Hearts & Minds - Information for ChangeSM

Homelessness

Homeless man sleeping in Central Park, 2003

Some Personal Thoughts

       Several times a day, I see panhandlers move through the subway. Some sell newspapers for a quarter or trinkets for a dollar, while others just ask for money.  Sometimes I drop a few coins in their cups, but most of the time I sit paralyzed in the subdued roar as some guy slowly makes his way through the subway car asking for change.

       As people gracefully drop change into the tattered cup, it often seems mechanical, an action without thought.

Daily Confrontations
       In New York City we're regularly approached by panhandlers. Someone new to the city told me that he was struck by the very visible hardships many people face here.

       In densely populated Manhattan, most of us, rich or poor, cross paths in the streets and at public transportation stations. Our city is somewhat unique in this way -- we often see people in need and have to decide what to do about it.

       In one instance, I gave a dollar to a young woman who was deaf. She was selling key chains that did not seem valuable to me. I motioned for her to keep the key chain and my money. She seemed surprised, and I realized I might have insulted her.

How to Help
       Some of my friends never give money to panhandlers; they believe it is spent on alcohol and drugs.

       Contributing and volunteering through organizations ensures that our time and money goes to groups that have specialists who assist homeless individuals with  complex issues.

       Effective organizations include political groups, churches, food banks and other charities. Many of these organizations work together, coordinating resources and services for the poor. They make it easy to get involved. You can find information about such groups in our Homeless Links.

Understanding Homelessness
        For families living a paycheck away from the streets, expenses such as emergency medical care can precipitate homelessness. Other factors might be mental illness or chemical dependency.

       Homeless persons often need counseling and treatment, as well as financial assistance. Social service agencies are the formal social support system for the homeless.  These agencies depend on public contributions and government funds to deliver services. Many nonprofit groups do good work and are worthy of your support.

       Political advocacy organizations help by voicing concerns to congressmen and other public officials, and lobbying to help provide better resources for the very poor. These groups often work with grassroots action groups and those concerned with poverty issues.

       Working together, we can influence our local, state and federal government to help those in need. Some organizations even get the homeless involved in lobbying efforts.

Editor's Note: Since this article was placed on-line, exploited deaf Mexicans received extensive news coverage. Giving money to strangers is often not as effective as supporting organizations who help and advocate for the homeless.

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 This web page and entire website Copyright: 1997 - 2015 by Hearts and Minds Network, Inc., Homeless in Central Park photo 2003 by Tiffany Lopes, photo of woman looking for food courtesy of Flickr user DgPhilli & licensed under Creative Commons. http://www.heartsandminds.org/articles/homeless.htm - latest text changes March 31, 2006

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