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Not all homeless are created equal

Updated on March 27, 2011

I read Brenda Scully's hub about homelessness. She tells us the anguish she had years ago seeing many young people begging in the streets, without shelter. And she brings us from those years a poem she wrote, a small fairy tale where she rescues a young man and brings him back to his home. Her tender heart, her sadness when confronted with misery, her creative imagination projecting a happy ending that probably influenced in mysterious ways the solutions for those problems, all of it is very inspiring and worth reading.

I'm quite happy with my city, New York. Of course it has homeless, quite a big number. As Brenda says, there are many reasons for a person being homeless, it's not always poverty that puts you in the streets. But here in the Big Apple, the homeless people are neither abandoned nor forced into charitable seclusion, they are free to come and go, and also helped when needed.

Actually we have in the Metro trains a big poster begging you, on behalf of the city, not to limit yourself to giving some change to a homeless person, but to phone the city and give its location, so help can be sent right away. Because if many are perfectly able to go to the many refectories and shelters around the city, others do not have the mental or physical means to do it.

I remember in Paris, among a bunch of "clochards" that were habitual customers at the doors of a certain church, a friend of mine discovered, talking to one of them, that this permanently semi-inebriated character was in fact an architect that had been specialized in interior design, and somehow had fallen out of the system. Now his life consisted in receiving alms from charitable people, and sharing bread, cheese and big bottles of ordinary wine with his clochard companions.

They were happy on Winter Sundays and the couple of nights in the middle of the week when there were theology classes, because they were allowed to stay inside the atrium of the church. All the rest of frigid days they had to satisfy themselves with the heat coming out of the M├ętro grids, in the streets, and the blankets made of old newspapers. I was indignant about them not even having some true blankets, until someone explained to me that the gross ordinary paper from newspapers and boxes was an excellent protection. As of today I don't know if this is true but at the time I felt relieved. I suppose that nowadays you don't find clochards in the streets of Paris, not at night, not after so many years of liberal governments.

Another friend told me the story of a local Manhattan homeless woman that used to sit at the corner of an avenue and one of those few crosstown streets that have automobile traffic in both directions. She was there just sitting all day long and would insult you if you tried to give her a few coins, so for the distracted mind it was a mystery how she survived. But of course, this was, again, New York, a city that is used to helping the homeless, so it was safe to assume that the woman went every night to a shelter and to some kitchen or refectory of her choice.

Then one day something happened at the corner where she used to sit. Maybe a car accident, or a fire in one of the buildings ... Fact is that ambulances, firefighters and police caught the attention of a TV crew passing by, a film was shot and the incident appeared in the news. And in the film, there she was, for the world to see, our homeless woman. A few hours later she herself became the news.

She was a member of a wealthy family that had been trying to find her for years, and had given up their search, until one of the relatives recognized her in the news. They came and picked her up and it was assumed that now she was going to have the comfortable, sheltered life that the heiress of a fortune could afford. Two weeks later she was back at her usual corner of the avenue with the crosstown street. It was not said what insults the family had endured for daring put a transitory end to her freedom.

Rosario Montenegro



Do you think homeless people should be forced to live in shelters?

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    • rosariomontenegro profile image

      rosariomontenegro 7 years ago from NEW YORK

      Hi James, I see that you are paying me a visit, that's very kind of you. I truly appreciate your consideration and your efforts at civility in the midst of debate. Thank you for reading!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

      This is a fine article. There was something I recall that happened maybe 20 or 30 years ago where some new law was passed to empty out mental institutions and this created a flood of homeless people who are mentally ill. It was not a lack of funding. It had to do with some folks deciding it wasn't fair for a non-criminal person to be held in a facility.

      I enjoyed your fine work here. This is a tough problem but many fine organizations are working on it such as The Orlando Rescue Mission. Thanks.

    • rosariomontenegro profile image

      rosariomontenegro 8 years ago from NEW YORK

      Chris Eddy, Thank you for your wise words.

      It's true that certain individuals just cannot stand a home, the sky is their ceiling, they are the original wanderers and one has to respect them.

      Nevertheless, most homeless are in dire condition and they need help. Flexible help, not compulsive-against-their-will-help.

      Thank you so very much for the visit.

    • Chris Eddy111 profile image

      Chris Eddy111 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Once upon a time, I worked in a shelter and found out these truths.

      Not everyone wants to give up the streets. Who knows what their soul is up to. On the surface it seems harsh and off putting to be homeless but on the soul level the Divine has a wonderful purpose.

      I enjoyed this hub and it remind us not to judge others or their circumstances. Thank you.

    • rosariomontenegro profile image

      rosariomontenegro 8 years ago from NEW YORK

      Fiery and Paraglider, can you please tell me how on earth you ended up writing a comment on this hub at the same hour? One lives in Africa, the other one in the Middle East ... how can this happen? Has to be astrological :-)

      Thank you for reading the hub, it's much appreciated.

      MindField, welcome and thank you. Your list is quite true and sadly it seems to prove Fiery's point about man being inherently selfish. Those golf clubs in the middle of the desert drinking our subterranean reservoirs of clean water speak of selfishness unchecked. But then, selfishness is a by product of ignorance.

