Is homelessness their choice?

I had an interesting confrontation yesterday with a man in a wheelchair as I was waiting to meet friends for breakfast. I was standing on the sidewalk looking for my friends, as I had arrived early to request a table as they didn’t take reservations. It was as I was waiting that I was approached by a man in a wheelchair, who said hello. At first he seemed chipper and friendly, and I had no assumptions of him being homeless. He seemed surprised that I said hello back and continued on by asking how my day was.

Well, yesterday I woke up with minimal pain and was in a great mood after having had a solid 8 hour of sleep, something I hadn’t had in months. I told the man I was in a great mood and he stopped pushing his wheelchair along and clearly wanted to talk. He appeared harmless so I didn’t see any reason to avoid him. He stated that his name was Kim and that he was in fact homeless.

Kim’s appearance was cleaner than most homeless people I have encountered here in Hawaii. Our state has had a very serious problem with the increasing number of homeless population and we are recorded to be the worst in the country. When encountering many of them they are often unwashed and have a very bad odor from their unhygienic ways, but this man in front of my had his hair and beard brushed, his clothes appeared fairly clean, and he didn’t give off a bad smell. In fact I would have never guessed him to be homeless if he didn’t tell me.

In our conversation he told me how he has been living. He goes to a local church everyday for what he called “guidance”, he eats all his meals at a place called the River Street Mission, and he said he takes a shower everyday at the beach. At night he slept in his wheelchair in parks.

After telling me about his life he went on to say he wished he had a magical genie lamp and that he would ask for three things. He repeated this litany several times to me. Kim wanted more income, a wife to take care of him, and to work again. Upon hearing this I asked what income he had now and he stated that he received partial social security from the state in the amount of $700 a month. But that “crazy people” often stole the money from his pockets while he was sleeping. I asked him why he kept the money in his front pockets if it kept getting stolen there but he didn’t want to answer. He told me because of the thefts he was often hungry and I asked if he thought of applying for food stamps. In his situation he would surely be given them. But his answer was that he didn’t want to “wait in that office”.

Well that was a surprising answer. If you were starving and homeless wouldn’t you do whatever it takes to help yourself? And you have all the time in the world to wait in that office. Where did he need to be??

I offered him a second suggestion of keeping his money in his back pocket at nights when he slept. It was unlikely someone would push him out of his chair just to see if he had anything in his back pockets. His money could be safer this way. Kim’s response to this was “that’s too uncomfortable”. I’m sorry, but are you kidding me?? Would you rather someone steal your $700 than sleep comfortably??

He then restarted his litany of wanting a wife and more money and this is when our conversation took a turn as he started to get more aggressive in his statements. I could see he clearly had some form of mental illness as he stated he used to be a hostage negotiator for the Hussein family in the 70s and often dined with the Bush’s at the White House. Eventually I said my goodbyes and went inside as I could do nothing for this man. But the entire conversation made me think. In fact it stayed with me all day and well into the night.

I understand that for many homeless they do not have too many options. They either don’t have friends or family, have been down and out on luck and lost jobs and housing, and many suffer mental illness as Kim did. But I have to wonder how many of them really try to better their situations. Last year I too faced homelessness. I didn’t have any friends or family I could stay with any longer. Upon realizing this, however, I worked hard to not let that happen. I started a donation page that eventually paid for six months of rent on a small apartment. I also have been receiving food stamps and financial aid from the state for almost two years now. Anyone can apply, and they give more money to the homeless and those with critical situations.

I wonder how many of these homeless people who complain about their destitute situations actually try to better themselves. It takes just a day to go down to that state office and apply. Sure it’s tedious, but you leave with financial help, albeit small, but help all the same. Even $100 a month could still be helpful. And I know a family with three kids that receive close to $600. If you’re in that bad a situation with no food, why wouldn’t you help yourself and your family by trying to get aid that the state so willingly gives? And if you have a medical condition or children the state also gives financial aid.

I may have a better situation than most, it’s true. But I worked hard to get it. I asked everyone I could possibly ask for help. I swallowed my pride and I did things that were hard. But I had to to survive. I receive food stamps and financial aid from the state in very small amounts. The financial aid doesn’t even cover my bills, and I have to rely on the charity of others for necessities like toilet paper and toothpaste. I’m still trying to collect donations for rent even though I rarely receive any these days. My days are numbered in my apartment but you better believe I will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to keep that roof over my head and the food on my table. Comfort be damned.

