What the Homeless Really, Really Need and Why They'll Never Get It

One of the things I love to read is the religious satire magazine called The Wittenburg Door. It was founded by the late Mike Yaconelli and some friends and is often very revealing (in an extremely sarcastic way - I've been told sarcasm is my strongest spiritual gift!) This article was recently printed in the mag. It's by Joe Bob Briggs. He's a comic and movie reviewer known for his love of B-movies and drive-in theaters. The article originally printed in The Dallas Observer on June 7, 1990. It's long, but worth the read.

Back in the eighties, some of the Door-keepers in East Dallas started taking in homeless people, under the theory that if they started saying, "Hey, bud, come on in and sleep in the house," then other people would notice and start doing the same thing.

Apparently not.

We're actually coming up on the 20-year anniversary of the Great Homeless Experiment, and all that happened is that East Dallas became a Homeless Mecca.

The government hasn't done diddly squat. The churches haven't done doo-doo.

They've had 19 jillion Home B.O. cable-TV specials, and we've got more homeless people than when they started.

It was called The Dallas Project. It didn't work. Nobody was interested. Homeless people take up your time. They have bad teeth. A lot of 'em have hassles with the law, or they're sick, or they're trying to kick a drug habit, or they're trying to find a lawyer to handle their divorce. They need rides all the time. They're hard to talk to. They're secretive. Sometimes they pick up and leave in the middle of the night, and it makes you feel weird.

So most people—who think they wanna help the homeless—don't really wanna help the homeless.

This failed scheme was administered by the public nonprofit Trinity Foundation, which runs this here magazine, and here's what they learned:

Numero Uno: Nobody wants to know or hear about the homeless. If "homeless" is in the headline on this article, then 80 percent of you have already turned the page.

Numero Two-o: We don't need more government money for the homeless. The people who work for the government treat the homeless like beggars.

Numero Three-o: We don't need any more of those "Christian shelters" in the middle of downtown. The way that works is you show up in the morning, sit through a sermon or whatever the place is selling, then collect the goods—either food, or clothing, or transportation. In other words, you go to listen to what the place is preaching, then, as a reward, you get the stuff. If it's a "Christian" shelter, you oughta get the stuff no matter whether you listen or not. This is why homeless people are the most cynical people in America.

Numero Four-o: There's two kinds of shelters—the kind that make you leave at five in the afternoon, and the kind that make you leave at eight in the morning. Day shelters and night shelters. This is supposed to be so you don't stay there too long. Homeless people have already been kicked out of a lot of places. They're not looking for some situation where they get kicked out as a way of life.

Numero Five-o: Most homeless don't need money. Unless you can give 'em $50,000 a year for the rest of their lives, money's not gonna make any difference. This is why these big fundraising drives are so sick. All they do is raise money to build up another bureaucracy.

Numero Six-o: Ten percent of the homeless prefer being homeless. The other 90 percent lost their job, then moved in with a relative. Then there was a crisis. (Typical crisis: Somebody in the homeless family wrecks the family car.) The relative got mad and kicked them out on the street. Believe it or not, this is as hard on the relative as it is on the family that gets kicked out.

Numero Seven-o: Almost all homeless people need medical attention, especially dental work. Being homeless makes your body start to break down. The only way they can get free medical care is if some non-homeless person raises hell with a doctor or a hospital and makes somebody feel ashamed enough to provide it. The government won't do this for you. The shelter will ask you to come back on Sunday night when the nurse is on duty. Only a living, breathing angry person can do this. (It's actually easier than you think, once you get into the doctor's office.)

Numero Eight-o: Almost all homeless people need legal help. They owe money. They need to file bankruptcy. Or they're going through a divorce. Free legal services are either non-existent or a joke. Once again, they need a living, breathing, angry person, but this time they need an even angrier one, because lawyers will come up with 10,000 self-righteous reasons why they don't have time for it.

Numero Nine-o: Churches are the worst. There was a time when churches would allow the homeless to sleep in their sanctuaries. Not any more. Churches have "programs." All the "programs" involve the church member giving money, so that the church member never has to actually see the homeless person. Many churches have a policy that their "social welfare" programs are only available to ... members of that church!

Numero Ten-o: Unless you have personally taken a homeless person into your house, you're not an expert on the homeless. This rules out almost all the government employees, most of the preachers, all the lawyers, all the doctors. This rules me out. I haven't done it. I'm guilty. But I'm not gonna pretend anymore. I've given money to charities. But I'm not gonna do it anymore, because I know this much:

They don't need money. They need us.


Ryan Cardinal said...

Hello Jeff,

My first time visiting your site (linked from YSMarko). Wow. I didn't even get to what I was looking for. Your first post here was just what I needed.

We're been talking a lot about homeless people as a church lately (even in our youth group) and what we can do about it. This was so timely.

Of course, in number ten, I may as well have written it. I have not taken in a homeless person personally. I have boughten some groceries, I have let friends stay at my place between visits, I have .. I could make all kinds of things I have done, but I have not ever taken a homeless person in indefinitely to help him get off the street.

I live in Canada, health care is relatively easy to get (though not as free as some think). Dentists are cheap.

He's right. Time is the hardest to give. Real time. I'm a pastor, time is scarce enough as it is. But, if we can't set the example, who will? We let people call us leaders.. It's time to lead.

I couldn't agree more. God grant me the mercy and ability to follow through.

Jeff Myers said...


For the past 2 years we've been living in small town America where there really isn't a homeless problem (that anyone is aware of). However, there are plenty of people here who need our help and compassion, and I know I'm not doing enough, either. Lots of widows, lots of meth addicts, etc... Thanks for visiting!