. Or worse….

On a loosely related note, let me recommend The Poorhouse, a slim but fascinating history by the sociologist David Wagner. As I've mentioned before, Wagner's book makes a compelling case that the modern homeless shelter is more draconian than the 19th century almshouses he studied.

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  1. Just finished up “Down and Out in Paris and London” by Orwell. Sounds like nothing has changed in 80+ years…

  2. Interesting post. Too bad the first comment is all kinds of stupid:

    I rent a condo and MANY other units near me are vacant, and have been vacant for months! Every time I walk past them I think it’s so sad that as a society we deny people the basic necessities of life because they have no $$$ to stay in those condos.

  3. Sounds a lot like being married.

  4. It’s always easy to be tough on people who can’t fight back (not physically that is].The very poor don’t have PACs or accounts with well connectedlobbying firms.
    Also Alcoholics, drug addicts, young people in trouble and any attempt to help them is considered to be soft on crime & therefore any public help has to be also seen as a punishment like extreme poverty is a crime. Since the 80s & 90s both parties federally & locally have made public assistance so hard to get & so easy to get thrown off just to discourage people.

  5. Go see Sheriff Andy at the Mayberry jail. You’ll like Otis, and the cell doors aren’t even locked.

  6. This can totally waste HOURs of otherwise possibly productive time,

    Apparently, not economically productive time, or he wouldn’t be homeless.

    1. rc dean can shut the fuck up, as he obviosly dosent know shit about homelessness.

  7. “As I’ve mentioned before, Wagner’s book makes a compelling case that the modern homeless shelter is more draconian than the 19th century almshouses he studied.”

    Fuck yeah. I have taken homeless kids to some truly discuting shelters as a last resort. I would personally not stay in one. There are better places to sleep.

  8. “It’s always easy to be tough on people who can’t fight back (not physically that is].The very poor don’t have PACs”

    The heck they don’t. I’ve had collegues lobby our state legislature on behalf of homeless youth.

  9. “disgusting” in 5:17 BTW

  10. Apparently, not economically productive time, or he wouldn’t be homeless.

    Right, i think this article is bullshit. I worked at a homeless shelter in college, and curfew was at 11:00 P.M., and no one missed curfew because they were looking for work. THey snuck out to the bars and such, but productive economic time, give me a break. There were rules, but i don’t remember thinking it too oppressive, and I’m one of those too nice types of people. I thought my coworker was mighty oppressive, but she was only a bitch. Clean your room, help do dishes, and turn your meds in was the extent of it. I didn’t have powers to frisk people or property.

    Before i forget, and im sure this is popular at shelters, but between certain hours you had to be gone looking for work or other productive activities, you couldn’t hang out all day, unless you were uber crazy and were waiting for crazy services.

    There are many who just prefer life on the streets or in the forest, i think this guy is one of them. I’m curious why this was posted, was your intent just to have a quick hit peace on social services. There are better things to criticize when it comes to that field than this flop.

    1. When was the last time you were in college? I am a productive, employed 25 year old woman. I made bad choices when I was younger that put me in homeless shelters and this was only a few years ago. They are not helpful in the fact that real issue is that people that really need and want help are not supplied those things that they Need! Shelters can be very oppressive. Unless you have been homeless and been in their shoes, it’s not really fair for you to comment on the enviornment unless you really know what you are talking about. I just want to make a note to their are some people that do choose to be homeless and would be content like that for the rest of their lives but their are also many who want help and don’t receive the right kind of help. Shelters are not really helpful in my opinion. All they do is give people rules and a roof for one night and kick them out the next day with nothing.

  11. “Apparently, not economically productive time, or he wouldn’t be homeless.”

    Spanging is economically productive. So is dumpster-diving and looking for cans.

    1. now,civil discourse knows his shit,been homeless for two years,and know how it is………never spanged tho.

  12. “””Every time I walk past them I think it’s so sad that as a society we deny people the basic necessities of life because they have no $$$ to stay in those condos.”””

    What basic necessitites? If that means a roof over your head and meal, the shelter system covers that for ya.

    The shelter systems here in New York has one basic mission. To get you into some sort of housing, and it succeeds for those who want to succeed. Most Long term stayers, greater than 9 months, have serious substance abuse, or mental problems so one could accurately say they are out of their mind. So it’s not surprising that those are the people you meet, and sleep next to, in a shelter.

