Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

50 Comments

  1. Oh man, that poor guy. It’s so hard not to jump to blaming people in these situations and being angry at them. At the end of the day, your life is your life and it’s a result of your choices. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t provide infrastructure and programs to help people get back on their feet.
    Many people on the street also have untreated mental illnesses. It’s horrible to call them “crazy homeless people” because these are people who genuinely need help. I’d love to see more effective programs promoting wellness and mental health treatments while earning income, like Mr. Davis’s shelter.
    I really like your plan, Mr. Groovy. I do think non-physical labor would need to be included as well, since many people on the street are differently-abled and don’t have the ability to do physical work.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Good point about mental illness. I should have included that but forgot to do so. And I totally agree with you about the non-physical labor. My picking-up litter job wouldn’t be a job in a traditional sense. There wouldn’t be any goals or productivity benchmarks. If someone manages to pick up enough litter over 8 hours to fill a garbage bag, great. If someone only manages to fill up half a garbage bag, that’s great too. The point is to keep people occupied for 8 hours and give them something constructive to do. Thanks for stopping by, Mrs PP. Your contribution really moved the conversation forward.

  2. Wow, you’re hitting a hot one today. Honestly, I really struggle with what to do. One one hand, I think “there’s no way this guy’s gonna pick up garbage 40 hours a week for $12 in net pay”. Then I saw your “salary increase” concept, and thought to myself “maybe this does have merit”.

    Then, I came to “Who’s gonna pay?” and hit another wall. A really, really big challenge for our world, and I applaud you for putting your brain in gear on the topic.

    It’s a tough one, but if a bunch of smart people put their minds into a dedicated effort on it, maybe (just maybe) we could improve the world.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Agreed. Who’s gonna pay is a really big wall. And I’m not really sure my idea would even work. Like you said, it’s a very big problem. Thank for indulging me and taking the time to respond. I really appreciate your comments, Fritz.

  3. Wow, wow, wow. This is a tricky one. It’s hard not to feel for Mr. Davis. He’s right we need to treat everyone with respect. The thing is when I walk past panhandlers, I just not sure if they are for real, lazy, mentally ill, down on their luck, etc. So many things go through my mind. We certainly can do better for them. I know there is a percentage of homeless people who just need a break, some help like Mr. Davis to get back on track. I think your plan is a good place to start. I think for someone like Mr. Davis would be all he needs to get back on his feet.

    • Mr. Groovy

      You are so right about the uncertainty revolved around the homeless population. We’re not X-Men, so there’s no way to tell who’s lazy, mentally ill, or just down on their luck. I saw a bunch of homeless men in Seattle and Portland who were younger than I, looked significantly fitter, and could probably kick my butt.

  4. I truly feel for him and don’t know the answer.

    As I live outside the US, I see people in far more impoverished conditions, which does not mean the US should turn a blind eye–we should not.

    Tough topic to take on and thoughtful suggestions!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Thank you for indulging me, Ian. This really isn’t a personal finance topic. But every once in a while I feel compelled to tilt at windmills.

  5. Props to you for taking some time to sit down and think about a solution to a problem you saw. My immediate thought on the savings account was that someone would try to game the system. The increase in wages over time is an excellent idea, to encourage improvement over time.
    What would be keeping someone from working hard for a month or two and building up the savings account then cashing it out to go on a bender for a month or two?
    I think the biggest action anyone can take right now is bringing attention to the issue as the video and you did. I’m glad I stuck around to read your rant!

    • Mr. Groovy

      “What would be keeping someone from working hard for a month or two and building up the savings account then cashing it out to go on a bender for a month or two?”

      Great question, Kraken. The answer sadly is “nothing.” Like you said, my plan is very susceptible to gaming on both sides of the equation. So it’s definitely back to the drawing board.

      Very difficult problem. Perhaps so difficult there are no answers.

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, Kraken. They were very constructive.

  6. I love that you are willing to tackle some tough issues. I don’t know what the solution is but I agree with Mrs. Picky Pincher in that mental health is often an issue when I see homeless people. That definitely needs to be dealt with if that is the case.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Without a doubt. For a while I thought about broaching the mental illness issue. But I really feared getting too far into the weeds on an issue that’s not remotely related to personal finance. But mental illness is a big issue and it will surely frustrate any efforts to make things better. Thanks for stopping by, Andrew. I really appreciate your thoughts.

