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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von M√ľnchhausen

The Homeless Guy

Last week, Wired ran an article about how homeless people are using the Internet to stay in contact with their families, maintain bank accounts, and even earn a modest living. One of the people they interviewed was Las Vegas-based Kevin Barbieux, whose blog, The Homeless Guy, is written at a terminal in public library. He uses the electronic forum to discuss the issue of homelessness in America and bring it into some sort of perspective. He explains in a post entitled "Why I Do What I Do":

2 Points about homelessness that I try to focus on with this blog are:

1. Educating people about the truth of homelessness - there's a lot of bad/wrong information out there about homeless people.

And that leads to:

2. Fighting the bigotry that most people have towards the homeless because of their ignorance about the realities of homeless people.

This bigotry is the cause for homeless people being murdered as they sleep, being set on fire, or beaten. It also is the cause for people being "scared" of the mere presence of a homeless person, and calling the cops on the homeless person just because he happened to walking through their neighborhood. This ignorance/bigotry lead to church people thinking that homelessness is a punishment from God, and that they only way to overcome homelessness is by being converted to Christianity. It's this ignorance/bigotry that causes many employers to not give homeless people an opportunity. Mostly, this ignorance/bigotry leads to fear of the homeless, which causes most people to ostracize the homeless from their society - and causes most people to avoid the homeless and thus never learn the truth of them.

His candor and patience in describing his and his friends' day-to-day lives is eye-opening. He talks about harassment by the police, the problems with shelters, and the difficulty in actually determining the scale of the problem. He also frankly discusses his own social anxieties which he says keeps him from holding down a regular job.

The Homeless Guy got 23,000 visits the day that the Wired article ran. It's truly incredible how the blogosphere has impacted the way we express ourselves, the way we communicate, even the way we live. Reading Kevin's blog got me thinking. I live in New York City, and while there's not nearly as many homeless people on the streets as there were in the pre-Giuliani era, there are still plenty around. In fact, there's one who hangs around my neighborhood downtown. He's scrawny-looking, with a voice that's so weak that "spare some change" is barely audible. Sometimes he's hanging around the Spring Street 6 station; sometimes he's lying on a piece of cardboard in front of the Catholic school on Prince Street. When I first moved to the neighborhood, I'd give him a few bucks every time I passed him, but I stopped doing that, feeling conflicted. After all, they say it's better not to encourage panhandling, since you don't know where the money is going, but I have been blessed with a certain amount of financial success. Doesn't that obligate me to help those in need? Kevin's advice is to do something much harder:

Don't give money to panhandlers. More than likely they will use it for drugs or alcohol. If you want to help a homeless person, panhandler or otherwise, take the time to get the know the person and what they really need - and what will really be beneficial for them, and provide that instead.
The Homeless Guy, "Review For Future Test"
Kevin's refrain is that there's "more to homeless people than being homeless". They're struggling with something that keeps them from getting back on their feet. When asked "Why are you homeless?", Barbieux says we might as well ask the question, "Why are we human?" The only solution to a human problem is humanity; I hope to remember that when I see my friend with his paper cup.

Comments on The Homeless Guy
  Comment from Blogger gnome at Friday, June 30, 2006 9:02:00 AM
A very interesting post, but let me just add, that the post-Giuliani radical decrease of homeless people in New York was the result of brutal/facist/zero-tolerance policies, that have been worldwide criticized...

Oh, and have you heard of the "ecology of fear"?

Cheers
  Comment from Blogger Red Bull at Friday, June 30, 2006 2:31:00 PM
I realize I didn't make my personal feelings on the Giuliani regime very clear, but let me go on record as saying that this city has changed in a number of very disturbing ways. The corporate mentality running this city (indeed, the entire country) has forced low-income families out, has destroyed once-vibrant neighborhoods of their character, and has failed to serve those most in need of help. Their treatment of the homeless makes sense when viewed in light of their overall mindset that treats a city like a business and treats its people like commodities to be bought and sold.

Oh, and I experience the "ecology of fear" first-hand when I can be randomly searched on my way to movie in the name of making our subways safer.
  Comment from Blogger gnome at Saturday, July 01, 2006 5:29:00 AM
Excellent! You almost had me worried there... Mind you, it's not only your country that radically commercializes cities ... but I guess you know that.

:)

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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.