Now, I’m not saying that all homeless people are like Kim in that wheelchair. I have no doubt that many suffer from illness that probably keeps them from mentally being able to look after themselves. But I also see those homeless encampments like at the Kaka’ako Waterfront where there are 300 people set up in tents and pan handling and begging for money and food. I wonder if they have done all they can to better their situations before just resorting to begging. I’ve heard many homeless complain that they deserve better and that they are entitled to more. Well, that may be true for some. But how many of them are actively looking for work, or getting down to that state office and asking for help from the state? Are they trying to help themselves or are they just expecting handouts and a life for free?

Ive been really lucky for sure. But you better believe Ive worked hard to make that happen. I have no genie in a bottle, no all powerful deity helping make my dreams come true. If I want something or need something I work to get it. I exhaust all my options before giving up. And I have to honestly say that I haven’t gotten to a point where I’ve given up yet. My hard work has paid off. I’ve asked for support and been given it. I’ve applied for everything I need and have reaped the benefits. If I can do it, why can’t they?




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5 thoughts on “Is homelessness their choice?

  1. There’s a similar rhetoric over here in the UK about people needing state benefits. Lots of politicians talk about the hard working taxpayers and how people shouldn’t expect handouts. Recently, a minister stated that people with disabilities should work their way out of poverty.

    I’m in a strange position where I’m both one of their hard working payers and have also found myself applying for financial assistance due to disability. The application process was utterly dehumanising and despite being mentally healthy and above average academic intelligence, I ended the process not caring whether I was approved but just wanting the ordeal to be over.
    Like me, it would appear that you have been fortunate enough to have the resources to create an online funding campaign to cover your rent combined with I presume a level of education that makes you employable. These people you have deemed to make themselves homeless may not have the same resources or mental health.
    It makes me sad that someone like Kim would not be protected more. Sadder still that the world has become less empathic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I certainly don’t think that all homeless have the same access to resources as everyone else, but it is quite apparent (at least here in Hawaii) that many of them have the mindset of being “owed”. There have been several articles in the local papers and magazines and even news broadcasts where a cross section of homeless are interviewed and many of them state they “deserve” free money or that they are “entitled”. While this certainly isn’t the mindset for all of them, it’s pretty disappointing to hear it at all. I’m sure that for some of them they’ve been dealt a shitty hand in life and maybe have failed numerous times in their attempts to get their lives on track. However, there’s also that group of homeless that are addicted to heavy drugs like meth and are alcoholics, whom stand on street corners and panhandle in parks, complaining that they “deserve better”. It is this group of people that I am against.
      And it’s unfortunate for a lot of the homeless population here, that because of people like that, many of them are stereotyped to be the same.


  2. Thank you for sharing this. I was captivated. I met a few homeless people while I was working at a community mental health center in Long Beach, and some of them told me that they choose this lifestyle because it’s comfortable and they understand the dangers and risks involved. They have lived in that world for some time and are used to it. And then some of the people that I treated, in trying to convince them to apply for jobs through the center’s special employment program so they could earn more money to pay for an actual place to live in, said that they were afraid to lose their SSI money if they worked. It took me a while to figure out that the fear of not being able to keep the job, for whatever reason, whether the boss is unreasonable, or their own illness doesn’t allow them to keep a standard job, is enough to make them choose to stay homeless. Fear is very powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fear is powerful. But people like this tend to bother me. There are so many truly disabled people here in Hawaii that get denied SSI benefits time and time again because too many people are receiving them already. People who could easily go out and get a job but choose not to out of fear or laziness. So the truly disabled suffer continually.
      I have a very severe condition and while I was able to find donations for 6 months of rent, I’m now out of money and trying to figure out how to stay off the streets. I receive state funded health insurance that does not cover the medical treatments that I desperately need to stay alive. I have applied for SSI and been denied 5 times in the last 2 years. I am someone who can’t work because of my disability and need benefits to be able to have shelter, food, and adequate medical care. But I keep getting denied because of insufficient funds in the State. So for someone like me (and I know there are many others with my similar issue) to hear that people who are perhaps healthier than I, and who can legitimately work, but choose not to… It’s disgusting. And unfair. And wrong. The system has failed.


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