For people reading this blog entry that have not read my previous entries on the homeless, I encourage you to read Homeless Project Background. It will give you some background on my project. Briefly, I have made a commitment to give $20 each week to a homeless person and minimally ask their name and where they are from.
I have been meaning to summarize my thoughts on the homeless project since Dec 31st. After the year ended, it was strange for me not to have a $20 in my pocket at all times just in case I came upon a homeless person who I think would be interesting to talk to. I am saddened by the plight of the homeless. My views of the homeless have changed from a year ago and they also changed during the year long project. My conclusions follow.
I ended the year with $540 I did not give away. My goal was to give away $20 per week if an only if I could have a conversation with the recipient. So over the course of the year, I had twenty five conversations with the homeless. The homeless I spoke to had the following profile. They all live in La Jolla, California, an affluent area in San Diego County. They are the chronic homeless, men and women, and fifty years old or more. They are generally alcoholics. Some are mentally unstable, but stable enough that I did not feel threatened. They are nice, polite and gracious. They are filthy, weathered and wear pitiful clothes. They smell like alcohol at times. At other times, they smell nauseating.
And of course, they are real people. They are our brothers and sisters, our nephews and nieces. They are our moms and dads, our aunts and uncles. They are our children. They are our neighbors. They laugh. They cry. They bleed. They die. They are you and me.
Over the year as people have followed this project, some have told me that the homeless don’t deserve compassion or help. They tell me that the homeless are lazy. They are drunks and drug addicts. They tell me that to help a lazy drunk drug addict only perpetuates that lifestyle. I can certainly understand that point of view. Clearly there are many homeless who are alcoholics and drug addicts and some forms of help do perpetuate their lifestyle. However, what I found in my year long project is that these chronic homeless, these substance abusers are real people with life stories. So to not help them in inhumane. Please note here that there are many categories of homeless and I am dealing with just one category, the chronic homeless and substance abuser. An often misunderstood category are the homeless who just can’t afford rent for a few months and are evicted. These are often families.
Back to the chronic, substance abuse category, where we are faced with a dilemma. Help them and potentially perpetuate their behavior or don’t help them and loose a bit of our humanity.
How do we show our humanity and help them? I believe the best way is to support homeless is to support the charities that serve them. The homeless need professional help. They need medical attention, substance abuse counseling, job training, food, shelter, legal help and countless other services. If you are in San Diego, I would suggest you donate money to Community Resource Center or Corporation for Supportive Housing. San Diego Social Venture Partners (SDSVP) has vetted and supported both these non-profits. SDSVP considers them top notch organizations that help the homeless. Since I am Chairman of the Board of SDSVP, I decided to give my extra $540 to SDSVP. I like leveraging my charity donations and SDSVP has leveraged my gift for help for the homeless.
I would suggest two other things we can do for the homeless. If you feel safe, say hello to a homeless person. Again, if you feel safe, engage in a conversation. Ask them where they were born. Ask them what their favorite food is. Ask them about their family or where they went to high school. Help them feel like a human being. Be their friend just for the moment. That does not perpetuate an addictive behavior. That perpetuates love and kindness.