Poverty and Homelessness

most homeless

Poverty and homelessness are topics that we don’t particularly like to think about or talk about, but they are also topics that we must think about and talk about. We must think and talk about these subjects right here, right in the USA and right in your state, your county, and your city. Whether we are rich and housed, poverty stricken and homeless or anywhere in between, these issues affect us all.

The recession that hit around 2008-2010 not only forced many Americans into underemployment or unemployment, it forced many individuals as well as whole families over the edge into poverty and homelessness. Most of us are aware of the media images of homeless people sleeping in cardboard boxes or on park benches. We’ve seen shameful images of our vets living on the streets. We may have even seen some people standing on street corners holding cardboard signs asking for help. It is true that some people (probably a small percentage) are homeless by choice. There may even be a few people who are poor by choice. Unfortunately there are homeless people who fit the stereotypes of being homeless (addicts, mentally ill individuals, and runaways) but since the recession there has been a growing number of people dealing with poverty and homelessness who never had a choice or a chance; some are children. There is a new face of homelessness in the United States and those faces look just like you or me. These people don’t fit into the media stereotypes. There are people who through no fault of their own have ended up on the streets. Inability to find affordable housing and/or work are just a few contributing factors. There are homeless people who hold down full time jobs, but because they can’t find anything that pays higher than poverty wages, they can’t afford a place to live.

I have blogged before about aspects of poverty, so when my library reading project brought me to books on poverty, I was anxious to read them. Two of the most well known of these types of books are Bridges Out of Poverty by Ruby K. Payne, PH.D, Phillip E. DeVol and Terie Dreussi Smith. A Framework for Understanding Poverty was written by Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D.

Bridges Out of Poverty Framework for Understanding Poverty

Having read both of these books, I have some mixed reactions to them. I think there is great information in these books and they are worth spending some time with. Bridges Out of Poverty was the first book of the two that I read. I found much of it quite enlightening. The purpose of the book seems to be to help professional people who come in contact with people in poverty. The author intends to help workers be better able to anticipate and serve the needs of those living in poverty. According to this information there are two basic types of poverty: generational and situational. Generational poverty is defined as at least two generations of the same family still living in poverty. Much of the rest of the book goes on to make a profile of sorts of those who are in generational poverty. Professionals who would read these books deal with those in generational poverty on a daily basis so I do understand the need to address the issue in depth. I was quite disappointed though that situational poverty was barely addressed and the author(s) appear(s) to assume that everything known about generational poverty also applies to situational poverty. While some characteristics are shared, I think these are actually two (or more) separate issues. In generational poverty behaviors and attitudes may have been actually taught by families to their children as a way of life. In situational poverty individuals are in survival mode and their needs are likely to be temporary. Those in situational poverty most likely possess the skills to get out of poverty, but need temporary assistance. In reading this book, I was often uncomfortable with blanket statements that seemed to assume that those in poverty have no skills, education, resources, or other means of helping themselves although I realize that is true for some people. With those in situational poverty likely being the fastest growing segment of those in poverty, I think the author(s) missed a huge part of the issue.

On a more positive note, there was some extremely helpful information in Bridges Out of Poverty. The author(s) talk(s) about the ability to use language and the ability to relay information as a means of helping people climb out of poverty. Interestingly those in (generational) poverty tend to use more casual language and story telling when relaying information which becomes a problem if they are dealing with agencies (social services, medical, governmental, etc) which tend to use more formal language to give and receive information. It’s as though two different languages are being spoken and the author(s) believe(s) that those in poverty should be taught to use more formal language. Conversely, people who work as intake information gatherers should also be taught about the more casual speech of those in (generational) poverty to be better able to abstract critical information. Also of great value this book identifies some “hidden rules among classes” and does a great job explaining them. By learning the “rules” and teaching them, those in any class (poverty, middle, wealth) can use them to communicate more effectively and also potentially move from one class to another. Several areas are addressed, but as an example attitudes about possessions tend to be the following:

  • Poverty-People are possessions
  • Middle Class-Possessions are things
  • Wealth-Possessions are one-of-a-kind objects, legacies, pedigrees

It is very interesting to see the differences in attitudes about other areas as well such as money, personality, social emphasis, food, clothing, time, education, destiny, language, family structure, world view, love, driving forces, and humor.

