Fixing The Brakes

The brakes on our van have been shuddering, so I took it to Valley Tire and Brake. I was in town and had to wait, so I took a walk. Not far from VT&B there’s a lovely section of tree-shaded creek. It’s in the city, so it has concrete sidewalls, but it’s peaceful and pretty nonetheless. It’s been trashed by endless homeless people. My suggestion regarding assisting the homeless?

Pay them to pick up the trash in the homeless camps. But I digress. Someone actually had been picking up the trash since I was last there. The walkway and the creekside were relatively clean. The creek is the green diagonal in this google maps overview.

putting on the brakes

I walk there for a couple of reasons. First, it’s often deserted, a calm and natural oasis in a busy city. And second, sometimes I meet homeless people there. In my youth, I was once reduced to sleeping on the streets of New York City … not an experience I’d recommend. So if I have time, I like to talk to homeless people, the drifters, the rejects, the underside of our society. Always room at the bottom for me to learn something.

So at ten-thirty this morning I was drifting along the creek, enjoying the day. As I walked down the lane, I came to a man in his thirties sitting on an upended milk crate. He had a pack and a bag of stuff on the ground next to him. I wished him good day, touched the brim of my cap, and kept walking. I went up around the corner and got a cup of coffee. And a doughnut, but don’t tell my gorgeous ex-fiancee.

And as is my habit when I’m having work done in that shop, I walked back the same way. The sun was warm, dappling through the trees. The man was still sitting there. So I asked if he minded me sitting with him a moment. He said fine. I sat on the ground. There was only one milk crate.

I asked if he was homeless, if he was sleeping on the streets. He said he was. I asked why. His answer was curious.

He said “I have no family out here on the West Coast. So I have no place to sleep.”

I was reminded of Robert Frost:

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Yes, he was a man without a home.

I offered him half my doughnut. It’s what you do when you’re sitting in the dirt. I asked about working. He said he’d had work. He said he probably could get work again, at a place he’d worked before.

But then he’d made it through the winter, and the nights were getting warmer, and the days were sunny … his voice trailed off.

I looked at him. He was in his thirties, an apparently strong and capable black man. Not well-educated, but hearing him talk it was obvious that he thought about things. I was curious what kept him homeless.

Then he offered me a swig of what he was drinking, which turned out to be a “Natty DADDY”. A look at the side revealed that it was no less than 8% alcohol. And it was huge, 25 fluid ounces (3/4 liter). A bit of research on the web this evening reveals the following photo and reviews:

putting on the brakes II

Appearance- What you would expect, straw yellow/gold with a fluffy head that lingers.

Smell- Faint aroma of corn, bread, sugar, and yeast.

Taste- Follows the nose, but it’s actually quite pleasant, like drinking liquified bread sweetened with a touch of sugar.

Feel- Very full bodied for the style, which I love.

Overall- As far as cheap malt liquors go, this is my standby.

And then there was my favorite review …

it is wat it is…cheapo beer…at first it was fark this …now its like not bad maybe it got brewed a lil better….i like it….my cheap go to beer…its like drinkin 4 beers in 1..drink it cold….drinkem slow….drunkness creeps up on u

I can testify that it was certainly as advertised. And with that, I understood what kept him homeless. He was an alcoholic. My mother and my mother-in-law were both alcoholics who only gave it up in their later years. Having watched them both struggle unsuccessfully against their addiction over decades, I have compassion for alcoholics. It’s tough. Like the man said, “drunkness creeps up on u”.

So we sat and sipped Natty DADDY and shared a doughnut. About that time, a white guy of about forty-five walked by on the path, maybe six feet (a couple metres) away from us. He very studiously avoided making eye contact with us. I laughed after he’d walked away. I said, “I bet not many people look at you.” He looked down and said something I didn’t catch that sounded like “Mumble mumble twenty-one”.

I waited, looking puzzled.

“One out of twenty-one. I keep count,” he said. “Twenty-one people walked by me this morning. You were the only one who looked at me and said good morning as you were walking by”.

