Homeless in -20 degree weather…REALLY???

here with you

by Kenneth Justice

~ Yesterday I walked perilously close to the edge of an argument with a homeless person, “Dude, I just don’t get it….the wind-chill factor brings the temperature down to -20 degrees and this still doesn’t make you think that its time to get a job and change your life” I asked him

Kenneth, I already told you; I’m sick of all the dumb tough stuff in life. I’m sick of cell phones and Facebook and everything else that people in this damn country are obsessed with…..I’m tired of triviality” he said

Perhaps some arguments are worth having; sometimes people really want to listen to what we have to say and as long as the argument can be done in a respectful manner…..sometimes there is a place for an argument. However, yesterday was not one of those times. The young homeless man I was talking to (he couldn’t have been more than 25 years old) was not interested in my opinions…..and each time I pressed the topic he got a bit pissed off…..so finally I changed the subject.

The weather has been incredibly intense here in the Midwest recently as we’re experiencing some of the coldest bouts of freezing temperatures and its been coupled with more snow than I’ve ever seen in my life. So yesterday I took the day off from work and ended up spending most of the afternoon hanging out with a bunch of the homeless people at the local café. It was far too cold for them to be outside so they were packing into the coffee shops and café’s to warm up.

I simply don’t get it. I don’t understand why someone would want to be homeless in the midst of -20 degree weather.

I’m well aware of the reality that some people have become homeless as no fault of their own. I’ve written about it many times and my heart goes out to the many men and women who’ve lost their jobs, houses, and found themselves in circumstances beyond their control. Of these people we have a responsibility to reach out and help them; to feed them, clothe them, employ them, and help them get back on their feet.

But what about this young man? A guy who simply doesn’t want to work…..who doesn’t want responsibility….what is society’s response to this young man supposed to be?

I simply don’t know.

We talked for quite a bit and before we reached the point that he started to get annoyed with me…..I had learned;

—) a couple years ago he quit a well paying job in construction out in Texas

—) one day he simply decided he had enough of ‘life’ and decided to become homeless

—) he has a family of 4 siblings (3 of which run their own companies) but he doesn’t want to work for them or have anything to do with them beyond a random phone conversation once in awhile

—) he will accept anything that people give him; money, food, clothes, etc.

I guess what bothers me about this young man is that with the temperatures dropping to the negative digits……the chance of him freezing to death is a very real possibility.

Sometimes I sleep under bridges and overpasses, sometimes I find other homeless people and we sit around fires that we have in buckets just like you see in the movies….sometimes I can’t sleep all night because I’m so cold” he said

Is the guy mentally ill? Perhaps…..but too often I feel that we as a society use the whole ‘mental illness’ label as some kind of cure-all moniker that is supposed to explain things that are simply unexplainable.

G.K. Chesterton observed that Western Culture has a habit of “exhaustively describing a social sickness, and then propounding a social drug“. In other words; we think that everything has an easy ‘answer’ or that there is a ‘drug’ to cure everything.

Unfortunately, life is a little bit more complex and some people (like this young man) simply don’t want to be apart of human society…..at least he doesn’t want to have to work a job. Sure, he’s more than happy to accept free money, food, and any other free assistance that people offer him……..but ask him to work a job; he was very clear with me on that issue; “Kenneth, there’s no way in hell I ever want to work any kind of job that requires commitment. I want to be able to come and go as I please” he said

Perhaps I am wrong…..but the longer we talked the more I began feeling that the young man simply needed a gentle (but firm) kick in the seat of his pants……yet I was also getting the vibe that his parents (and others) had already tried that tactic….and it didn’t work.

I suppose the average person glances at someone like this young man and moves on with their life…..but for me, I can’t help but wonder if this guy is going to die tonight, or tomorrow, or some day soon. How long will he make it in -20 degree weather? I simply don’t know.

What am I supposed to say to him? Yelling, arguing…those things don’t really work…do they?

