Homelessness Myth #20: They Make Millions

Also published on The Huffington Post

The myth that homeless people make millions or thousands of dollars is a myth of gigantic proportions. This myth incorporates the mistaken belief that homeless people make big money by trading on their homelessness, which is simply not true.

Panhandling is one of the primary ways a homeless person can raise funds. In today’s parlance “begging” is called “panhandling.”

I learned a great deal about the nature and necessity of panhandling from a young homeless woman I met outside a theater in Los Angeles. It was 9:30 p.m. on a cool winter’s night when I walked by her as she stood by a shopping cart that held her young child and her infant.

“Can you spare some change?” she asked.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out two $1 bills. As I handed these singles to the young mother, she pulled out a wad of bills from her pocket. She proceeded to place my bills on top of the high stack that she already had.

I began to walk away when I thought I would talk to the young mother.

“May I ask you a question?”


“I’m wondering about something. It’s late at night, you have two young children and you have a lot of money. Why are you and your children outside in the cold?”

“Well, you don’t understand.”

She pulled out all of her money from her pocket. For the first time I noticed that the high stack of bills was actually a bunch of crinkled one dollar bills stacked one on top of another.

“Before you came along, I had $26 here. Now, with your two dollars, I have $28. I’ll be out here until I get $36 for a motel room for me and my babies.”

I was silent. I had no more cash to give her. So, I wished the young mother well and left with a heavy heart.

Obviously, panhandling is not as lucrative as some of us think. This young mother taught me that appearances can be deceiving.

Recycling is another way a homeless person can make money. We’ve all seen a homeless person pushing a cart filled to overflowing with cans and bottles. Sometimes there are even plastic bags bulging with recyclables tied to the sides of the cart.

Can a homeless person “get rich quick” by recycling? Not really. Working from dawn to dust, a homeless person may gather as much as $40 in recyclables. Just enough for a motel room and perhaps one meal.

Also, recycling is not easy work. It requires some mental ability and more than a little physical strength. Certainly, this method of pursuing an income is not available to the elderly or infirm.

My homeless friend Danny recycled cans and bottles every day for years. Each morning Danny would follow the same route, visiting the same locations searching for discarded recyclables. He considered recycling his job and he was devoted to his work.

A lovely, responsible person, Danny was hired not long ago by the City to do part time maintenance work. Although he enjoys his new job, Danny says that he misses his old job of recycling and the places he would visit every day.

Government benefits are another way that a homeless person can acquire funds to live. In California general relief (GR), also known as “welfare,” is a program funded by the county. Although each of the 58 California counties sets its own amount of benefits, San Diego County provides $234 as a loan to a single qualifying adult.

A $234 loan per month is a far cry from riches. Often a homeless person will use some of his or her GR to rent a motel room for several nights and to pay for food during this same period of time. His or her goal is to clean up, rest, and possibly remember what it is like to be housed once again. This brief respite gives the homeless person an opportunity to leave the harsh conditions living on the streets.

A homeless person may also qualify for Social Security benefits. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is available to assist the elderly, blind, or disabled person who has low or no income. In the year 2000, SSI’s maximum monthly benefit was $512.

Social Security Disability Insurance
 is a monthly benefit for disabled people who have worked within 10 years of the disability and paid Social Security taxes. In the year 2000, the average benefit was about $750.

The monthly benefits available to a qualifying adult through SSI or SSDI will not make a homeless person rich. The goal of these programs is to provide a safety net for those who do qualify. These funds may be sufficient for a homeless person to secure housing.

People are homeless for a host of reasons, but they are not pretending to be poor. They do not have the funds for three meals a day and a roof over their heads every night.

No homeless person is getting rich through panhandling, recycling or any government program.


How To Serve A Homeless Person: Guide To Gift Bags

Also seen on The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christine-schanes/how-to-serve-a-homeless-p_b_173248.html

We can help a homeless person by serving him/her food, a blanket and/or necessary items.  It’s a pretty simple and wonderful thing to do.

In this article, I would like to propose a way to share items with homeless people. This distribution method of serving an unhoused person has worked for Children Helping Poor and Homeless People volunteers for over twenty-two years. I will discuss “the charitable giving of food” in detail in a later article.

Let’s start from the beginning – we’d like to share something with a homeless person/people, but what should we share and how can we do share it?

First, we ask ourselves, what would we like to share with those in need.  Not sure?  On our website, www.chphp.com, there is a “Can You Help?” button which, once clicked on, will reveal a number of suggestions of how to help.

One of our favorite projects is to assemble one or more Gift Bags, also known as, Survival Kits or Toiletry Bags.  The goal of this project is to fill a bag(s) with new hotel/motel size toiletries and then give them to homeless people.

Although any bag or container can be used, we suggest using gallon zip lock bags for a number of reasons: they are big enough to fit a lot of items; a homeless person can reuse the bag; and because the top of the bag can be securely closed, the car/transportation vehicle is safe from spillage.

Having selected Gift Bags as our project, we can then think about the toiletry items we want to include in each Gift Bag.  This is a very important part of this project because we are raising our own awareness.  We can let our minds wonder and imagine what personal items a homeless person could use.  We might even ask ourselves what personal items we would want if we were homeless.

For more ideas of personal items to include in the Gift Bag, we can refer to a list of just some of these items on our website, www.chphp.com and click on the ” “Can You Help?” button.

We can then make a list of these toiletry items and share this list with our extended family, classroom, school and others to raise awareness and to generate more personal items.  We can also purchase toiletries at reasonable prices at discount stores such as The 99 Cent Store or Big Lots.

After our collection is complete, we can sort these wonderful toiletries into piles of similar items, such as a pile of combs, a pile of toothbrushes and a pile of toothpaste.

Then, we put one or several of each item into each bag.  This assembly process is great fun and can be done by young people and adults alike.

After our Gift Bags are assembled, we can bring them to homeless people we’ve seen in any area, place or park.  For example, in Los Angeles County, we frequently distribute to people in need on the Santa Monica Promenade or at Venice Beach.

We follow several guidelines when we share/distribute anything to anyone:

1.  We always serve in a group with two or more adults.  We are a team.  We always stay together.

2.  We always serve others in a well-lit area.

3. We always use our common sense.  For example, we don’t like to be awakened when we are sleeping, so we don’t wake a homeless person up to serve him/her anything.  We can put the item(s) nearby without disturbing the sleeping person.

4.  The homeless children, women and men are our guests.  How do we treat a guest?  With kindness and respect.

5.  We use special words when serving another person.  We say, “Excuse me, Sir or Madam, do you know anyone who could use this ____________ ?  Fill in the blank, which in this case, is a Gift Bag filled with toiletries.

We have found that the person we are asking will usually respond in one of three ways,

1. 1% of the time he/she will say,  “No, I don’t.”
Our response: “Thank you, have a nice day!”

2. 1% of the time he/she will say, “Yes, there is a person who could use it right over there.”
Our response:   “Thank you, have a nice day!”

3. 98% of the time he/she will say,  “Yes, I could!”
Our response:   “Wow, that’s great!  Here you are.  Have a nice day!”

That’s it.

Creating Gift Bags is a lot of fun, but I can assure you that the distribution, this sharing, is the very best part.

I hope that you will consider direct service.  It’s good for all of us.