      Even though it's difficult, I try to concentrate on mankind being also inherently capable of changing for good. It just needs good education that ideally should take care of all levels of human fonctions, including mind/spirit, in some kind of universal way, both inclusive of and beyond all dogmas. Paraphrasing Paraglider the great changes in our outer world come from great changes in our inner world, our own mind.

    • MindField profile image

      MindField 8 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      To add to fierycj's list and including individuals as well as governments:

      ...and space programs and McMansions and gambling casinos and polluting transportation and overprocessed overpackaged food and enormous lawns for one or two people that take up a huge share of other people's water, etc, etc.

      It's called living for ourselves and not the human family. In the end, we'll all be homeless if we don't find a way to be inclusive instead of exclusive.

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      {{I imagine that taking the responsibility for eradicating the dog-eat-dog things from our own individual mind would be a great starting point?}}

      The best, in fact. Revolution, like charity, begins at home.

    • fierycj profile image

      fierycj 8 years ago from The Fiery Heart of Africa

      Homelessness is a problem. And the fact that its global, just shows that man is inherently selfish. What stops the governments from tackling it completely. Nothing! Instead, they wanna spend billions on wars and weaponry. What a waste!

    • rosariomontenegro profile image

      rosariomontenegro 8 years ago from NEW YORK

      Dear Paraglider, thank you for the visit. You are so right:

      "It is sad because there is enough food and shelter for everyone if we were organised along less dog-eat-dog principles."

      What you are underlying here is the fact that the causes for homelessness, like the causes of everything else, are not to be found in politics or war but rather in the mind behind politics or wars. Politics, war, organisations, they are just products of the sum of our individual minds. I imagine that taking the responsibility for eradicating the dog-eat-dog things from our own individual mind would be a great starting point?

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      This is s timely hub because homelessness is certainly on the increase, with tented villages springing up in many places. It is sad because there is enough food and shelter for everyone if we were organised along less dog-eat-dog principles.

    • rosariomontenegro profile image

      rosariomontenegro 8 years ago from NEW YORK

      Linda, I'm glad homelessness is now for you a thing of the past. Although of course the past has a way of staying with us.

      To judge the homeless? I suppose those who do that are either mentally retarded or aliens. I have the feeling that most people are terribly frustrated because they would like to help and they don't know what to do.

      Thank you for your comment!

    • Linda's Hub Pages profile image

      Linda's Hub Pages 8 years ago

      I was homeless as a small child & I would have taken even a piece of bread,but all we got were looks of disgrace & horrible remarks.I say that if you feel a stirring in your heart to give or help someone then that is what you should do.It is not our place to judge.

    • rosariomontenegro profile image

      rosariomontenegro 8 years ago from NEW YORK

      Lady E, difficult issue. I understand that they are willing to provide a permanent residence. Thank you for visiting.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 8 years ago from London, UK

      A touching article. My heart goes out to them. There are a lot of homeless people in London partly because its so expensive to rent. The Council provide low cost housing but i think the mistake they make is that later on they allow the tenants to buy the property and then there's a shortage of council property.

    • rosariomontenegro profile image

      rosariomontenegro 8 years ago from NEW YORK

      Steve, you don't imagine how I agree with your comment: "I don't care if it goes to alcohol if it gives them some relief"! Thank you for saying this.

      Brenda, thank YOU for your hub and inspiration. I have to say that I was answering it (your hub) until I realized that it was a ridiculously long answer and that's how I started writing this hub.

      Pam, obviously there is not much that can be done beyond the usual net of food and shelter providing. The passing gift that Steve mentions. And some believe that prayer helps even if you don't see immediate results. One good point is that "the usual net" is proof that humankind is able to make some moral progress, even if slow and irregular. There were times when the homeless did not have any help at all and that seemed normal. Thank you for visiting and I owe you a memory that I will add to the hub later.

    • profile image

      pgrundy 8 years ago

      The first winter I moved to Kalamazoo a woman froze to death on the Court House steps on Christmas Eve. She had been a public school teacher for many years and developed schizophrenia, had to leave her job on disability, but then many of the social services set up to help families of the mentally ill dried up and her loved ones couldn't keep her on her meds, then couldn't keep her in her house, which she eventually lost and began sleeping in her car, then outside. Several times they tried to bring her home but she always wandered off and after a few years of this they gave up. Half the time they couldn't even find her when they tried. She fell asleep on the steps and they found her body Christmas Day.

      Something like that seems to happen every winter here now. Last winter it was an old woman whose gas shut-off notice blew off her door and she froze to death, and also five small children who burned up in a house fire where three families were sharing two bedrooms and heat problems.

      Anyway, thank you for the hub. I don't know what to do about any of this.

    • profile image

      \Brenda Scully 8 years ago

      Hey thanks very much, I enfoyed that hub..... and Steve says exactly the same comment as I said.... there by the grace of god go I ....

    • Steve Rensch profile image

      Steve Rensch 8 years ago

      Excellent hub. You write well.

      I don't know what to say about the homeless people of this world other than "There but for the grace of God go I." Though I don't have a lot of money right now, my life has been blessed, and I try to give when we pass. And I don't care if it goes to alcohol if it gives them some relief.