    Here’s a look at homelessness in NYC

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8j4fENcIlvU

  13. “There are many who just prefer life on the streets or in the forest, i think this guy is one of them”

    Sounds very likely to me as well. But shelters are often wretched places. And because a man of simple leisure might be in need of one is no reason to kick the folks out at 6:00 am, which is pretty standard in my city.

  14. “Apparently, not economically productive time, or he wouldn’t be homeless.”

    I thought the same thing. I guess he could be talking about collecting jars of his own urine or constructing better and more effective tin foil hats to keep the voices out…

  15. He should try the day time shelters in the city.

    Also called the public library.

  16. Civil,

    6:00am, that’s just wrong. It was around ten in the morning at the one i worked at. THe homeless were in charge of cleaning certain parts of the shelter each day, but emergency shelters are gonna look like shit anyways. I would hope they had better donations in a bigger city, but that means scarier homeless too. I’d take rural over urban homeless anyday.

  17. Perhaps a solution would be private shelters that offer job networking, clean places to stay and a permanent address. Of course, these would be predicated on the sheltered’s willingness to repay the shelter with some of the wages he’s earning, but we can’t have TEH EVIL CAPITALISTS “economically coercing” the homeless, can we?

  18. “6:00am, that’s just wrong. It was around ten in the morning at the one i worked at. THe homeless were in charge of cleaning certain parts of the shelter each day, but emergency shelters are gonna look like shit anyways. I would hope they had better donations in a bigger city, but that means scarier homeless too. I’d take rural over urban homeless anyday.”

    Urban for me. Millions and millions in the metro area. And yes, some very scary people.

    I honestly had no idea there were rural shelters. I just figured the homeless migrated to major cities.

  19. Also Alcoholics, drug addicts, young people in trouble and any attempt to help them is considered to be soft on crime & therefore any public help has to be also seen as a punishment like extreme poverty is a crime. Since the 80s & 90s both parties federally & locally have made public assistance so hard to get & so easy to get thrown off just to discourage people.

    I’m guessing you haven’t worked with the poor much.

    Sorry, it’s way more complicated than that. Yes, services are limited, just like everything else is limited, including money. However, services are way more available than media talking points would have you believe. When I married a social worker, my mind reeled at just how much free shit every second was being handed out, and often rejected (or fucked up) by the very people being handed it: Literacy programs/job training/rehab/housing… the list goes on. My wife even had a homeless guy reject an apartment because it wasn’t a two bedroom. *pause for irony*

    But the people connecting the poor to services have to walk a very fine line. Part of the reason is that the person trying to find a shelter or housing for a person has to weigh many factors. The biggest one is that you don’t want to victimize other people in the shelter by placing criminals in amongst them.

    The mentally ill are constantly having their stuff and medications stolen from them while in shelters. Placing a man in a shelter where there might be women and kids? You’ve got another thing coming. So now counties and states have to create separate shelter systems. Seattle went as far as creating housing for chronic “public inebriates”.

    The 70 men and 5 women housed in the 1811 Eastlake property by King County have each failed attempts at sobriety six times or more; housing comes with no strings attached, such as a promise to stop drinking or attend AA meetings. “They woke me up in detox and told me they were going to move me in,” said Rodney Littlebear, 37. “When I got here, I said, ‘Oh boy, this don’t look like no treatment center.'”

    County officials say their intent is to save taxpayers money; they estimate that the annual costs of sheltering, jailing, and treating the city’s hard-core homeless alcoholics to be about $50,000 annually, while housing them at the Eastlake property costs $13,000 a year.

    Now, while my gut feeling tells me that all of the above is a really, really bad fucking idea, I can understand that public officials are tacitly admitting that some of these homeless folks are just fucking hopeless, and better give them a place to do this safely, off the street, than having them on your doorstep.

    But think of the other side of it. Imagine living across the street from this place.

  20. No I don’t work with the poor but I do know people in the system & grew up in public housing & welfare as a kid. trust me we did not have steak every night & a new Cadillac every year.
    A real problem is the cookie cutter system of dealing with the extreme poor. With some it’s as simple as getting a well paying job with benefits, some it’s addiction and/or mental health issues, then you got those who just want to ride the system as long as possible.
    A complicated issue that takes a new vision that I don’t see in any of the politicians other than warned over Social Darwinism.

