Homeless Hot Spots- helpful or tacky?

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Joel Shaffer's picture

People giving to panhandling in our city of Grand Rapids leads to many problematic and even tragic unintended consequences. Knowing some of the panhandlers that work a few streets from our house, I also try to educate Christians to give in other ways (rather than money) that won't contribute to the panhandler's addictions which lead to destruction. The 4Gmifi just contributes to the problem rather than really helping the individual in need. This type of giving only perpetuates the thinking that there is no need for a relationship and no accountability with the poor person, only a false sense of feeling good about one's self from the giver.

Here is my mentor and former boss Don Tack bluntly making the point of how destructive it is for people giving to panhandlers in Grand Rapids.

http://www.woodtv.com/dpp/news/local/grand_rapids/Tack-ArtPrize-draws-pa...

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Can they be helpful and tacky?

Joel Shaffer's picture

It may be slightly helpful in the short term, but helping break the cycle of poverty isn't as easy as making a homeless person the equivalent of a high-tech billboard. I probably am trying to process this as I write, but it seems like work that treats the homeless like they are lions and monkeys at the zoo where we go and pay to see them or even meet them (of course it is different because lions or monkeys don't get paid $, only food). It just seems dehumanizing. And of course, because I happen to know panhandlers in my city, their money that they receive from people is used for alcohol and drugs, which further destroys them. I am not against outlawing this, but if I wouldn't promote the 4Gwifi as an effective strategy in overcoming poverty nor as one that affirms the dignity that we have as God's image bearers in relation to work.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Huel Perkins, lead 11 p.m. news host on Fox 2 Detroit asked last night, "If these were college students, what would the reaction be?"

The answer is that most would applaud this if it were college students. So why is it different when it's homeless? To Joel's point, I doubt anyone thinks that this is a long term solution, or even "helpful" in some grand sense. But it was, to use Huel's words, "An honest day's work for an honest day's pay."

Is that bad?

Next time you are driving somewhere, look for people holding signs advertising tax preparation (even dressed up like the statue of liberty), or advertising pizza, or car washes, or something else. Why is this different?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I can see that reasoning, but the fact is they are not college students etc. As Joel pointed out, these are usually folks with serious chronic problems, usually including addictions. So there is something extra pathetic about the thing when you look at it as a whole... and something vaguely zoo like.

But giving them an honest day's pay for an honest day's work has to be better than giving them pay for begging or for nothing. Sadly, my guess is that very few of them are likely to catch the "work for a living" way of life as a result... but then few social programs have had that result either.
So compared to actual life-changing help the idea kind of stinks. But compared to the kinds of things people normally do "for the homeless," though, maybe it stinks less?

Larry's picture

Moderator

Aaron and Joel, you're going to have to help me here because I struggle to see what's pathetic here. People were paid to a do a job. What's the bad side of this? Isn't that what we want? People working and getting paid?

I don't think it's a strategy to overcome homelessness, and I don't see how it is dehumanizing. Work is humanizing, not dehumanizing. And yes, there are different kinds of jobs, but work is what God created us to do. It is prefall, not postfall.

How is it different then me paying someone to come and rake the lawn at the church (which I have done)?

If they are paying them subminimum wage, or subjecting them to bad working conditions, you might have a point. But they weren't, were they? People all the time get paid to sell stuff. You cant' walk through an airport without someone hawking credit cards, or massages, or candy. It happens on streets every day where people hold up signs to attract business.

It's work and people need to work.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I don't think it's the what of the job that bothers people, but the who. For instance, the idea of a college student acting as a hot spot sounds fun, but using attractive young women sounds immoral. Because many homeless people are learning disabled or have mental diseases, it sounds exploitative. That doesn't mean that any of these people are truly being exploited or treated like a freak show, but I understand the discomfort.

We should also recognize that some people are homeless by choice. I suppose they have the right to live like that as long as they comply with loitering and panhandling laws. This is a legitimate way for people who choose that lifestyle to earn their keep without resorting to begging. However, their 'keep' may involve the use of controlled substances, but there is no way that I can see for someone to ascertain whether or not their money will be used to enable a drug/alcohol habit, anymore than I know whether or not the .79 cheeseburger at McDonald's is in part going to pay for some teenager to get drunk and wrap their car around a telephone pole.

Joel Shaffer's picture

Having managed a homeless shelter and worked for a ministry for 10 years that specialized in reaching out to homeless people, those that were homeless by choice on the streets or under the bridges (at least in Grand Rapids) are the mentally ill that were too paranoid to go into the shelters. When I'd interact with them, they would tell me crazy stories including one how they were getting secret messages through a tree from the CIA, or they would tell me crazy stories including one how they had received a message from Moses (in the Bible) that they were going to part the Grand River (which is the river that runs through Grand Rapids) in order to lead people across during one of the festivals downtown. To complicate matters and make things worse, many of them are also addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Those who were not mentally ill but sought shelter in my homeless shelter or other homeless shelters in my city did not want to be homeless or to be living in a shelter. They wanted to have an apartment of their own.....They hated being in the shelter more than anything. My point is that one of the biggest misnomers about the homeless is that they "choose" this lifestyle for themselves.

To be honest with you, I am for hiring homeless people to be a wireless hotspot for advertising. This can give them jobs and experiences in their lives. I do have a problem with forcing them to wear a shirt that states they are homeless and a homeless hotspot. It does exploit their social status for gain.

The dignity of being created in God's image includes work. I am all for this. Our ministry and church plant requires those who need financial help from us to volunteer because we believe the best type of giving is reciprocal (II Cor. 8:14) and that we are not creating dependency.

Larry, it is different because you are not making the person that rakes your lawn who needs help wear a shirt advertising your church that highlights that the person in need is poor, or hungry, or homeless.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Quote:
My point is that one of the biggest misnomers about the homeless is that they "choose" this lifestyle for themselves.

'Some' choose that life. In my experience, they were young people with romantic ideas of being 'free' of authority and conventions... sort of like a modern hippie. I would never imply that a significant number of homeless choose to live as such as a lifestyle.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
I do have a problem with forcing them to wear a shirt that states they are homeless and a homeless hotspot. It does exploit their social status for gain.
This I agree with, but did their shirt say they were homeless? I don't have a problem with it having their name, but I would leave off the "homeless" part.