A Framework for Understanding Poverty was disappointing to me as a reader. The information in it is good, but it is essentially the same book (but updated) as Bridges Out of Poverty.  Although the front cover says it’s a revised edition, it doesn’t say that it’s a revision of the Bridges book. I spent time comparing graphs, charts, and pictographs between the two books and didn’t find a whole lot of differing information. This was even more disappointing when I realized that the Bridges book was originally copyrighted in 2001 and the Framework copy I had was last updated in 2011. With the rising statistics of those in poverty over the years between 2001-2011, I felt the information in this book was extremely dated. Situational poverty is still not really addressed in the newer version. If I had bought both of these books in a bookstore, I would have been upset that they are the same book but don’t say they are the same book.

I searched for quite awhile for current statistics on homelessness, but the best I could come up with was the map at the beginning of this blog. I believe that this map is new enough to include both generational and situational numbers combined to give us at least an idea of how many homeless people we have in this country and where they are located. I was surprised by Hawaii’s ranking as the state with the highest number of homeless people. I was equally surprised by Mississippi’s ranking as the state with the lowest number of homeless people. (Great job Mississippi!) I am pleased that my state, Indiana, has the third lowest homelessness rate in the country.

Homeless people are in every state and many of them-especially those in situational poverty- know how to blend in and not be seen. That is exactly what The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp is about. Brianna Karp shares her true experience of homelessness.

The Girl's Guide to Homelessness

This book is entertaining and easy to read. The story is a true one of determination and bravery.  I had trouble putting it down. After being laid off of her job and unable to pay rent, Brianna finds herself estranged from her family and homeless. Brianna literally put a face on situational poverty and homelessness. In the process of relaying her story, Brianna addresses the many stereotypical beliefs about the homeless. After unexpectedly inheriting a truck and a trailer, Briana found herself living in a makeshift camp in a Walmart parking lot without access to plumbing, electricity, air conditioning or heat. She was one of the luckier homeless people because she at least had shelter.

WalMart Campers

Some might say Brianna was not homeless because she had a trailer. However the Federal Definition of Homeless, United States Code Title 45, Chapter 119, Subchapter I, SS 11302 says:

General Definition of a Homeless Individual:

an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and

an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);

an institution that provides temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.

Brianna faced her situation with intelligence and bravery. She details her daily struggles in getting her most basic needs met while searching for a job using the few resources she had retained. Her experiences have led her into her true passion, advocacy for the homeless.

I would love to say much more about The Girls’s Guide to Homelessness, but just about anything else I would say would be a spoiler and I don’t want to give away the entire story. I will just say that I have never met Brianna Karp, but I have immense respect for her. She has an ongoing website: http://girlsguidetohomelessness.com/

Also, some sites that Brianna recommends are:

Change.org http://uspoverty.change.org/blog/category/homelessness

Homeless.us – United States Department of Social Services; Emergency Shelter http://homeless.us

211 National Human Services Information & Referral Hotline http://211.org; http://211us.org or dial 2-1-1 toll-free from any U.S. phone to be connected with an operator.

National Coalition for the Homeless http://nationalhomeless.org

Homeless Blogs Project http://homelessblogs.org

The International Homeless Forum http://homelessforums.org

World Homeless Day http://worldhomelessday.org

A Gift of Hope

Danielle Steel wrote A Gift of Hope to bring attention to the needs of the homeless. Shortly after Danielle’s son, Nick, died by suicide Danielle was looking for a way to make a difference and honor her son at the same time. (His Bright Light by Danielle Steele is the true story of her son’s suicide.) She formed an outreach called Yo! Angel! in which her teams drove around the city looking for homeless people in need of winter jackets, wool hats, warm socks, gloves, and sleeping bags. Later other supplies and some food was added to the items Yo! Angel! distributed. Danielle was hesitant about sharing her activism but then later changed her mind and decided to speak out because she could voice a desperate cry for help for the homeless.

A Gift of Hope is a touching book which details how Danielle Steele and her crew first began to help the homeless, the mistakes they made, the safety precautions they took, and the unforgettable people they met along the way. Many living on the streets truly have been given hope through the efforts of Danielle and her team. For anyone interested in homelessness, I would recommend this book. It is short, a quick read, and loaded with information.

