Concert-Goers Respond to Questions about Homelessness

(The following are excerpts from an interview taken at Lollapalooza '95, an all day-concert at which numerous "progressive," modern rock groups play; it was held at the Blossom Music Center on Saturday, July twenty-second. The interview questions were created by Jennifer Martinez and Jennifer Weir.)
Question 1:
Could you describe the picture that comes to your mind when you think of a homeless person?
"Uh, wow. I don't know. Usually what you see from TV. What everyone else shows ya. They're dirty, unshaven, unkempt same clothes a long time...I don't get the idea you get from, it's just a bum."
(Eric, who lives on his own, is nineteen and from Akron.)
"Dirty, smelly, poor."
(Andrew, who has a job and lives at home, is 20 and from Pennsylvania.)
"It could be absolutely, I mean...just about...someone who lost their job... someone who can't afford to pay for a house--a businessman...whatever."
(Bethany, who is employed and goes to school, is twenty-one
and from Rochester NY.)
"Under a bridge."
(Lori, who goes to school, is thirty and from Cleveland.)
"An old man on the streets."
(Becky, who lives at home and goes to school, is sixteen and from Minnesota.)

In reality, women and children are the fastest-growing subgroup of homeless people. In Cleveland, 48 percent of shelter clients are women. There were more than thirty-five thousand homeless children in Ohio in 1991. With General Assistance (GA) cut and changes to Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), these numbers can be expected to increase. The median age of a homeless person in an urban area is 33 years for men, 26 years for women, and 5 years for children. The lack of constant access to toilet facilities goes a long way toward explaining some people's appearance, others are just as well-groomed as the average housed person.

Question 2
If a homeless person asks you for money on the street, would you give it to him/her?
Why or why not?

"No. I give to agencies that help them. But I don't give to people."
(Kally Butler, who is employed and goes to school, is twenty-one
and from Cleveland.)
"Yes, I care about them."
(Becky, Minnesota, sixteen)
"No, don't know them."
(Jennifer, who lives with family and goes to school, is twenty-four
and from Youngstown.)
"Yeah, tell you the truth, I'm real bad about it. I give everyone money. I do it 'cause, I figure, even if you're scammin' me you must need it worse than I do.'s just isn't that important as far as I'm concerned."
(Eric, 19, Akron)
"No. Because you don't know what they're doing with their money all the time."
(Lori, 30, Cleveland)

While there are homeless persons with drug and alcohol problems--problems which usually have contributed to their being homeless--only about one in five report drinking often. There is debate as to whether it is better to give to an individual or an agency. Agencies and services are capable of providing the kinds of help an individual needs: food, shelter, clothing, and even referrals to social services and counseling. It may be the case that panhandlers are not even homeless persons at all. Not all homeless persons are panhandlers.

Question 3
Do you think that homeless people are living on the streets by choice or through some fault of their own?
"Their own fault. They aren't trying hard enough."
(Steve, who is living at home and goes to school, is sixteen
and from Erie, Pennsylvania.)
"Neither. Some of them are by choice, maybe. I don't think anyone wants to be homeless. But its not always a fault of your own also, from people I've talked to and everything."
(Eric, 19, Akron)
(Brad, who lives at home and is going to school, is 14 and from Cleveland.)
"Neither, they get shafted."
(Carol Bernard, who is going to school, is 24 and from Louisiana.)
"A little of both."
(Clint, who lives on his own and is employed, is 25 and from Massillon.)

More than half of the homeless persons interviewed cited some economic reasons for their homelessness, while only 6 percent said that they liked to move around. Sixty-four percent did not have relatives they could rely on for any help. About 60 percent said they had no friends or could not count on those they had. 90 percent of the homeless persons have an employment history and 30 percent of those interviewed had worked in the past month. Often, the jobs are minimum wage, part time, or temporary. In some shelters, one-fourth or more of the residents are employed. Those employed homeless who work a second shift usually cannot find shelter for the night; by the time they leave off work, the shelters are full and closed. To afford the average one-bedroom apartment requires a full-time job at $7.31 per hour; a two-bedroom requires a full-time income of $8.46 per hour. There is no temporary agency or part-time job that will pay such a starting hourly wage.

Copyright  NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published Oct. – Dec. 1995 Issue 12