  7. Like Mrs. PP, my first thought was the mentally ill. Estimates indicate that 1/4 to 1/3 of the homeless population suffers from serious mental illness, and we need to find a way to help these people. Aside from that there is also a large segment of homeless people who suffer from addiction and need help with that. I applaud you for trying to think about solutions. It is a complicated problem to be sure. I think we need to treat some of the root causes in order to alleviate the symptoms. Even if the person had every advantage and simply made poor decisions, there still needs to be a way back because these are human beings.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Thank you, Gary. Your kind words and frank assessment are truly welcomed. Mental illness and addiction are two brutal hurdles. And I don’t know if there’s really anything we can do to overcome them. Admittedly, I’m very ignorant when it comes to the state of our rehabilitation services. I watch shows like Intervention and i’m not optimistic. Rehabilitation fails people with semi-functioning brains and loving families. How will it do with people who have badly deteriorated brains and no family to speak of?

  8. Madeline

    Your thoughtfulness about others shines through your writing.

    I am a clinical social worker and early in my career worked with folks who were ‘mica’ , mentally ill- chemically addicted. It was a heart breaking group to work with. Often their mental illness would make them unable to trust anyone (paranoia) and they would often not take meds because they believed for instance that the medication was tainted or brought by aliens etc.,etc.
    “Choices” or “decisions” are not really applicable ,I think, to this group. How do you make a decision when your brain circuitry is damaged or non functional.?
    I don’t think your idea would work because I think that some folks honestly to not have the capacity to respond to the kind of work/ reward system you are suggesting.
    I wish I had an alternative suggestion…sadly I don’t. Prayer? Crisis intervention? Kindness?

  9. Mr. G, you’ve done it again–tackled a topic so deep and complicated most others won’t touch it.
    I love that you’re thinking outside the box and also admit I don’t have any answers. Several others have already commented on distrust and mental illness, which affects many as a cause and many more as a result of homelessness.
    However, as adults we’re allowed to make our own choices, even if they’re not “smart” according to mainstream society.
    The FIRE crowd, though well-represented here and in other places we choose to congregate, is actually a tiny minority and many think we’re making poor or irrational decisions. Would you like for society to tell us we can’t decide for ourselves how to spend our money?
    People don’t have to accept the assistance you propose, but it’s so hard to know where to draw the line.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Excellent point, Julie. There is an inherent conflict between liberty and proclaiming that some attitudes and choices are insane. Isn’t that how the old Soviet Union suppressed dissent? And there are no shortage of people who think our FIRE community is insane. Should we be forced to spend more in order to support our consumption-based economy? One way to ethically approach this concern is to make my proposed “emergency employment” voluntary. No homeless person would be forced to take part in it.

  10. Compelling post, as always!

    Here’s my lizard brain: I know plenty of people who aren’t homeless that need an incentive to work, work hard, and stay sober. Drugs are crippling my slice of suburban, middle-class America. And it’s the kids that scare me the most. For that and for so many other reasons, I can’t get on board with drug testing of welfare recipients.

    Mental health, family, support, systems, education, prison reform. My liberal is showing 😉

    Proactivity and prevention are really the only long-term fixes, and we’ve got miles to go before we sleep.

      • Mr. Groovy

        You’re too kind, Penny. What really rocks is our community. Our focus is personal finance and financial freedom, and deviating from that subject strikes me as somewhat rude–even if my intentions are noble. So I really appreciate when you and others take the time to address my non-FIRE rants in a respectful and constructive manner. You guys are truly wonderful. Thank you.

    • Mr. Groovy

      I love when your liberal is showing! It helps keep me in line. Excellent point about drugs crippling so much of America. I talk to friends back on Long Island and they detail how heroin is a big problem in the Island’s high schools now. Which is insane. When I was growing up, drug use was limited to basically alcohol and pot. And most of my peers didn’t partake in either. Why are drugs so alluring? Is reality that unbearable? Meh.

      • Oooof, is heroin still around? Here in NZ it’s meth sadly (which is terrible to human bodies, and also affects the property market to boot – meth testing companies will be booming for the foreseeable future).

        • Mr. Groovy

          Yep. Sadly, heroin is still around. And meth isn’t too far behind. Brother Groovy, who once had a bunch of rental homes on Long Island, got a call back in the early 2000s from the DEA. One of his rentals was turned into a meth lab. But as far as I can tell, meth is mainly a problem in rural America. I could be wrong, though. I don’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of the America’s drug trends.

