If the homeless population really want what they’re begging for, they should learn proper etiquette.
Trash bags line the median at the stoplight on Columbus Boulevard and [Cross Street], but the bags aren’t filled with trash. A man lives at this intersection and the bags are filled with his belongings. He stands hunched over, holding a sign that reads, “Homeless, Please Help.”
I didn’t stop to help.
Project HOME reports there are approximately 4,000 homeless persons in Philadelphia. This estimate includes only those who are living on the streets or in temporary shelters. It does not account for those living in transitional homes.
I encounter homeless people almost every day. From the subway to Avenue North to 7-Eleven, there always seems to be someone asking me for money.
Don’t bother asking me, though. I do not give money to homeless people.
There is a certain etiquette homeless people should follow when they panhandle. And, while I refuse to give money to the homeless, I am willing to help those in need who approach me in a polite manner and do not expect me to immediately hand over my cash.
The woman who followed me for three blocks shouting, “B—-, can’t you hear me?” failed to follow this etiquette and consequently, failed to get any money from me.
But “Re Re,” who approached me near the Health Sciences Campus, used a much more conducive approach than the profanity enthusiast. Polite from the start, the woman did not ask for money. Instead, she requested a hot tea from Dunkin’ Donuts. I could hear in her voice that she was very sick and walked her into Dunkin’ Donuts to buy her tea. The man behind the counter threw a few doughnut holes in a bag for her. She said if she bought something, the man allowed her to sit inside to stay warm.
Sam Edwards, 47, also demonstrates the proper etiquette. Standing in front of the Taco Bell in Suburban Station, he often asks passersby for food.
“I never ask directly for money,” Edwards said. “I just ask for something to eat.”
Because of this, Edwards said, a lot of people stop to help him.
“I am very blessed,” he said.
Senior finance and international business major Millie Gateka said not all the homeless people she has encountered have asked for money politely.
“When I have some cash, I do give them some,” she said. “Some get intimidating and aggressive though.”
Junior history major Neil Tierney said he only gives money to one man.
“I know him, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t buy booze with it,” Tierney said.
The National Coalition for the Homeless cites an inability to pay rent, mental illness, domestic violence, unaffordable health care and substance abuse as the Top 5 causes of homelessness.
Approximately 33 percent of homeless are in need of mental health services, psychology professor Isabelle Chang explained. In 1963, Congress passed the Community Mental Health Center Act, promoting the creation of community care facilities for the seriously mentally ill as alternatives to institutional care.
“However, the infrastructure for support in communities was not adequately provided, leading to homelessness and high rates of re-hospitalization, incarceration and placement in state custody,” Chang said.
The huge housing affordability problem, caused by low incomes and high rents, has also led to a large amount of homelessness in Philadelphia, sociology professor Anne Shlay said.
“Local governments like Philadelphia are truly limited in the amount of resources that they have,” Shlay said, adding that welfare benefits have increased for single individuals who are not disabled. “There needs to be much more attention to building affordable housing, supporting a living wage, providing jobs and providing quality education.”
Philadelphia provides many services to the homeless, including temporary shelters, transitional homes and soup kitchens.
“The provision of such services does nothing to address the causes of homelessness and fails to consider homelessness as a chronic problem,” geography and urban studies professor Dr. Susan Lucas said. “Services that provide long-term help, particularly affordable housing, life skills counseling and job training, are expensive and are usually provided on a limited basis by very few cities.”
Although the city provides services to the homeless, many are still struggling to live on the streets, as society does very little to help support the lifestyle of the homeless, Lucas said.
“Through the privatization of public space and the enactment of quality life ordinances that ban the performance of life sustaining acts in public space, society makes it almost impossible to be homeless,” she added.
Senior risk and finance major Sene Ossebi said she would help homeless people by working at a shelter but “would not pay a monthly fee” to finance them.
“It shouldn’t be our problem,” Ossebi said. “It should be for the government to regulate.”
As of Feb. 10, the American Red Cross spent $80 million for the Haiti earthquake response effort. After the destruction, 1.2 million Haitians were left homeless. It seems that many Americans have been quick to lend a hand to those outside their country but continue to turn and look the other way in response to homelessness in the U.S.
“Suffering in another country is anonymous and easier to deal with particularly if it is a natural disaster,” Lucas said, adding that people often view homelessness in America as either the failure of society to deal with poverty or the failure of an individual.
After encountering many homeless people who lack the proper homeless etiquette, it’s hard to accept that it may not be their faults. However, the nice people I have spoken with provide me with reassurance that the issue of homelessness goes far beyond the individuals’ failures and should partly be attributed to the society’s failures to accommodate them.
Tracy Galloway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.