I really need another cup of coffee now


P.s. If you haven’t heard I’m going on a national and worldwide tour of over 100 coffee houses, check out my link and stay tuned for dates and locations



Categories: Culture & Society

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122 replies

  1. It is shocking that this young guy would rather ‘feel so cold’ that he doesn’t sleep sometimes. I mean, he would rather freeze than go and find work. It shows that he must be very desperately trying to avoid ‘social existence’ or ‘real’ life. It seems like a fairly brutal way of escaping from real responsibilities and commitments. Maybe on some level a bit cowardly. However, ironically it may also seem ‘brave’ to sleep rough!! It is hypocritical however that he accepts handouts and clothing etc. In an unfortunate way people like him a sometimes not amenable to helpful advice- until they realise what they are doing themselves. Until he, himself wants to make a change, no one can force him into it. A bit like rehab. Perhaps, it is some kind of social illness- a form of depression maybe?

    Really great post! Thought provoking.

    • Its interesting that u used the word “brave” because in a certain sense I felt that the young man felt that his life was in some way “brave”….tha he felt som sense of superiority by saying “f**k you” to society and dropping out……yet he hasn’t truly dropped out because he depends on the good will of others to give hook food, money, etc….

    • mmmmhh… yes, it isn’t really ‘brave’ although it seems to take a lot of courage to simply wanna ‘drop out’ of ‘normal’ existence. Yet, I feel sorry for him (in a sad way) because it feels like he has lost all hope. It’s like he does not want to bother at all- and is just waiting to die. There are some deep seated issues with him- esp to do with his siblings etc. Like, some level of insecurity which he is running away from. It is tragic, as at his age he has sooo much going for him. And in a society where he can achieve goals that youngsters in other societies can only dream about. I feel like he is an ungrateful little S8IT.

  2. Exactly: “Western Culture has a habit of “exhaustively describing a social sickness, and then propounding a social drug“. You cannot cram all people in a similar situation into a neatly labeled box. It amazes me that there are those that just decide to live this way; I get why. It isn’t for me. I very much enjoy A/C, heat, king size bed and a whole bunch of other modern-day conveniences.

  3. I reckon the guy wants to die instead of committing suicide. I have no other logical explanation…It’s pretty hard to see a young person of 25s that he had enough of everything… Then who am I to reckon or judge that? I hope he is gonna regain his brain …soon.

    • Dana, I’m with you….what s wrong with someone who is only 25 yet he’s already “burned out” by life…..very sad

    • This reminds me of when someone in an e-mail support group I was in committed suicide. Someone else in the group got REALLY mad at me because I refused to condemn him. He went on and on for a while with arguments like, “Can’t you see how selfish he was?” and then what it was like to be a survivor, as if I couldn’t possibility understand…

      …but I could. A childhood friend of mine committed suicide stationed in Germany, leaving a wife and young child behind. I wept when I read the obituary. It wasn’t too long before that I had caught up with him– he decided to join my church, and we hung out in the young single adult congregation we were attending at the time. I was shocked, because I didn’t know how depressed he was, or had become. I did wish that I could have given him some comforting words. But I couldn’t condemn him. Why? Because I’d had lots of suicidal tendencies myself. I felt like I’d condemn myself if I condemned him or anyone else that committed suicide.

      As others have said or implied, it is hard to know a person’s motivation, unless you’ve pretty much lived what they have.

    • Like you, jaklumen, I had a friend who committed suicide many years ago. She was a work colleague many years previously (as well as a social friend). At the time, my girlfriends and i got together after the funeral and we all asked each other, “why didn’t she get in touch with us, why didn’t she call for help”.
      It wasn’t until I found myself in the same position some years later that I finally understood. She didn’t want to die. She didn’t want to end it all.

      She just……. didn’t want to live.

      I’m not saying all people who suicide feel this way, but I’m betting many do. Life becomes so unbearable (in my case, unbearable physical pain and debilitating ill health and no sympathy or support), that I felt I didn’t want to live anymore. I was so desperate, I didn’t care if I lived or died. I was in a ‘dark hole’ and there was no escape.

      So what did I do? I quit my job and left that whole life behind me and never looked back. My GP who had been helping me try to find the reasons behind my chronic ill health and excruciating all over body pain, supported me in applying for a Govt. Disability Pension. Of course, we found out the reasons for my chronic ill health & pain and that I had a serious heart condition as well. All the tests and scans revealed the reasons (if not all the answers).

      Today, I live in the Moment. I love my life in enforced retirement. I’m finally free of my past. I still have days of unrelenting pain and occasionally, very debilitating symptoms, but most of the time, I pace my day and live life one step at a time. I have many days when I’m not in pain now, so I know that if I can make it through the bad days, something good will follow. Finally, I am happy and at peace.