  21. Yet another homeless dude that refuses to act the role that liberals have assigned him. No cookie for him!

  22. One thing remains consistant…there is a large segment of the general population that believes it is ok to talk disparagingly about the homeless. As much as society has advanced, especially with respect to minorities – people don’t say mean spirited things about blacks, or asians, or women – it still believes that it is ok to be predjudiced towards homeless people.

  23. Alright. I get to play the “poor libertarian almost-homeless asshole”- because that’s who I am.

    I am poor as hell, probably close to being homeless myself. Days away from no utilities, a day away from having no food, and who knows after that.

    The thing is..everything is due to my bad choices. I know some will say there are those who have “no choice.” I don’t care to debate that. I guess I kinda sympathize, since I am pretty much unemployable even though I am a good person, clean/clean-cut, no criminal record, hard working, etc.

    However, I don’t blame anyone else but myself. Even if I were “illegally evicted” as fucked up as things might be I SHOULD be in a position to just go find another place to live. I am not, but it’s my own fucking fault. No one forced me to not have savings or to max out my lines of credit or buy stupid shit and make risky decisions. I did it.

    These comments about how it’s a shame there are vacant apartments- well, and? If you care that much about vacant apartments and homeless, take some of your own goddamn money and rent some of those apartments for your homeless friends or let them stay with you. What’s that? Huh? Yeah, I thought so.

  24. John C,
    There is a world of difference between living in poverty because of your bad choices and being homeless…regardless of what you may think, homelessness, that is, chronic homelessness, is not what you find at the end of the poverty road. Sure, some people become homeless due purely for financial mis-management. But, once homeless, those people quickly find a way back out of homelessness, usually within 3 months.

    Lets not make a bigger mess of the homeless problem by trying to oversimplify its causes and effects.

  25. regardless of what you may think, homelessness, that is, chronic homelessness

    Well, goddamn, if everything isn’t fucking “chronic” these days.

  26. This is like the way public assistance recipients have to take “classes” that waste their time that could be used trying to find work.

  27. I like to think this guy’s productive time is spent engineering doomsday devices. Death rays and suchlike.

  28. You can never have too many doomsday devices.

  29. John C,

    Maybe you made your bed and you gotta sleep in it, but given that you did make your bed and that you are indeed sleeping in it, you don’t sound like an asshole to me.

  30. 1. So they make you sleep at night…

    2. Apparently this man thinks cafes and coffeehouses deal in alcohol and drugs…

    3. And only this argument can make sense. How about you just go to sleep instead of spending time with these people?

    If sleeping at night is counterproductive, when the hell DOES this man sleep??

  31. The full article raises some very important points about autonomy. Emergency housing programs often have rules driven more by management considerations than the needs of the clients. In my own agency, we do as much as possible to organize our rules and expectations around our clients’ needs. But we do have space considerations and because we mix singles and families in the same space, have to have fairly stringent entrance criteria.

    But ultimately, we are still just a 90 day shelter at the most. If our local housing markets could accommodate construction of smaller, cheaper units, then the housing needs of independent folks could be more easily met. Increasingly, housing design is doing more with small spaces to make them efficient and livable, not oppressive. Historically, impoverished people, if given the choice, would pay a small amount of money for privacy than take a shelter for free. Thanks to urban renewal, those cheap places don’t exist in most cities any more.

  32. This kid is heading off to buy a cup of store bought coffee before trundling off to spend more money on a wifi connection (when virtually every public library has computers for free use) and we’re supposed to what, feel badly that the homeless shelter he doesn’t want to stay isn’t up to his standards?

    And, we’re also supposed to think that today’s homeless shelters are worse places to be than the TB and plague filled alms houses of the 19th century, a time when this kid would have been grateful to find a fly swimming in his daily bowl of what passed for a daily soup meal back then?

    Did the kid trundle off for his store bought coffee with dirty rags serving as footwear, something that would have been the case for a poor kid in the 19th century, and something that is the case for poor kids today in many parts of the world that know true poverty?

    Give me a friggin bleeding heart break.

  33. This guy isn’t “homeless” in the comonly understood way. He is “jobless.” The cretins he describes are the chronically “homeless”:

    AKA

    addicted-to-benefits-of-non-workness.

    TO H*!! WITH THEM.

    1. you’re a douche bag!

  34. I don’t object to any of you helping these people. That’s great if that is your passion. I do object to being forced to give to your charities at the point of a gun.