      • We have a handful of kids from both high schools die each year from heroin. It is absolutely crippling when it’s a former student. Mental health is a big issue in our community, as well. But not necessarily in the way that people think. We have a lot of issues that stem from students being overachievers rather than people being “lazy” or unmotivated. Lots of conversations need to be had.

  11. Your idea is interesting, Mister Groovy, and makes me think about an interaction I had this week.

    It’s long and rambling, so I apologize in advance.

    I spent some time talking to a homeless woman the other day at work. She was well-spoken, clean, working at a job that gives her 20 hours a week or less, and living on someone’s couch because she absolutely can’t afford rent on what she makes.

    I didn’t get her entire story, just part of it, but her lack of transportation (bus service here can be difficult to navigate and takes lots of extra time) and lack of a stable living situation makes it difficult for her to find better work, and she had to place her daughter with her parents.

    The big thing was, she had some advantages. Like I said, she had a friend who let her stay, which meant she could have basic hygiene and safety issues taken care of. That meant she COULD get a job and she had one, albeit a low wage, low hour one. She had parents who could take care of her child. She had a cell phone with some internet capabilities.

    It was hard enough for this woman, even with those things going for her, to see a way out.

    I’m not sure what the answer is, but she got no government assistance because she had sent her child away to a better situation, and I applaud her for that decision even though it cost her in numerous ways. I don’t know what she needed to improve things, but I do know that a little help might have made a big difference to her. Even better spending on infrastructure (decent public transportation) might have made the difference between a minimum wage minimum hour job and something that might have provided a little financial security.

    Life is hard for the homeless, and getting harder. Think about the things we assume everyone has and pretty much require for work purposes: identification, reliable transportation, basic hygiene, reliable telephone service. And then think about how much harder and more expensive it is to do things without a bank account, or how much harder it is now to apply for jobs without internet access or even to make an appointment to get help. Now think about getting those things if you have no stable address. Or if you are mentally ill or have substance abuse issues.

    Now, one big help would be to loosen some of the zoning laws to allow basic tiny houses so people could have an address for cheap. (See? Even a liberal like me can say that sometimes regulations make no sense and make matters worse.)

    But the situation may get a lot worse, especially as retail and fast food businesses experiment with more automation and smaller workforces. We aren’t kind as a society to the people who are getting left behind in the skills and resources needed to navigate our current environment.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Amazing comment, Emily. You nailed it on so many levels. Without identification, transportation, basic hygiene, telephone service, a bank account, and internet access, your odds of getting mainstream employment are basically nil. Really, the only option for those with these many deficiencies, is self-employment–cutting grass, cleaning homes, walking dogs, etc. But would someone with these deficiencies have the emotional wherewithal to run a small or micro business and abide by all the government regulations (there are those dastardly regulations again)? And like you pointed out, Emily, with automation coming at us like a freight train, it’s only going to get worse. Sigh.

  12. Great thoughtful post! it is not easy for anyone to explain these circumstances rationally. It is tough to walk by them without making eye contact but it is also tough to give them money knowing it is most likely going to be converted to booze or cigarettes. I always struggled with this when I worked in downtown Boston. I tended to react negatively to the situation because it is so heart wrenching and I just don’t know what to do to help. I worked very hard to get where I am, why can’t they do the same? I shouldn’t have to feel guilty for being semi-successful, should I? Then I feel selfish for thinking that. Maybe they just need a little help.

    It is not always that easy and it is such an emotional topic. I always figured it would be better to go and buy them a cheeseburger rather than hand loose change to them. But what happens tomorrow and the next day? It is not a permanent solution. We as a society need to figure this out without people feeling like we are giving them a handout on the backs of everyone else. Truly a difficult subject to wrap your head around. We should begin with compassion and see where it goes. I like your idea. I think it balances responsibility along with help from others. It is a good compromise. Thanks for sharing .

    -Brian

    • Mr. Groovy

      Thank you, Brian. I truly appreciate your kind words. What you describe in your first paragraph is exactly how I wrestle with the situation. I want to help, but I know my spare change will do very little to help the situation. It may even make things worse. And the situation is so ubiquitous in some downtowns, you could go broke handing out a few dollars to every homeless person you pass. (If the latte factor can ruining your advance toward financial independence, just think how detrimental the spare-change factor can be!) Maybe my idea would help matters? Maybe it wouldn’t. I just wish our politicians would keep experimenting until they came across something that worked. But no one wants to think outside the box. They’d just rather stick with the status quo and blame their ideological foes for being greedy, uncaring, or racist.