      I can only hope this 25 yr old living on the streets that Kenneth speaks of, finds the answers and life he is seeking. Just as long as he doesn’t stand still and expect others to live his life for him. He must make a decision and go down a path. He can’t stand still and expect constant charity.

      (of course, sometimes there’s a chemical imbalance or medical condition that leads to suicide – I’m not talking about those situations).

    • Yeah, Vicki, I get you. I especially hear you on chronic pain– that is something I am very much dealing with right now. It wasn’t the basis of my disability pension case, but, well, such as it is.

      I agree with your thoughts and experiences on suicide– that was some of my experience as well. I didn’t want to die, either, but I couldn’t seem to resolve the problems I was having with living. I was fairly young at the time and it was more about being bullied, socially rejected, and so on.

      As to this young man– yeah, I still don’t know. He may still decide to live a life of scavenging and begging, and that may be a solution for him. I don’t agree with it either, but I do think that there is that niche, and some people decide to fill it.

  4. I was reminded of the Proverb: without hope the people perish. It sounds like this young man’s disillusionment and disappointments left him without hope. His truth has become: why bother; what difference will it make? It seems he’s found a community of like-minded folks so given his perspective why would he be motivated to change? It’s a choice I don’t get, but I do.

    • Tina, great point…..I wonder how much this guy has been influenced by those people he’s hanging out with: perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten to the point that he’s at if he hadn’t of met other like minded people who contributed to is thought process

  5. Just buy him a cup of coffee and move on.

    It’s his choice and no doubt with 3 siblings running companies, he has seen what life in the ‘fast lane’ has to offer.
    I’m not sure that I agree with his Live on the Street attitude. I’m not sure that i agree with his Living Off Charity. But I DO agree with his general philosophy in not wanting to commit and wanting to Come & Go as he pleases. There’s something about this whole western materialism and desire for wealth that leaves me cold. The whole attitude of this ‘dude’ wanting to leave this insane frenetic paced life (that I can wholly find merit in).

    I think you’ll find as you talk to people all over the country that many want to return to a slower way of life where the natural course of each day is simple and holistic. People, in general, want to have an ‘escape’ or ‘cabin in the woods’, where they can retreat from the modern world and get back to something basic. Something filled with integrity, without the restrictions of having every hour of every day filled with the sole purpose of Wealth, Success and Climbing the Ladder. Free from the worries of ‘keeping up with the Joneses of this world’. But they’re pressured by their peers, family, work colleagues, bosses, the media, community and they’re afraid. Afraid to let go and just Live in the Moment. Live each day as though this moment, in this day, is the most precious moment in their lives.

    People seem to have so many goals in life these days. When they reach one goal, then they’re not satisfied and they need a new goal. It’s like the man who works hard for his first car, then his first home, then his second home, then to be promoted at work, then reach his first million. People are so busy finding new goals to aim for that they forget about enjoying the Moment and Living each Day. Their eyes are blinkered and they develop tunnel vision. They cannot see beyond the Goal.

    So if you had only a year to live, how would you live it? What would you change? What would you do?

    • Vicki, I can totally identify with everything your saying……and I feel the same way that you’ve described about the materialistic nature of our culture……but to simply drop off and live off the kindness of others…that is something I simply can’t do……and it’s only 5 days till the start of my journey so I’m very excited 🙂

    • This is basically what I was going to say about it. He is obviously disillusioned with the mainstream goals and approaches to life. He may be looking to experience the “edge” much as primitive people did for thousands of years. I hold back from judging him too harshly… It is your choice whether to buy him a cup of coffee or give him a hat.

    • Vicki’s words really resonate with me, these days of materialism leave me cold too!
      I also struggle to understand why we are obsessed with money, possessions, (and celebrities), however like others who have commented in this post, it is not up to me to understand the reason why each person acts a certain way, or makes the choices they do.
      All I can do is live my life they way I choose, and send others my well wishes.
      Thank you for a wonderful post and best of luck on your journey, looking forward to hearing the stories of other people you meet 🙂

  6. Sometimes it just comes down to the fact, we just accept what another has chosen. Not easy to do by far. Especially when we don’t understand. I can understand not wanting to have anything to do with this “society”, oh I get that. But, to go to the drastic means this young man has done?

    How lovely it would be if we were all able to “work” at what the passions of our hearts are based on. Now, that would be one very happy world! Don’t you think?