We both pondered that, and sat and enjoyed the creek, and the trees. I asked where he was headed. He said for a while, nowhere. Later on he was going over to the Gospel Mission in time for the food. He said that the food was good and the praying was OK with him.

The sun danced and flickered on the water, reflecting flashes on the underside of the tree leaves. He said when he looked at the trees and the plants and the water flowing by, he knew that they were made by something beyond human power. Just as he was describing the beauty of our surroundings, a lovely large bright yellow butterfly appeared, working up along the creek from downriver. It was diligently rowing its way through the calm morning air. We both watched entranced as it bounced and bobbed on past us, and flittered its way up the creek until it disappeared. I said. “It can fly all day on a sip of sugar”. He liked that thought. He said he could fly all day on a sip of Natty DADDY.

So we watched the morning some more, and after while I said my goodbyes, and I left him sitting there on the milk crate finishing the last half of the 25 ounces of 8% beer and enjoying the sunshine. After I’d walked a little bit he shouted “Thanks!”. I turned and waved and shouted “My pleasure”.

Now, let me be clear at the outset. I have no easy solution to either alcoholism and other addictions, or to homelessness. And I know because I talk to them, that every homeless person’s story is different. With that, a few observations.

Regarding alcoholism and addiction, what works best are the 12-step programs. What works worst is making either alcohol or drugs illegal. Making them illegal just makes a bad situation worse. It piles legal problems on top of the personal and social problems caused by the addiction. I discuss this at length here.

Regarding homelessness, much of what passes for assistance to the homeless suffers from what I call “the pigeon problem”. The pigeon problem is best epitomized by the observation that if you feed them … they will come.

The Pigeon Problem

Let me say that these efforts at assistance to the homeless are generally impelled by the best of motives, by compassion and humanism and generous impulses. However, they suffer from the pigeon problem. What we want to do is to REDUCE the number of homeless people. But feeding the homeless leads to MORE homeless people, not fewer homeless people.

What the homeless need are paths out of homelessness. Making it easier and more comfortable to be homeless does the opposite. It confirms people in their homelessness. I mean, if you’re getting free food and a free place to sleep, why go to work?

The homeless problem is complex because of the wide range of causes—alcoholism, mental illness, drug addiction, divorce, laziness, developmental problems, being thrown out by parents, PTSD, lack of education, illness, the list is long. And for many of those, there is little that we as average citizens can do.

However, what we can all do is to actually look the homeless in the eye when we cross paths with them. Since our eventual goal is for them to return to society, the very first step on that path is to acknowledge their existence. Yes, in my experience, sometimes that invites unwanted pleas for assistance. Usually, I take the Nancy Reagan approach—I just say no. Politely, but firmly. But that is a good thing—it shows them that there are people who are willing to engage with them, people willing to look at them, but who don’t want to encourage their homelessness and dependency.

In addition, when we look away from them and make them invisible, it allows them to normalize their own behavior and appearance. Often the appearance or actions of the homeless are shocking. It helps them to see that people are shocked at how they look or what they do. It is a valuable reality check.

It also helps them to know that they are not outcasts, that they are not beyond the pale, that they are not invisible to the rest of us.

Please be clear. I’m not asking people to give food or money to mendicants. That doesn’t work because of the pigeon problem.

I’m saying that these are people who are teetering on the edge of the abyss. Having someone look them in the eye and wish them a good morning may be what keeps them from falling today. It is far from enough. But it is a beginning, and it is something we can all do—stop ignoring the problem, stop looking away, meet it head-on, look homelessness in the eye.

And yes, to us it seems to be a small thing.

But down at the bottom, it’s important enough that this morning, a black man who has almost nothing in this world patiently counted how many people walked by him but would not meet his eyes or acknowledge his existence in any way …

Anyhow … that’s what happened to me when I went to get my brakes fixed. What a world, full of marvels in its most mundane parts.

