As you meet and get to know the people that you see wandering the streets of Pensacola you will quickly come to understand that there are several types of homeless people, each with a different reason for living on the street and each with a different set of issues and goals.
Imagine a ship that has struck an iceberg and is quickly sinking. The sea is full of struggling people and you are in a life boat trying to save as many as you can. You have some people that swim to the side of your boat and reach up to you. They are easy to save. You simply pull them to safety. Others swim with confidence towards a landfall that is much too far to ever reach. Still others quit trying and resign themselves to an icy grave. The point is that all people are different.
With that being said I want to break down the different people that you see on the street into some logical groups. I also want to address what should and should not be done for each group. Being kind to them is a universal rule regardless of their condition, however, the ultimate goals are for them to have a relationship with God and to begin living a productive, happy life.
Group 1 – Out of work or working only part time with no place to stay and no other substantial problems. Wants to work. These individuals are very easy to help. They simply need a job. You can do almost anything that you want for this person without it backfiring on you. You will often find it difficult to get people in this group to take any help. People in this position are normally only homeless for a short period of time. If they have family in another city but have no way to get home then a bus ticket would also solve much of their problem.
Group 2 – Out of work with no place to stay and a controlled drinking problem. Wants to work. Let’s face it. Lots of people drink and are perfectly functional. When you take away a job from this person they often drink more to fight the depression or to help them sleep at night which in turn makes their problem worse. These people can still be helped in most of the basic ways, however, keep in mind that until they eliminate their drinking problem they will never be fully functional. People in this group will spend some of their money on alcohol. For this reason you may want to avoid giving them cash. Stick with things that they can use to survive. Also, as you get to know them you may want to recommend that they get into a program like AA. People in this group and group 1 normally stick together and remain separate from other homeless people. As with group 1 there is quite a bit of hope for these individuals to lead a normal life.
Group 3 – Out of work with no place to stay and no substantial problems. Does NOT want to work. Believe it or not there are people like this living on the streets. They prefer homelessness over the stress of work and responsibility. I can understand how they feel sometimes, however, life just does not work that way. They can be helped in basic ways but what they really need is to suffer a little more. If living on the streets was fun everyone would want to do it. The truth is that it is miserable. Time will provide the motivation they need. A little kindness from you will certainly help. Just be careful about making life too comfortable for them.
Group 4 – Out of work with no place to stay and a serious drinking problem. People in this group are not functional in society and stay intoxicated almost all the time. You need to be careful what you provide for this group. They need to be in a rehabilitation program like the Waterfront Mission. It is fine to give them things like bus passes, food, clothing, survival guides, personal hygiene kits, and other items like this. Avoid giving them things that will enable them to continue a destructive lifestyle.
Group 5 – Out of work with no place to stay and a serious drug addiction. Some also drink and some do not. If they do not drink then it may be difficult to tell they have an addiction problem since they will appear fairly normal when not under the influence. People in this group are difficult to help because their every waking thought revolves around obtaining drugs to feed their addiction. They often do not reside in the same camps that the other groups stay in. It is more expensive for them to live since they need both food and drugs. Therefore they are more desperate to obtain money. If you give them a bike it will be gone in a day or two. If you give them anything they can sell they will. Drug addicts tend to attract drug dealers. Be careful around this type of person.
Group 6 – Disabled. Unable to work. Addiction to alcohol or drugs. This is actually very common. Certain situations in life can cause depression. Being unable to care for yourself or your family because of a disability is one of these situations. To cope, some people medicate themselves which makes the problem worse and lands them on the street. The downward spiral seems to never end. This is truly a sad situation. Here is what makes it worse. A disabled person attracts a lot of sympathy and will get more help than other homeless people. The homeless people around this person often benefit from this person’s ability to get help. Therefore no one ever tries to get the individual help through readily available government and state programs. The best way to help a person with a disability is to get them to the social security office and get them disability payments. Then get them in touch with other state and federal programs. Once they have all the assistance that is available to them they at least have a choice between living on the streets or getting a place to live.
Group 7 – Mentally handicapped. People in this group are in almost the exact situation that the previous group is in. The only difference is that a mentally disabled person may be more difficult to work with especially if they have been drinking. They need to get some government assistance. That is what it is there for.
Group 8 – Abused Women. This is another sad situation. We are all familiar with the scenario so I will just say that you need to help this person get into a women’s shelter or into a program. Women do not need to be on the streets. On the positive side, women get much more assistance than men. Finding help for a woman is as simple as a few phone calls provided they are willing.
Group 9 – Families with Children. There are more programs for people in this situation than there are for all the other groups combined. State and Federal agencies take families very serious and go out of their way to help them. The Escarosa Survival Guide has a wealth of information that can help. Also, the United Way can point them in the right direction. Churches are normally generous to families as well. A family with under age children need never be on the street unless there are extenuating circumstances.
I would encourage you to get to know people and determine what their situation is. Then begin helping them accordingly.