    • Amy, exactly ; it’s one thing for me to relate to the frustrations the young man s experiencing…..because I feel many if the same things……but to simply “drop out of society” ….that’s something I can’t wrap my brain around

  7. I’m afraid your outlook on life is full of hypocrisy if your view is one that many choose to be homeless, mental illness and drug addiction can not be switched on or off like a light.
    A middle class man who decides to live rough is an idiot who devalues the effort to help the genuine needy and the question begs to be asked did he give his wealth to a homeless charity or is it waiting for when he decides to return from his whim.

    • Sculpturall,

      Well, I’ve spent the last few years working at both a drug rehab clinic and the local jail (my degree are focused in psychology and chemical substance abuse counseling) so I’m definitley aware of the realities of chemical addiction and mental illness. However, I think it’s too easy to make a blanket statement that everyone who is homeless, or going through some type of similar circumstance are always suffering from mental illness or addiction….are their many that are; sure………I don’t dispute that, my work as a counselor has put me in the position of working with hundreds and thousands of people who fit that description….

      However, there are many who are homeless who do not suffer from mental illness or addiction…..and for those people their situational problems become a much more difficult societal problem

    • I take you’re point maybe it is a raw subject as i have several homeless people living outside my studio and obviously whilst i don’t agree with many things their lifestyle consists of, here in England we are not blessed with allot of good weather and i see the reactions these people get from the public even when wet ,cold and hungry.

  8. Some people refuse to accept the advice/opinions of others. I just wrote about that yesterday. To us, his choice makes absolutely no sense. Who would choose a life like that? Wouldn’t it be easier to have a job and a steady place to live?

    But, obviously there something he likes about it. He has no responsibilities. I suppose that’s the gist of it.

    I agree with you though, that he probably needs a swift kick, but in the meantime hopefully he’ll be okay out there.

  9. I suppose it’s hard to see things through other people’s eyes when you haven’t walked the path they have. Just as he cannot see things through your perspective. When you can’t understand why others are doing what they are doing, all you can do is wish the best for them.

    • Your so right……I haven’t lived his life so that is why I have to be careful not to condemn hm for his choices…..

    • I worked with the homeless in Anchorage for several years. There are a variety of types of homeless and this guy is the type that is very difficult to work with in terms of getting them off the streets and back into a productive life. Some switch got flipped and there he goes. We had people in Anchorage who used plastic tarps to make shelters to survive ultra-low temps.

      There’s a small new movement to get folks off the streets entirely by giving them a free room in a 4 bedroom apartment with no requirements except no violence and no burning the place down. They are making headway with a lot of the people like him.

      When you do the heirarchy of needs analysis there is some need being met by this homelessness and anomie sort of thought process. If that need wasn’t there he wouldn’t be where he is.

      One of my clients in Anchorage dissapeared – we did not find her body until spring. I was incredibly angry with the system that could not protect her from herself (including me) – at the same time I also felt that finally she found a peace she could not find in this world.

  10. I don’t understand it either, but I imagine he’ll get tired of it at some point, allowing he doesn’t freeze to death in the coming week. But I can see where it’s frustrating for you as an observer. Imagine how his family must feel knowing one of their own is on the street. My kids aren’t very old, but I can’t imagine the sleep I’d lose at night alongside him if he were my child.

    • I can only imagine that his family must be worried like crazy for him…..holy cow, they are probably losing sleep at times wondering if he is still alive

    • Or not – my client who died while waiting for her “sisters” to come get her in their space ship – had finally burned out her family. They didn’t want to hear about her – it was too much for them over the years. In a way her death provided them with closure, I suppose. At a certain point people end up letting go or the worry simply drives you crazy.

  11. Kenneth, I think it’s extremely courageous of you to tackle issues like this one. I’m struck by the fact that you made your observations with humility and sensitivity instead of judgement. Thanks for initiating a difficult but needed discussion. As for the young man, God be with him. He is a stranger in a strange land.