Best of the season to all,


57 thoughts on “Fixing The Brakes

  1. Pingback: Fixing The Brakes | Skating Under The Ice | Cranky Old Crow

  2. Willis,
    I was first drawn to your writings on the climate debate. I am so glad you have started your new blog, because I get to share your thoughts on a whole host of other subjects. Once again, a beautiful, thoughtful piece, keep it up!


  3. Homelessness is a problem with no single solution and no simple solution. We are not cattle. There is no vaccine.

    Cliff Mass posted about the Seattle problem. More descriptive than prescriptive.
    The Homeless Crisis in Seattle: Time for a New Approach

    My grandmother always supported the City Mission because she was concerned about the homeless men she saw on the streets.

    City Mission exists to share Christ, to shelter, to heal, and to restore the homeless to independent living—without discrimination. With your help, we help our residents renew their lives.

    Thanks for writing about homelessness.’


    • The comments to his blog were stunning. Such a disconnect with the world. Lovely place if you can see the surroundings though.


    • My wife and I have for a number of years supported London City Mission for the same reason, they have worked with homeless people for many years their main and overarching strategy is that you have to get to know those you want to help a relationship takes a long time to grow there are steps forward but also backwards and you have to be there through both.
      Their main work is through a center called Webber Street (as that is where it is) they also have assisted housing to help people get back into work and away from the places which would draw them back.

      James Bull


  4. “What the homeless need are paths out of homelessness. Making it easier and more comfortable to be homeless does the opposite. It confirms people in their homelessness. I mean, if you’re getting free food and a free place to sleep, why go to work?”

    I admire that you take the time to visit, but I am not sure you actually learned from it. Kristoferson(sp) wrote “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free.” The man’s problem wasn’t alcoholism, it was a loss of identification. There was nothing in this dog eat dog world that he could identify with or was worth working for, and most importantly, it was neither freedom or free. We dedicate our lives to “working for the man,” though we see it as getting ahead. IF life had meaning for him, he wouldn’t have been homeless, and it wasn’t alcohol that made him homeless.

    Who you talked to was a “free man,” not encumbered by society’s ball and chains. I would suspect that after you walked away, if you could have gotten into his head, you would have found he felt pity for you since you still, just like I do, wear society’s ball and chain, thinking somehow that living in a house you have to work for and eating good meals that you have to work for, and being with and enjoying people that you enjoy more because of what you earn than what you are.

    No government gives you freedom, and no soldier ever saved your freedom. God gave us freedom, and what the government gives us is a bill for it – a bill the soldier paid with his life, perhaps. But your homeless man has chosen to accept God’s gift at face value, and he’ll stay homeless because that is more precious to him than society’s ball and chain. And even as the richest man in the world has “freedom to do whatever he wants,” that homeless man is perhaps even freer. The rich man worries about everything, the homeless man doesn’t even worry about something to eat. Bet he has had plenty of hungry days, and if some night he freezes to death, he’ll die a free man.


    • Thanks, Tom, but who I talked to was NOT a “free man, not encumbered by society’s ball and chains”. That’s a “noble savage” fantasy.

      I talked to a lonely alcoholic, a solitary drinker sucking down a twenty-five ounce 8% beer at ten in the morning, a proud but sad man who as a result couldn’t keep a job.

      You are welcome to romanticize him all you want … but then you didn’t meet him and talk to him. Please save your paean’s to “freedom” for an audience who cares about such highfalutin’ dreams. Down at the bottom, I can assure you, he wasn’t interested.

      And given that you think that “the homeless man doesn’t even worry about something to eat”, I can only shake my head and suggest that you go give homelessness a try sometimes. Hungry people worry about food a lot.

      Best regards,



      • I accept your position as your position. Thanks for accepting mine as mine. I always thought people tend to see what they want to see anyway, and usually they are unable to see something different. This is probably one of those cases.


      • Willis, I can only go by your own words, and I am. You said you asked him about working and what was the response you said you got? As I read what you said, he told you he could probably go back to working where he had been. Again, I can only go by what you said. That doesn’t sound like a man that lost his job and his life to demon rum, that sounds like a man that dropped out.