  13. Thank you for sharing the video and for your thoughtful post, Mr. Groovy! I love the thought provoking posts.

    As many others have mentioned in the comments, the first place my mind goes is to mental health and addiction in these circumstances. I spent an evening in the ER this week with an acquaintance who took some pills as a cry for help. He needs mental health treatment, but refuses. And his life is spiraling out of control.

    Seeking help for mental health issues has a negative stigma attached to it. I think if we were to think about mental health treatment like we do physical health, it would help.

    I don’t have an answer. And I’m not sure there is one. But I like what Brian had to say – “We should begin with compassion and see where it goes”.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Agreed. There should be no negative stigma attached to mental health. And Brian definitely summed up what we all feel. “We should begin with compassion and see where it goes” is a beautiful sentiment. Thank you for your very kind words, Amanda. And I hope things workout for your friend. It’s a very tough problem.

  14. Interesting idea. I think the real challenge in solving situations for people in those situations requires testing the cause, not the symptoms.

    I like the structure and consistency of your plan since it’s certainly critical to give someone hope and a pathway they can plan on.

    I think the toughest gap is to identify what got the person there in the first place and how to manage that. Mental illness, addiction, health? Each of these requires tailored help.

    Addiction takes community and guidance to overcome. Mental health takes therapy at a minimum and potentially even medication. Health requires treatment and maybe even financial forgiveness in the case of medical debt.

    These resources can be expensive but in at least two of the cases, the “fault” may not have been with the person to begin with. It can be hard but imagine if you were bipolar and in the same situation. Getting out would take a lot more than just income.

    That said, I think your proposal has a lot of merit as a part of the overall solution. Predictable shelter, food, and a path to building savings and security are a whole lot more than most homeless people have today!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Thank you, Chris. I really appreciate the feedback. Such a vexing problem. “[I]magine if you were bipolar and in the same situation.” That one sentence explains why we may never be able to fully address this scourge. It isn’t just a money issue. If it were, we would have solved the homeless problem years ago. It may be hard to admit, but some people are just destined to die a slow miserable death on our streets. We are powerless to save all but a few.

  15. Oh man this could potentially be a loaded response. I never know the answer or the right thing to do with the homeless situation. I have a relative who has been given every opportunity imaginable, but in the end, some people will do something positive with it, and some just have zero drive. I have no doubt some people would do something if help was given, but others, I don’t know. 🙁

    • Mr. Groovy

      Not loaded at all. As Chris pointed out above, for many of our homeless, the problem isn’t money. For whatever reason, a brain damaged from birth or a brain damaged from excessive drug use, a lot of homeless people are beyond help. I have a distant relative who got involved with heroin. Put his family through hell. Fortunately, he was able to turn things around. But as you’ve seen firsthand from your corner of the world, happy endings aren’t typical. Thanks for stopping by, Tonya. I really appreciate that you took to the time to share your thoughts and experiences. Brutally tough problem.

  16. I don’t have any well thought out ideas myself, so I won’t criticize, but I appreciate you talking about this.

    One thing I’d bet on is that family is missing in Mr. Davis’ life. If he had a strong network of family, he wouldn’t be on the street.

    Families are falling apart in America and I think that’s a huge part of the problem. Figure out a way to strengthen the family and I have a hunch that you’ll have simultaneously created a safety net.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Agreed. We’ve spent the last few decades sneering at the traditional family. The “Ozzie and Harriet” model was so outdated, so non-cool. But the Ozzie and Harriet model comes in pretty handy when one family member goes off the rails. As my professor in graduate school used to say, “the first and best Department of Health and Human Services is the family.”

  17. I agree with Chris that “blame” is complicated here. Yes, politicians may not be personally responsible for every homeless person. But there are factors, as many have pointed out here, such as mental illness and the results of the wretched upbringing that can come with poverty that can lead someone to end up homeless. Those factors amount to more than poor decision making. Paris Hilton can make a bunch of bad decisions, but she will never be homeless. I applaud you for thinking about this tough issue. There is no easy answer. I love the idea of providing jobs for homeless people, but I think they should be paid fairly. If they are so mentally far gone as to be not trusted with money, they should get the mental or addiction help that they need instead. We are a rich country, I think spending money to deal with mental illness is worth it. And addiction is hollowing out vast swaths of America – we will pay the price one way or another.

