Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dipping his Toes...

Apparently, a young fellow by the name of Steve Wood spent a week living on the streets of Philadelphia, to get a greater understanding of street life for an upcoming article he is writing for his school paper. After spending a week, Steve said he became disappointed with the homeless, because they have a "sense of entitlement," and they have expectations for the City to take care of them.

I suppose it is good that he is trying to understand. It is good that anybody is trying to get a grasp of the reality of street life. I suppose I can overlook his ignorance when he says he "lost patience" with the street folks, who in his opinion "make their own bed."

Of course Mr Wood feels that they make their own reality. He certainly makes his own reality, choosing to dip in and out of homelessness on a whim. Unfortunately, he is not factoring in the sheer amount of abuse that homeless people experience, most of them from a very early age.

Steve, let me tell you what happens when you get physically, mentally, or sexually abused from a young age. Because you are so small when it first happens, you learn to cope with abuse from a powerless position. You come to understand on an instinctual level that when people hurt you, you can't do anything about it. By the time you reach adulthood, you're left with a screwed up sense of what "choice" means, and a bitter view on the topic of justice. Because you've been lied to over and over again, you cannot trust others, and thus you cannot trust yourself. You fear becoming an abuser, so you begin a slow form of suicide to prevent yourself from harming others.

That's just one tiny piece of the puzzle. Now let me add another piece. Imagine yourself lying at the bottom of a cliff after having fallen. You are in such excruciating pain that you dare not move. A fellow comes along and says "I'm a first responder, I'm going to get you some help!" The guy takes off running. Several hours later, you are still waiting, unable to move. Another person comes along, gives you a drink of water, and says "Help is coming soon!" That person leaves. Several hours pass. It is getting dark. Tell me you wouldn't have some anticipation of help at this point. What on earth could be taking them so long? Don't they understand how much pain you're in?

Steve, people get dissapointed when Cities, Governments, Churches, or other "helpers" don't live up to their expectations-- it's human nature. Apparently, even the homeless don't live up to some people's expectations. I suppose you wanted them all to be weeping in gratitude over the bowl of soup they received at the soup kitchen, but reality has betrayed you. A lot of homeless have been in crisis for years and years, and they are sick of governments declaring new programs and strategies for assistance only to be left out in the cold.

Yet, I will forgive your resentment. I know from experience that street life makes you cranky. You were resentful towards people who were enjoying their coffees... that's pretty irrational. Those coffee drinkers did nothing to you, why would you be resentful, unless you were simply suffering, and needed a place to project that frustration? You may have also dumped some of your frustration on the homeless. Hopefully, once you have a nice warm shower and sit down at the computer, you will be in a clear enough head to see that these people have been through enough, and probably don't need another negative opinion.


zoe said...


Thank you so much for sharing your reaction to Steve Wood's project. Well said! I am an outreach worker in Philadelphia and completely agree with everything you said.

Anonymous said...


I just moved to Victoria, notice ALOT of homeless people around. Are you part of the global campaign Make Poverty History? While it seems essential to be connected to a global movement like this, a great idea, I also would like to start doing something locally...any suggestions? (of actions that can be taken rather than only money)

If you have the time, you can email me at

Elizabeth Jane Fields

Libby Davy said...

Hi Derek

I'm so glad to have found your blog. You are articulate, dedicated, informed and passionate - a powerful mix. I need to talk with you!! HOpefully over Easter. I teach blogging - for therapeutic, political and other reasons. I'm going in to meet some homeless kids on Tuesday with a view to offering them a chance to get into blogging, but fear I am woefully ill prepared. There are computers around, but my guess is they get used for MSN / myspace etc and that might be meeting their needs already in some way (virtual tribe, community connection). Can we talk? Would it be okay to share your number with me?

Matt Barnes said...

Hi Derek,

I hope you still check in here from time to time. I run the site at We are launching a project to be known as 'Street Voices', an interactive discussion board based on contributions of experiences and viewpoints from currently and formerly homeless persons and hope that you may like to participate.

If you are interested or have questions please contact me via email at

Hope you are well. Kind regards,


Anonymous said...

I also think its an important point that while a student can pretend to be homeless for a week, he knows that at the end of the week he has a home and family to return to. He is making a choice to be on the street, others have not made this choice. When you are living without a support group, you have no choices, no options, you have no hope.