        YOU are the one that romanticized your visit with him, and you are correct in saying I didn’t talk to him. I can only read what you said, just like the above comment that he was drinking at 10am, as if that is somehow a guarantee that he is an alcoholic. Of course, since you didn’t say, I don’t know if he had just gotten up or had been up for 10 hours or more. I do know that you and I are ruled by the clock, and the man may well be aware of the passage of time, but he is not a prisoner of the clock. I also know that a cheap large beer is less expensive than the same sized soft drink for the most part, and probably better for you. I can’t tell by your writing, and you may or may not have bothered to ask, but I have no idea whether he has A drink or a dozen a day, but I DO know you saw him, saw the clock you go by, and going off your previous experience, you declared him an alcoholic.

        One more thing, and since this is your blog, you can have the final word since it won’t matter to me beyond this statement. We do NOT make being homeless easier because we offer a homeless man or woman a meal. I’ll be damned if I can understand the logic behind that comment, since it is saying all it takes in life is a meal. There is something more than that that keeps them wiling to sleep under a bridge, or in an ally with a garbage bag over them in a storm. You will never convince me they will put up with nearly freezing to death in the winter “because the mission is going to give them a free meal.” I would have to guess that it is beyond that – perhaps it is being free of society’s ball and chains we call materialism.

        I love your romanticized, homespun writing. I have marveled at the wondrous adventures that you have had through the years. Marveled, yes, and been so very envious of them. I enjoy the depth of thought behind your science pieces, and consider you to be extremely special for the dedication you have and the drive to learn. If a young person asked me if there was someone that I thought would be a good model to grow by, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest you. You’ve made mistakes, admitted them, learned from them and moved on to better things, never forgetting the lessons. That is something to be proud of and for others to point to as truly successful living. But with this man, and homeless people in general, I think you are wrong. And I am not saying I am right, I’m only offering a different perspective, even though, yes, I think freedom is why they drop out.

        Truth, love, and beauty to your path.


  5. Well written as always Willis.

    For me it’s back to basics. All rights are property rights, starting with self ownership. That man has the right to live his life as he chooses, despite my refusal to adopt that lifestyle.

    I think any person deserves acknowledgement as a person, no more no less. I may choose not to support his lifestyle by a handout, but I may offer a suggestion as to where a job may be found. I may also suggest that a bath might help. My wife and I support groups working to remove the volitionally and non-volitionally homeless from the streets. The non-volitionally homeless are of a higher priority, as often children are involved.

    The only requirement I have is that to get help the person must sign a zero aggression pact – that the individual will neither initiate force, nor contract someone to initiate force against another. The rest of it I can live with.


  6. Willis: I know this is not the point here, but about shuddering brakes, I used to have that problem with some of my vehicles; however, once I started rotating my own tires and carefully torquing the lug nuts to factory specs after each time a wheel is removed, I haven’t had the brake shuddering problem anymore. My hypothesis is that the impact wrenches used at garages apply inconsistent, and often way too much torque on the lug nuts, causing the brake rotors to warp over time and heat cycling.


    • I can’t comment on the relationship between over-torqueing nuts/bolts and “brake shuddering” but … I’ve had tires replaced at Costco and Wal-Mart in the last few years. Both use manual torque wrenches when installing wheels. I don’t know about Wal-Mart but the service manager at Costco told me that the wrench calibrations were checked daily. I assumed it was to prevent loose wheels and to defend against lawsuits.


  7. There are whole departments of public employees devoted to the homeless problem. These public employees (while well-meaning) are the real pigeons in your illustration. Create a “Homeless Help Office” in the middle of nowhere, and pretty soon there will be a little encampment surrounding it.


  8. Nice piece. I grew up in western Massachusetts countryside, amid perhaps five dairy farms. Each farm had one or more “hands” that lived on the farm, and got room and board and some pay. Sometimes they were drunk, or missing, but they were almost part of the family. Those situations likely are few today, displacing some part of humanity into the busy, technical world. I’ve often wondered about this effect.
    Also, Mark Twain wrote about this, in Huckleberry Finn, developed within the character Pap. It ends badly.


