I am not an expert. Going through this doesn't give you the knowledge about how to fix it. But if you want to "understand" homeless people, or if you want to maybe try to do something about this, there are a few things you can do:

  • Giving change is stupid. If you want to give, give food. Take someone into McDonalds or the bodega and buy them whatever they want. Most people will try to feed you some bullshit about why they just want the money. Send them packing immediately. Don't waste time on a lecture. For everyone who passes that test, you've just done something important.

  • If you want to give something to a charity, give it to a real one. Find a soup kitchen, a literacy center, a women's crisis center - they're in the book - and given them food, or books, or... your time. They can use all the help they can get. Money is nothing compared to even just an hour a week of your time. I have no experience with the large organized charities. I never saw any when I was in need, though, so I'm pretty damn skeptical.

  • Public schools are the single greatest statement ever made against homelessness - or more properly, the idea of an underclass. Support them every way you can. Teach in them. Volunteer in them. Tutor kids in them. Especially if you live in a city, there are a million people out there who you can help - kids and adults. Support any politician who honestly supports education.

    By the way, school vouchers are bullshit. charter schools are bullshit. And the current state of educational funding is bullshit. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

  • Think about society. Whatever your gift is. Maybe it's economics. Maybe it's anthropolgy, or social science, or psychology. Maybe it's political science. But we have a pretty bad system, and we could improve it. Maybe just some economic policy, trade policy, tax policy... I bet there's a lot of room for improvement without upsetting the whole apple cart. We don't need a revolution. Just a system where you can make a decent living waiting tables or cleaning floors.

    Then again, there is room for a new paradigm. Maybe someday, someone will think of a better way. But right now, it's still the law of the talon - economically, socially, and politically. Who knows, maybe that's all people are capable of. But I would advise not giving up.

In the UK, buy The Big Issue from vendors with badges.

These guys 'n' gals are truly trying to sort themselves out, and I give far too much every day to people, because I am a sap, and I can't ignore human pain.

Support universal healthcare in the US, and in other countries do everything you can to fight the trend toward privatized healthcare.

One major contributing factor to homelessness is physical or mental disability or mental illness, and my favorite example of most homeless people created with one law is from my home state of North Carolina. See, there used to be this state program that would buy anti-psychotic medication for patients who couldn't afford it and didn't have other health insurance. That program was cut a few years ago. Before it was cut the psychiatric clinic where my roommate worked served about thirty patients who got their medication this way. They had jobs, apartments, and something approaching a normal life, but at little more than minimum wage and no benefits they couldn't afford their medication, so it was provided for them. Once it wasn't anymore, many of them just dropped out of sight. Some were picked back up by other programs or family members who helped out, but quite a number are now whereabouts unknown, most likely homeless since it would be very hard for these people to hold down jobs or permanent residences with all the voices screaming in their heads. The effects had to have been even worse at clinics in rural or economically depressed areas.

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