In Danielle Steele’s book she points out that the numbers of homeless at any given time are likely not accurate. She reports an abysmal process of counting the homeless (at least in the San Francisco area) in which the “counters” go out for just one night and count only those homeless that they actually see on the street. If a homeless person happens to be using a public restroom or has scraped together enough money to go get a sandwich or some other needed supply and are in a public place (restaurant, store, etc) they are not counted. Those who are homeless due to situational poverty are experts at blending in and not being seen so they are likely never even counted. According to Danielle we have more accurate counts of birds than we do homeless people. Because of the counting method used, Danielle believes the numbers of homeless people in her area at any given time can be wrong by at least 23,000. She also points out that some states have managed to lower their homeless population by “relocating” the homeless. She claims that at one point the city of New York paid for bus tickets for the homeless to go anywhere but where they were. Some of the homeless were put on a bus and sent to a neighboring state. Therefore, according to Danielle Steele, we need to be leery of the current statistical data. Are we actually making an impact on the homeless problem (which more than likely are economic, employment, health, and education problems) or are we as a society just getting better at hiding it in numbers? Are the homeless just being moved around and therefore not being counted? Are the populations of homeless people being moved actually the mentally ill who should be hospitalized? These are disturbing questions.

Have you ever been homeless? Have you given serious thought to the plight of the homeless? Are you active in trying to help the homeless? I would love to hear about your experiences.













31 thoughts on “Poverty and Homelessness

  1. Great post! I am very interested in homelessness and besides giving to a local homeless shelter, I also watch YouTube videos about this topic. I saw some interesting videos on families that when the recession hit and they lost their jobs had to go an live in a RV and what a life transition that was. The book you discuss, The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness sounds like an interesting read. Also the Danielle Steele one. Thanks for sharing your reading and research. I have never been homeless but I have been one paycheck away when I was younger, and I so appreciate my life now and feel quite blessed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sadly I think many people are at least one paycheck away from being homeless. Our town is very small so a homeless person with issues really sticks out. Although I suspect we may have some homeless that are in situational poverty and may be living in campers/RVs. I am very pleased that you are now blessed with a good home and that you are giving back to your community.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. When I was teaching in a poverty stricken school, we were required to read “Framework”. It gave me lots of new information. I never read Bridges.
    I’m so glad people are speaking out about this problem. And you highlight a very good point, about the sloppy counting of homeless people.
    I never give money to anyone on the street. Once, I paid for a little gas, when a young woman approached me at the gas station, and said her baby at home was out of formula, and had no gas to get back home. Then had the mother follow me to Walmart, where I bought her food and diapers for her baby.
    I usually try to have bottles water, and snacks with me, for the people with signs, I’ve only had 1 person turn that down.
    When my girls were little, I taught them a valuable lesson. 2 guys were begging for money outside the grocery store, but were standing directly in front of the adjoining liquor store. I told them I had no cash, but would have something when I came out. I told my girls, if they were truly hungry, they would accept the bread, apples, and peanut butter I gave them. If not, then all they wanted was liquor money. They took the food, with an obviously disappointed attitude. I told the girls to watch, as we walked away. By the time we had gotten to the van, the guys had thrown down the food, onto the sidewalk. The girls were shocked. They learned a hard lesson. Some people begging for money don’t want it for food.
    I agree there is a huge difference between generational, and situational poverty. More needs to be done to give a hand up to those who need a temporary boost. Sometimes those in generational poverty seem content to stay there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do think it’s wise not to give money to people on the street. Some people carry gift cards to grocery stores or other places for food, gas, or whatever. Most people who are in dire need of something do know where/how to get it without standing on the street cornors. However, there are sometimes situations (traveling through a place? ) when a person may have an actual emergency and need assistance. In that case, the person would likely take whatever is offered with gratitude. I have a heart for the homeless but we need to be sure we are actually helping and not enabling. Some times it’s hard to know. The way you taught your children was great!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Such an important post and one that rarely receives the attention it merits. I also believe there is a dynamic fear between the homeless and the majority of society. We “fear their actions” and they “fear our rejection.” I recently encountered a young (probably about 18 years old) female as I came out of a playhouse. She hesitantly approached me and asked if I could purchase some food for her. It was 10pm and I intended on purchasing some food for myself since I hadn’t made time to eat prior to the performance. She appreciated my assistance and walked off meeting up with a young male she shared the food with.

    In retrospect, I should have offered them TIME AND FOOD. I should have sat down with them and simply talked with them as “people” (not homeless people.) It might have shown them they are recognized as more than simply “homeless souls.” I was caught off guard and REACTED defensively rather than RESPONDING with clear intentions. Your post made me think about my encounter and has created a new mindset should I come across a similar situation again. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are already light years ahead on this issue just because you recognized your defensive reaction. One important reason for thinking about how to help the homeless is so that when we encounter these situations we will respond with reasoned compassion.