  9. A beautiful and inspiring story Willis

    I was thinking that the reason many people look away and pass quickly is that they are afraid of being robbed or killed. When they meet one man who clearly not belong in the ordinary society in a desolated street, they think there also could be more of those around and it is better to hurry away.

    However, a “hi”, a nod and a smile will not increase your risk; it will actually make you safer. By the greeting you are signaling that you are confident and in control; you are not fleeing.

    That is if there was a risk, and you never know that, the most probable is nevertheless that there was no risk in the first place, and then you are just nice to another person.

    In both situations, the greeting is only positive.



      • And as always, it is the little things that make it all work.

        Only took me 65 years to figure that little nugget out. But any time you can learn and do something new is a good time indeed. Cheers –


  10. Thanks for sharing Willis.

    One should always be courteous, yet cautious in todays world.

    It seems the encroachment upon society of the sense entitlement, in addition to automation, has sponsored unfortunate growth in our homeless populations. I have always been of the opinion that we should take care of our own before those here illegally, since that population adds to the root problem by virtue of their presence. California is a prime example of such.


  11. Wonderful, Willis.

    Like others, I am one who became aware of you through your WUWT contributions, and came to value your insights in all fields of thought.

    For me, this post is particularly relevant, even poignant. This year, I lost my baby brother Ian. He was a Vietnam vet who spent two years inaction, often drenched in Agent Orange spray. After his return to NewZealand, he joined the police force, serving as a beat cop, and then in the Diplomatic Protection squad – our equivalent of your Presidential bodyguards. Here, they protect not only our PM and other government ,ministers, but foreign dignitaries as well. He finished his police career as the small arms instructor at the New Zealand Police College. Much of his life he spent in protecting and serving his country.

    After retiring, he bought and managed a gas station on the Kapiti Coast, north of our capital city.. In the end, he developed lung cancer and lost the battle in his sixty-sixth year. Not how we want it to happen – Im seventy-two and should have gone first.

    At his funeral, I heard a story about him that summed him up beautifully. Like you, he didn’t believe in hand-outs.. He was all too aware of the pigeon problem! But he did believe in a hand-up. One night when working the late shift alone in his gas station, he saw a truck pull up by the station. He recognised the truck, which belonged to his best friend A young man jumped out, produced a wicked-looking knife, and demanded money from Ian. The man obviously had no idea he was dealing with an ex-soldier and ex-cop.

    Ian picked up a tyre lever and hefted it. Look, he said, you can fight me and go down, or simply come in and tell me why you’re so desperate that you feel you have to steal my mate’s truck and try to rob me. Your call, son. Coffee and food is on me if you put the knife away and come in.

    The boy was homeless. Ian fed him and contacted his contact at the Social Services in Wellington to tell him he was sending in someone who needed help. When the boy had finished his meal, Ian gave him a pack of cigarettes, the address of the Wellington Social Services, and enough money for the train ticket. After the boy departed, He called the owner of the truck and told to come and retrieve the truck.

    Ian’s friend told that story at the funeral. It turns out that the boy subsequently found a job and turned his life around.

    Hell, I miss Ian. Thanks for your post, WIllis.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. We live near a small town. My wife, Nancy (plays a fiddle), and a couple of others play and sing at the Wed. Noon meal at our local food bank. Many of the noon crowd are regulars and sometimes one will have a harmonica. Others have nice voices and know some of the songs. An interesting group. I go 3 or 4 times a year for various reasons.
    The point I want to make, though, is about the quantity of food that passes through this place: Friends in Service of Humanity (FISH). Grocery stores bake way more bread, cakes, cookies and the like. The algorithm says if it is not on the shelf you can’t make a sale. All shoppers help with the cost of the extra stuff that gets carted off to the food banks. The “food bank” part of the operation is supplied with boxes and cans of regular food — as far as I can tell — that is packaged specifically for this distribution route. The labels on the cans and imprints on the boxes are somewhat duller than store brands.
    A related thing: near Thanksgiving and Christmas local service groups ask for extra food. They take all you bring, regardless of value, and weigh it. They want to report the results of their efforts, and do so by total weight.
    Your readers might find doing a little sleuthing about their communities to be enlightening. It has been for me.

