What to do next?

In Houston, Texas, on a hot July afternoon, I pulled up to a light on Westheimer, a three or four lane street. I was in the left turning lane, next to a small island. A woman on the island came up to my window; she was in an invalid’s walker/semi-wheel-chair and help up a sign saying something about may I be blessed this day.

I usually have some dollar bills in a compartment in the driver’s armrest, but my car had just spent a week being repaired and I may have emptied the compartment first, or maybe someone else did. I couldn’t find anything. Since she had waited while I searched, I wanted to give her something. I reached in my bag while knowing that I had just been to an atm and all I’d find were $20 bills. So I gave her one.

She reacted roughly the way one would react finding one had just won a significant grant. Much shouting, hand-waving, feet-kicking, etc. It seemed actually joyous, and I was very surprised. My first thought was that I had to do more.

Since then I have wondered what more I could do. I think it is unlikely that I could find her again, since people asking for money in the streets outside the center of Houston don’t seem to have turf they claim. In fact, some are driven to changing locations, and almost no one strolls around in the 8000 block of Westheimer in July. And even if I could, I doubt I’d be able to help much for various reasons.

So I thought about what a good thing it is that our Mayor has cut the homeless rate by about 50% in her two years in office. Giving to charities who help our street people seems more imperative somehow.

11 thoughts on “What to do next?

  1. I once gave $21 to a homeless person. It was the best feeling ever, and I was both very proud of myself and happy to help this person. All homeless should receive our good will and we must do so as much as we can. Would anyone like to start a petition?

  2. Money and petitions are nice, but the “something more” needs to be more holistic, IMHO.
    I’m somewhat wary of the personalized “high” experienced through instances of charity. Often these emotions are short-lived, do not address systematic issues, and allow us to live with a colonial and classist mindset.
    Colleagues of mine have taken folks out to lunch to learn their stories. I have to remind myself that relationships trump our pocket change, and while relief is undoubtedly needed, rehabilitation and development are vital parts of addressing injustice.

  3. I’m really wary of lunches, etc. I think my greatest worry is that one can easily invite inauthenticity. Surely, I think, people on the edge of society will think in terms of what we want of them. E.g., one expects that the homeless whose feet the pope washes are not going to tell him they think the deity is not just, has foresaken them, has crazy ideas bout sex, etc..

    Perhaps worse, could one resist offering helpful advice? Thus overlooking that one can hardly understand their lives.

  4. I read an account somewhere by someone who was, or had been, homeless and asking for money, and they said that one terrible psychological burden for people in that position is simply not being seen and acknowledged as people. Even if one doesn’t give money (or perhaps, even if one does!), I imagine that looking the asker in the eye and saying hallo, or good luck, is important.

  5. Anne, that is great about what Houston has done. Do you know how it was done?
    I gave a guy $20 on Thanksgiving once; like you, it was all I had. I’ve also befriended (in a minimal way) some homeless women and bought them things that I thought would be useful to them (immune support, soap). There is a very good book, Homeless in America, about homeless women and children that I have used in teaching feminist theory. It led to a student presentation in which the student told us, movingly, about living with her mother in a car for some time. So I think it is also an important thing that we can teach students about and of course, they can teach us since many of them know more than me since they do far more volunteer work than I do.

  6. That’s great! I think the next thing to do is to make a regular practice of donating to a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, food bank, or something like that. The next thing after that is to figure out how one can, qua philosopher, help in a way unique to philosophers. e.g., trying to convince other philosophers to make a regular practice of donating to a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, food bank, or something like that.

  7. Jackie, You could probably find out more about how they are reducing the homeless population in Houston by checking out the Houston Coalition for the Homeless (http://www.homelesshouston.org/) Houston actually does seem to be finding people housing rather than merely bringing in laws that move people on as so many cities have done.

    Seems to me that answers to the question of” what next” will be as varied as the people who are homeless and their needs. Some people need housing, others are looking for safe shelters and still others prefer to live outside the system and need money and acknowledgement. I volunteer at an overflow shelter for families but I also regularly give money to and talk to some of the men in my neighbourhood who are permanently homeless.

  8. The Sheffield Philosophy Department’s Student-Run program, Philosophy in the City, teaches not just in schools but in a teen homeless shelter. This has been a big success. So yes, there are definitely things that philosophers can do.

  9. For Jackie & others, On Houston’s homeless from our channel 13:

    City wide numbers are not yet available, but in downtown, city leaders say the number of chronic homeless have dropped from 1,060 in 2012 to 768 last year, and to 529 this year.

    Multiple initiatives are underway. The top priority is increasing more available housing, to give the homeless a home in communities run by New Hope Housing, a major partner.

    “We have committed 250 units to assist the mayor with this very important city-wide initiative,” New Hope Housing Executive Director Joy Horak-Brown said.

    The beacon has really become the central location where workers are matching homeless available housing to people actually looking to get off the streets and they’re doing it with new computer software.

    “We’ve standardized the way we determine what type of housing you need and we maintain a real time database of available units in our system,” Houston homeless specialist Mandy Sample said.

    Advocates say the goal is to add a thousand more units of housing over the next few years, so ending homelessness in Houston could become closer to reality.

    This is a bit more simple & direct that the very than the very full site linked to above.

  10. Jenny, is there any publicly available info about what they do? Would one of the participants be willing to write a sort piece about it?

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