      Thank you for taking your time and buying food for this woman. It must have been humiliating for her to have to ask anyone. You showed great compassion in buying her a meal–a meal she immediately shared with someone else. I would say that even though you didn’t spend a lot of time with the woman that you did treat her as a human being and not just a “homeless person.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Everyday, I too, learn from real world experiences. The homeless (to an extent) is a reflection of societal failure in providing the necessary resources to help people achieve essential needs. It is a dereliction of moral behavior to unload the entire burden on the homeless individual. Reaching out to those less fortunate by offering assistance (monetary, time, employment, etc…) benefits EVERYONE in the process. I hope more people are willing to step off their pedestals to show their true character and willingness to participate by sharing kindness with others.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I’m reminded of an old song (although I’m not saying how old!) that went something like, “He’s not heavy…he’s my brother..” How far we have come in the wrong direction! However, since I am an eternal optimist, I do believe that we CAN make a difference by everyone doing their part–no matter how small.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Since I know the song well, I’ll keep your age a secret. 🙂

        Like you, I too believe in cyclical (circular) patterns to life. The good news regarding how far we’ve gone in the wrong direction reveals a much improved path ahead. The concept of the “circle” prevents us from a path of eternal failure.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I wish I could say yes, yes, yes. However, my volunteer work is crisis texting. You are amazing. I have always enjoyed reading a variety of books but it seems like my reading is narrowing in scope since my lifestyle has changed so much. When I want to read something that absolutely requires attention, I do Audible.com to which I have a subscription.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Patricia. When my husband returned to college approximately 4 years ago, we made the decision to turn off our cable TV. In fact we don’t even get any of the “free” TV channels. When we want to watch something, we watch DVDs which we get free from the library. If there is something special on like say the Super Bowl we are usually invited to a party or we can watch at my Mom’s house. Anyway, because we aren’t TV watchers I think we both read more and honestly we don’t really miss TV!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think I told you this before but I often have a book on my phone (Audible), a book on my phone (Kindle), a book on my Kindle Kindle, a book in each of the two bathrooms, and a hardback book all going at one time.🙄

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I write about my experiences of being homeless on my blog. Your post here is spot on with what I have witnessed firsthand. The old stereotypes no longer apply. The majority of people I met while homeless were disabled and most were also over 50. There is a moral dilemma we are having here in America where certain types of people still think it is ok to treat other humans worse than animals usually based on a moral standing of “they” have made a bad life choice and deserve the consequences of that choice. This is rarely the case. Every addict I met on the streets had horrific tales of trauma in their history and/or were self-medicating to deal with the trauma of homelessness itself. It is hard to get people to really grasp what it feels like to be judged ruthlessly based on appearance and financial standing. Kindness can literally be the saving grace between hanging on one more day or not for too many people. I ended up spending about 4 and 1/2 months in a shelter with my son and while I was there, despite being burdened with mental health and physical issues, I wrote my story and will be self-publishing by the end of the month (fingers crossed) because there is so much disinformation and biases surrounding homelessness and at this stage of the game those biases are not helping one bit. I live in a housing first state and it still took me almost 9 months to get into actual housing. Shelter life is far more dangerous and uncomfortable (especially if you have children) than most people could fathom. I sincerely appreciate your take on this and bringing the issue to discussion. These types of open dialogues do help create awareness and reduce stereotypes. These are human beings, someone’s child, someone’s grandchild,someone’s brother or sister. Most homeless people do not have the family support it takes to pick oneself up after falling on hard times. It is crucial that more people realize how far their acts of kindness can help a person.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Be sure to let me know when your book is published. I would love to read it! I don’t really know much about “housing first” states but I will try to look it up.I know that even when help is available, it can often be slow in coming. I know of people who were homeless while waiting. You do bring up a good point about the safety of shelters–especially where children are concerned.


  6. Thank you for the article. Sad to see so many on the streets and struggling
    We are finding so tuff in our area too. So many homeless and bring in
    refugees ( not that they need help too ) but take care of our own first
    Just my thoughts

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know right where you are coming from. There is a big disconnect between what many politicians think is happening and what is actually happening. I’m all for helping everyone, but agree with you that we need to help our own first.


  7. Great post! I know first hand what is like to be homeless since homelessness is my current situation. Before I became homeless I would give them money and food whenever they were around and i still give when i can. A lit of people think it’s easy to get out of but in all reality it is very difficult.

    Liked by 1 person

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