    Thanks for the posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John, I live near several grocery chains, convenience stores, and fast food joints. They all produce ready to eat foods that are on a timer. When those foods go beyond the regulated time they must be sold, they go into the dumpster.

      You would be shocked at the amout of “still” edible foods that are thrown into the garbage when that mandated timer goes off with no other management options.

      Unfortunately, the economics of managing that unused, and yet viable, food exceeds the cost of throwing it away. Sad and wasteful really…… precipitation from lawsuits in the end.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I want to comment on what you call the “pigeon problem”.

    This is a difficult dilemma; on one hand, we want to help those who need it most, to relieve their needs and make their lives a little less miserable. On the other hand, we know that if it is not so bad being jobless and homeless they may not try very hard to get a job and a home.

    I think that some people will fall all the way to the bottom of the society no matter how threatening the prospects are, and at least we have to give them some help to avoid that they starve to death or freeze to death.

    The question is how much help we should give, and what kind of help we should give.

    Well, I think almost all people homeless people and other people in normal working age, who are without a job and living on welfare, really want to live an ordinary life if they got the chance. They may not admit it even to themselves that they have failed in life and comfort themselves that they do not have to strive to work, pay mortgages and drive kids to soccer training, but it is a lie.

    Those things are after all what gives meaning to our lives, it is what most people want.

    What I think is that more effort should be made to help people back into the society so they can get a home and a job and start paying taxes again.

    But I am not saying it is easy.



  14. There is an important difference between pigeons and homeless people.

    When you feed pigeons, they multiply.

    When you feed homeless people they concentrate. Which could have its advantages when you would try to give them a structured hand-up.


    • Wim Röst May 18, 2017 at 1:05 am Edit

      There is an important difference between pigeons and homeless people.

      When you feed pigeons, they multiply.

      When you feed homeless people they concentrate.

      Thanks for the comment, Wim. If all that they did was concentrate, that would be one thing. But they also multiply. Around here they get free food and free coats in the winter and a free mobile shower unit and free haircuts and a free place to sleep … people are making choices between working and that life. The nicer and easier you make that life, the more people will choose that life over working for a living.

      This is multiplication, not concentration.




      • Willis Eschenbach May 18, 2017 at 11:05 am
        “The nicer and easier you make that life, the more people will choose that life over working for a living”

        Thank you too for your comment, Willis. But it invites me to a reaction.

        Your sentence above contains an assumption: “will choose that life”.

        Above in the article you wrote “every homeless person’s story is different”. As far as I have read, most personal homeless story’s start with ‘a personal problem’. Or, with a lot of personal problems. I never read about someone who said: ‘well, the food there was so good and the life is so easy that I decided to become homeless’. Never.

        When a state doesn’t care, people are going to be ‘lost’. In for example the favela’s in South America a lot of (often young) people are ‘lost’. Criminality is one of the options to survive. The murder rate in Brazil is 25 times as high (2400% higher) as in the former ‘motherland’ Portugal. Or six times the US rate. A high price, paid daily by the feeling of insecurity and by the impossibility ‘to go where you want to go’ at moments that you want to go, for example in the evening or the night. This insecurity is expressed by the gates around apartments and the ‘security guards 24/7’ that every group of apartments needs, to get but the minimum feeling of safety. A high price.

        I ever got a dog in my house, which made the pregnant cat to disappear into the garden of the neighbour – and gave birth there to her kittens. The first time we did not know where she was. After some weeks we discovered and thought it would be better to catch the kittens and bring them all back. But the kittens where that unadjusted to us (they never met people) that they were completely ‘wild’. Missing the first weeks of ‘socialisation’ made it impossible to ever socialize them. We had to catch them with thick work gloves and bring them away. They fearfully fought as lions.