    • Mr. Groovy

      The need for more mental health services is not going away. In fact, the need may become more acute as Americans tire from the war on drugs. But here’s the question we have to ask ourselves, Linda. More elaborate mental health services will not come cheap. What do we want to give up in order to make room for it? Less spending on K-12 education? The end of defined-benefit pensions for government workers? Reduced Medicare benefits? Withdrawal from NATO?

  18. Awesome post, Mr. Groovy. I have to agree with Ty that a solid family unit that is loving and supportive is crucial. Even when we were the poorest, sitting in the living room with empty cupboards in the kitchen (and I do mean “empty”), we stood strong in our love for each other and the goodness of God. Those two things helped us to get up, brush ourselves off and keep trying. It’s amazing what a supportive network will do. It won’t help everyone, but it will help a LOT of people. In my many years of work with the poor, what I see often is an entitlement attitude and a refusal to take responsibility for choices and those two things will absolutely bring down one’s drive to do better, to live better. We have to help our younger generations to be responsible for their actions and be held accountable for them. This will help so much. And as far as funding your plan goes, in the olden days, this was the responsibility of the church, and I believe it still should be. The Bible is very clear about Christians’ responsibility to help the poor. Wonderful stuff here, Mr. Groovy. Thanks for having the guts to take it on, and may God bless Mr. Ronald Davis.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Thank you, Laurie. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve often thought we should introduce Wealth Studies into our schools. Studying successful people and teasing out what separates them from the non-successful isn’t hard. If you want to increase your chances of being successful, take education seriously, work hard, respect your fellow man, stay away from drugs, procreate responsibly, spend less than you earn, and don’t blame others or make excuses for your setbacks. If you want to increase your changes of dying miserable and broke, do the opposite of these things. These are eternal truths that every school child should know. But for some reason, a lot of Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of introducing Wealth Studies to our young people. Sigh.

  19. Great post and one that deserves attention. Denver CO has started a program hiring the homeless for day jobs and some even make it to a perm position. https://www.denverite.com/denver-will-try-hiring-homeless-people-21356/
    I think for those who are not needing rehab and detox to get clear minded it is a great idea. But the answer for those who are mentally ill and/or highly addicted the answers are very complicated. I do think what Denver is attempting is a good start and does as you state, provide incentive for something more than begging. I think it gives hope to those who want to leave homelessness and just need a hand up.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Tommy. Sorry for the late reply. Things have been crazy in Groovyville lately. And thank you for the link to the Denver program. Thank God! Someone is thinking. We can definitely do a better job of helping the down and out. But the current safety net isn’t up to the job. We got to start thinking differently. Keep me posted on how the Denver programs works out. I got my fingers crossed.

  20. I am so glad the post turned out the way it did.

    A lot of the usual stuff I read addressing the homeless echoes a more…”brother, let’s hold hands and poppies naked in the sunshine” kumbaya undertone. I hate that.

    Actually the City of Seattle is currently trying to build homeless camps. Who is going to pay for it? My property taxes…ouch. But besides that, the bigger picture here is other cities will reference back to this in the future with the findings and determine what to do in their own jurisdiction. I think that is pretty cool. They’re doing the same with the $15 minimum wage.

    I like the idea of picking up trash for vouchers and a steady increase in pay as the person progresses through your rehabilitation plan but to be honest, people are hard on change. Two of my recent post is mine are about how hard it is to change from first hand experience.

    Your plan sounds amazing and if could be well funded but the success rate (I am a pessimist) is not going to very high at all. Health issues, mental disability, some of these guys are old…can they handle 8 hours bending and standing? Then you have to see how often they relapse after they get that cash.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Lily. I really appreciate your thoughts. And there’s not a thing I would disagree with. This is such a hard problem. What we have been doing hasn’t worked. We got to try radical things. And as you correctly pointed out, even radical things probably won’t work. Meh. We may just have to face it that once people sink to a certain level, there’s no amount of money or caring that can save them. Perhaps the best answer is to reduce the number of broken people in the future. Maybe our schools should start teaching wealth studies. Maybe we should start teaching kids that if they want to be middle class they got to delay child rearing until they’re financially stable, they got to avoid drugs like the plague, and they have to learn a skill that other people will pay for. Well, that’s my mini rant and solution. Thanks again for stopping by, Lily. You never fail to make me think.