  35. Tell them all to get a fucking job and move out of the shelter if they don’t like it.

  36. Perhaps a solution would be private shelters that offer…

    If you’re serious, why don’t you look into some of the programs offered by organizations in your area? Perhaps you could spend some time volunteering, attend some meetings, and make some suggestions. From my experience, your help and ideas would be genuinely appreciated.

  37. I can absolutely empathize why this guy would rather sleep on the street than stay in a shelter…I work right next to the pacific garden mission and to see the way that some of these people act sometimes i’m scared to be stopped in my car at that intersection. i’d be absolutely scared stiff to close my eyes sleeping in a room full of mentally ill, criminally insane, and otherwise extremely troubled people. Even though there are some really callous remarks from people out there, I still never wish that any hardship ever fall you and you have to see firsthand the suffering of homelessness. And after a night where this guy has had to choose between sleeping next to mac the knife or outside in -20 winter, i’d hardly begrudge this guy for indulging in a cup of coffee. Even a rat on the street occasionally gets a piece of cheese.

  38. Sounds great! This article is very basic and boring, but everything I’ve read is good stuff.

    I encourage each of those on this thread to learn about the challenge of ppl experiencing homelessness….especially from a govt’s standpoint.

    Send an e-mail to ur city/couty exec and ask for a phone call from his/her homeless services office.

    Also, getting homeless off the street and into shelts is a good thing. In these shelters they are in touch with food, laundry, medical treatment and case workers who help them get jobs or housing vouchers.

    When homeless are on the streets they are typically panhandling and loitering. This is when govt hears from community associations demanding help with vagrabcy in their neighborhoods. Homeless should not be wandering around the streets bothering people for change they need to be working with case workers in shelters to get assistance with their personal challenges to get back to a productive stage of life.

    Also, in baltimore more than 70% of homeless have a substance abuse issue. Give ur money to a shelter, not a person on the street

  39. Hmm. You’re complaining about the rules at a homeless shelter.

    Well, seems to me that if you GOT OFF YOUR ASS and made enough money to GET YOUR OWN PLACE then YOU could make the rules.

    Until them, SHUT THE FUCK UP. It ain’t your place. You don’t like the rules? Don’t stay there, crybaby.

  40. I like the idea of free stuff for everyone. That way no one would ever have to work again.

    Go Obama!

  41. I think what the guy is complaining about is that some shelters want you to check in at 5 PM. Other places want you to show up in the afternoon to reserve a place for that evening. And once inside, there’s no drinking. And you can’t leave until 6 the next morning, or you’re stuck outside.

    So the thinking is, “I’d rather stay outside”. I can drink, I can smoke, I can go where I want. It’s about wanting to feel a little freedom, and to have the same rights as most middle-class people to have a beer in the evening.

  42. You don’t like the rules? Don’t stay there, crybaby.

    Uh, he doesn’t stay there. That’s the whole point of his piece: to explain why he prefers the streets to the shelters.

    So why is he complaining? Because there are people who, unlike yourself, are interested in helping homeless people get on their own feet. If the rules actually work against their ability to pull themselves back up — to, in your not-particularly-well-chosen words, “GET OFF THEIR ASSES and make enough money to GET THEIR OWN DAMN PLACE” — then that’s surely worth noting.

    This kid is heading off to buy a cup of store bought coffee before trundling off to spend more money on a wifi connection (when virtually every public library has computers for free use) and we’re supposed to what, feel badly that the homeless shelter he doesn’t want to stay isn’t up to his standards?

    The “kid” sounds like a grown man to me, given that he previously worked as a property manager. And what makes you think he’s spending money on that WiFi connection? Most caf?s that offer WiFi offer it for free, or for a minimal purchase (perhaps as little as a 50-cent cup of coffee). And it’s a serious failure of imagination not to see why he would like to go online with his own laptop containing his own files when looking for work, rather than relying on a public terminal somewhere. (Same goes for those of you who can’t imagine why he’d like to be out of the shelter in the evening, or who can’t seem to tell the difference between being out at 7 and being out at 11.)

    And, we’re also supposed to think that today’s homeless shelters are worse places to be than the TB and plague filled alms houses of the 19th century, a time when this kid would have been grateful to find a fly swimming in his daily bowl of what passed for a daily soup meal back then?

    I gather you did not bother to read the Wagner book.