        When a state misses the possibility’s to ‘incorporate people into the system’, early or later in their life, those people might be lost. People with already a lot of problems will not easily return into a society that has high quality norms. They need a hand-up and perhaps two and perhaps they even might never fully return.

        But even in the last case the ‘cost’ for a society might be less than the cost of a criminalized system with insecurity nearly everywhere and ‘terrorised area’s’ that are given up by police and administration. A system at the expense also of large quantities of people living in those terrorised area’s, people that often don’t have alternatives to go to.

        Not paying the least price could bring the system of a country into a negative spiral, ending up with a really multiplying number of people that don’t fit into the system. As in Brazil and elsewhere in Middle and South America.

        Of course, any obligation for homeless people to take part in the society would be a good idea: ‘food for litter’ or something comparable would be a good system (as long as there is litter). Given the various problems of the individuals, no easy task to introduce. But better as doing nothing.

        Preventing multiplication as I witnessed in Brazil might pay off. 25 Times as much insecurity makes the price 25 times higher – without having solved anything.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Wim, an interesting comment as always.

          As I said in the head post,

          I have no easy solution to either alcoholism and other addictions, or to homelessness.

          In other words, I’m not saying “Do nothing”. I’m just pointing out the pigeon problem.



  15. The homeless/vagrant problem is massive in South Africa. Ironical, when we have a “very” socialist government, but that aside. I have often wondered whether some form of work camp system might not work. You would work for a day and receive food and shelter for the night, but “work” is the operative word. No hand-outs.

    There are problems with the idea, lots of them but I think they can be solved. What about people with families? Maybe the kibbutz system is the answer. I don’t know?

    Thanks for your thoughts on looking them in the eye. It has changed my view.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Wonderfully written. We have a large homeless ‘pigeon problem’ here in Fort Lauderdale. A local church started feeding the homeless noon meals in the park in front of the main public library where some would hang out panhandling. Within weeks there were hundreds who would hang out all day, rendering the library near useless. The city government finally was forced to force the church to feed at their church, not in the public library park. Huge political kerfuffle. Then the folks who lived near the church sued the church to stop feeding, because the homeless were hanging out in their yards day and night. Church finally stopped. Then a church splinter group broke away, got (dunno buy or lease) a rundown industrial property in Hollywood (next town south, other side of the airport so to speak), commenced feeding homeless again, and sure enough the main pigeon problem moved to Hollywood where it presently remains.

    In my various experiences with homeless here, most arent alcoholics but have various mental problems. One who used to appear regularly for days at a time and sleep in the small beach access public park next to our complex would accost beachgoers and start sermonizing-loudly. The police got tired of 911 calls from Lifshey Park beach going families and finally got him into a mental care facility. Haven’t seen him since. We have another who comes to the park on his bicycle carrying either a broom or a rake. If broom, he obsessively sweeps the walkways. If rake, he obsessively rakes all the non-grass planted areas. Been doing that now for about two years. Obsessive-compulsive disorder? His main hangout is the larger state park and beach about a mile south of here. He was complusively sweeping two days ago while I was walking the dog.


  17. “I’m saying that these are people who are teetering on the edge of the abyss.”

    The homeless, yes. For the addicts, they are already falling into it. Addiction is just unreliable unpredictable slow motion time-delayed suicide, even if unintentional. Some addictions are worse than others, but in general it’s Hotel California.

    “Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void” (Beatles)


  18. Hi Willis, Very thought provoking article & very well written as usual. I’ve thought about your article for a couple of days and reflected back on all my overseas travels, stays & adventures. The homeless problem is not unique to N. America. All countries have similar problems and deal with it in different ways. In the Middle East there is a distinct ingrown culture of independence and some folks choose to live by themselves off in the desert just out of touch of civilization. The far East cultures accept homelessness as a normal category of people and do just enough to provide for their daily sustenance. Thinking back to the early 1800’s in the USA, there were lots of so called mountain men or gold diggers/miners who chose to go West and live in the wilderness – becoming Mountain Men. Presently in Colorado, we have a large population of homeless people – but many expressly choose to live that way in spite of all the homeless outreach programs. I have thought that cities offering a public camp for homeless might not be a bad idea – most of them do like to camp. Obviously it would have to be well placed and enforced… but it would hopefully concentrate the issue and provide for efficient use of health services. I don’t think we’ll ever resolve the homeless problem.. but I do agree that we must treat them as human beings, unique individuals with a unique set of problems/ideas and live with it.


    • Very well said, HomiHomi. I would like to add some sentences.

      In India it is not uncommon to turn your back to all of your family, to all of your possessions: house and other things – even clothes, sex and all kinds of security inclusive food security. Often from an age of 40 or so (might be younger) people take this decision. Those people are not only fully accepted by society but even have a ‘holy’ status: sadhus. There seem to be four to five million sadhus in India (Source: Dolf Hartsuiker, Sadhus, Holy men of India, ISBN 0 500 27735 4). The phenomenon ‘Sadhus’ in India seems to originate back to 1500 before Christ. So, ‘homeless’ is not only a world wide phenomenon, but also has strong roots in history and might be fully incorporated in ‘culture’.

      An old society as India knows how to incorporate deviant people. Sadhus even got the status of ‘holy’, which expresses their acceptance. There are also a lot of (mostly unwritten) rules for sadhus. They have their own place in the society, their own rules and society knows how to handle this type of ‘deviant people’.

      Perhaps the homeless still have to find their own place in our modern societies. Or, our societies still have to find a place for deviant people.

      Our societies often reject deviance from the median. But as homelesness is a ‘common thing’ in all societies, we should better try to give it its place.


  19. Adding to my comment above, the ready access to green leaf has also resulting in a new class of homeless. Those looking for another joint. It seems when society is willing to condone more freedoms, it must also look at the costs and problems associated with those freedoms – namely homeless – perhaps addicts, etc. The problems just seem to propagate by themselves.


  20. When I lived in downtown Seattle, long ago, in a studio apartment, there was a big homeless Indian fella that panhandled around my block. He would always say, “I need 57 cents for a bottle of wine.” It was the same line every day. I asked him about it, and he said he’d found that people responded to the exact number, which he had carefully honed as the best number for the purpose, as well as to the “honesty” of what he was going to do with it, and would usually “round up” to a dollar. After that I would often take exactly 57 cents in coins with me and give it to him if I saw him. It would make him chuckle, but the joke was on me I guess. He too was an alcoholic. After awhile I decided I shouldn’t encourage him and would avoid him.


  21. About the “choices” in homelessness. A distressingly large proportion or the homeless in the UK have some form of mental illness. It’s not always something pathological, but the kind of self-destructive behaviour loop that makes the business of settling down, looking after the flat you’ve been given, managing your resources etc just be too much. It adds to the complication of deciding who needs help to live, and who should have help to get on.


  22. Thanks Willis…agree making eye contact and caring enough to talk and engage is important. Make an effort to do this also when I’m walking the streets in Berkeley.

    Have before volunteered to make and serve food through by ole church 1st Presbyterian off Telegraph around the corner from Blondies Pizza near UC BERKELEY. That was in the 80’s.

    Over the last fee months I’m working with a new group of people at my current church called Channel Church in Berkeley. We are beginnibf to do and look into becone involved in programs that have a high percenrage of actually being very effective at DRAMATICALLY reducing homelessness. The State if Utah has one…
    Homeless Solutions That Work
    Utah Reduced Homelessness by 91% by doing this.


    • Thanks, Jim. I’ve read about the Utah program. I’m not sure if it is a long-term solution, but it is far better than providing services that do nothing but encourage homelessness.

      You are good man, my friend,



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  24. Hi Willis
    For at least the past decade, there have been storefront lawyers who specialize in getting SS disability payments for those who don’t want to work or maintain a household. I took a picture of one of their signs and if I can find it I’ll post it. Talk about feeding the pigeons!


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