  43. all these privileged folks talking about how easy it is to be homeless suck

  44. I’m guessing that a lot of you have never faced crises out of your control – a major illness that left you out of work, an abusive relationship that put your life at risk, etc. In theory there are safety nets for those situations. In reality you may have a choice of homelessness or death.

    I shake my head at the comments about sleeping at night vs. finding work. In the real world, the most likely available work is night work because nobody wants to do it. Sometimes it involves *looking* for work at night. In a region like Phoenix, where daytime temperatures during the summer are themselves life threatening (homeless die every year of heat stroke,) looking for work at night actually makes sense.

    Do I think we should hand out free housing indiscriminately to the homeless? Hardly. But I also think it’s much more complex than, “Joe Schmoe is homeless so is therefore a lazy good-for-nothing moocher.”

  45. I think the complaint of the homeless guy, is that he has to be at the shelter at a certain time, when he could be working. Some homeless people are offered jobs that require them to work into the evening hours. Some shelters will work with the homeless, but you have to meet with your counselor to get approval. If your councilor is unavailable, you might not be able to see him/her for a week or two. So if you accept the job, you will basically be locked out of the shelter each night, since you can’t get there before the doors are locked. He also mentions that if he could stay out later in the evening, he could go to a coffee shop to use the wi-fi. Many jobs are listed online, so this WOULD be productive as he states. Someone posted that coffee shops charge for wi-fi, but it’s free at the library, so why doesn’t he go there? Maybe there isn’t a library close to the shelter he’s staying at. Maybe, traveling to the library by bus, would cost the same or more, than paying for wi-fi at a nearby coffee shop.

    While there are people taking advantage of the system, there are also people who are homeless through circumstances beyond their control. The homeless man in the article, sounds like he’s trying to get back on his feet.

    Shame on all the “holier than thou” people on here, that criticize the homeless. Let’s hope you never have to go through what they do.

  46. 50 cents for coffee? Even at the gas station it’s $1.45

    This IS NOT the 19th century…

  47. Shelters, food banks, etc. have their good and their bad.

    The organization I volunteer for empowers people by teaching them job skills and providing them with opportunity for job placement. Don’t have the clothes, an address, or a phone number? Chrysalis helps you with all of that.

    Much different than just giving away food and shelter to people who probably aren’t going to help better their situation. You’re basically just helping homeless people survive longer.

    Check out http://yeahmanh.com and read the Chrysalis piece.

  48. 50 cents for coffee?

    Not at Starbucks, but I’ve been to diners where you can stll get infinite refills for less than a buck. Dunno if they have WiFi.

  49. I haven’t worked in the shelters first hand, but I work with a guy who used to work at one (I can’t tell you where for breach of confidence) and he told me some stories of what these guys endure. Here they have a curfew of midnight, and cant leave till 6 am. If they don’t show up for bed checks, they loose the bed, plus they are paid a small stipend everytime they stay. Shelters are not a nice place to be, but where are live it can get quite cold at nights, and can mean a difference between life and death. However, it is possible that if the cold doesn’t get you, someone else could.

  50. Shame on all the “holier than thou” people on here, that criticize the homeless. Let’s hope you never have to go through what they do.

    Oh no, I almost hope they do. If more people like that went through a couple weeks of REAL hardships, our world would be so much better.

  51. You mean the places filled with the detritus of society are bad places to hang out? No way!

    It doesn’t surprise me that shelters suck, but expecting them not to suck is a little crazy.

    Maybe if more of his fellow homeless weren’t such utter crap the shelters would be better places. Though it does sound like there is demand for shelters that cater to those a step above the lowest of the low. Something along the lines of: help those who stand a chance of helping themselves as opposed to the total fuck-ups.

  52. Maybe if more of his fellow homeless weren’t such utter crap the shelters would be better places.

    Not everyone can carry the weight of the world, JB. Talk about the (com)passion. Combien de temps?

  53. “Increasingly, housing design is doing more with small spaces to make them efficient and livable, not oppressive. Historically, impoverished people, if given the choice, would pay a small amount of money for privacy than take a shelter for free. Thanks to urban renewal, those cheap places don’t exist in most cities any more.”

    Most places have, and are, passing zoning and ordinances that preclude this kind of construction. Many suburban areas don’t allow homes smaller than 1500 ft! Zoning, codes, and regulation are the reasons for a lack of affordable housing.

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