  12. One word (again): jurisdiction.

    But please – keep caring enough to ask the questions. And to write your confusion. It allows me/us to think. Causes another small ripple. And ripples ripple. And then just maybe …

  13. People live their lives and make their own choices and those things don’t have to make sense to anyone but the people living those choices. No one has to understand why this young guy lives the way he does, I’m sure his family would like to know, but his life, his choice. You can’t expect the choices other people make…to make sense to you, or fit into your way of thinking about what’s right or wrong or sensible. He could be thinking the same thing about you. We can’t understand why people do things and we shouldn’t even bother because their life belongs to them. No one knows what’s right for anyone else. It’s silly to argue about what someone else chooses to do. I’m sure the people in your church aren’t happy with some of the choices you’ve made, as you have changed. But they were your choices to make and they work for you. It doesn’t matter whether or not the church people like them or think they are the right choices. It’s that way for everyone. People need to let go of trying to figure out why other people don’t live the way they would like them to live…have to stop trying figure out the choices other people make and just live their own lives…which by the way, other people can’t under stand either. He sounds as if his life makes sense to him and that’s all anyone can ask for. He can be warm or cold…his choice.

    • hitNrun,

      all I have to add is great comments…I agree with so much of what you’ve written

    • I was thinking along some of these lines, too– that this was a different facet of salvation being an individual matter. Granted, this scenario is much more of a temporal one, than the spiritual ones of previous posts, but my observations are similar: these choices are for the young man to make. And again, those that are choosing to help him, those are their choices. All of that is out of my control, and Kenneth’s control, and everyone here who agrees or disagrees with those choices.

      You know of course, of Jesus’ saying: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” I think the idea is the same whether it be He or a personification of opportunity. That young man has to choose to open the door, and I don’t think the idea has police, soldiers or others with a battering ram, or even others knocking on the door, saying, “Yo, open up, Jesus and an employer are here, open up, so you can get salvation and a paycheck!” I’m getting ridiculous, of course, but I hope you get my idea.

    • You’re speaking my language. We are free to choose, end of story. If people want help that’s great, if they don’t, we need to respect their choices.
      Nice comment!

  14. It is a matter of understanding. I have seen people let themselves go and the only thing we could do is watch them fade into the world, and categorize them into the group of traumatized, depressive, etc. But if society was healthy it would accept people as they really are and this understanding alone would help people get out of the mental mix up, if this is the case. As for the “get a job” Kenneth, it is a big fat fable man. I have been offered many jobs for peanuts. Jobs that would actually pay me less than what it would cost me to get to work (like a job in WalMarts) . Of course this might not be the case with this young fellow, but a low paying job, sometimes is a vital part of the problem. Maybe what people think is ” If I work for next to nothing and I am deprived of life, it might be better to not work and enjoy the little I can afford”

    • ” Kenneth, it is a big fat fable man. I have been offered many jobs for peanuts. Jobs that would actually pay me less than what it would cost me to get to work (like a job in WalMarts) .”

      I think its also a matter of where we’re at in life…..if we are single, no kids, and only 18 years old and we’re gonna scoff at an entry level job; then perhaps our standard is a bit too lofty….

      but if we are 35, have 2 kids and a spouse and all that is available is entry level jobs which won’t allow us to earn enough to pay our bills…then that is a whole different issue altogether….

      so context is very important in discussions like these.

  15. You might find this story interesting… http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/03/chris-murphy-homelessness_n_4536771.html?ir=Impact The bulk of the problem lies in that even with unemployment benefits, a homeless person can’t take a job and fill out a W2 without a permanent address but can’t pay for a home without a job. After unemployment benefits run out, working your way out of homelessness becomes even more difficult.

  16. Where I live we have so many young men and women who travel by hitch hiking to get to California with the same mentality. They travel here because the weather, although in the 30s in the winter, is more comfortable than -20. I’ve talked to some of them, mainly because they hang out in the district i love, and they sound very similar.

  17. Reblogged this on Dead Citizen's Rights Society.

  18. So sad…I was volunteering at a winter shelter just yesterday and met many young men who are really wanting to get back on their feet and were encouraging each other (one who had a university degree); another man who was made redundant and then got divorced; an immigrant from Portugal who wants to return there and a 23 year old who had learning difficulties and who was kicked out by his parents before he was 18. Most of these guys didn’t want to be homeless but there was one who had the chance of a permanent place to stay and decided to turn it down. ?? I don’t get it at all but my guess is that life can often feel so very difficult and perhaps some find the striving in life so difficult they just decide to give up and not care any more. Caring and worrying about more and more people in this world is often difficult as well…but I don’t want to stop caring. However, we can only help as much as they will let us.

    • “Caring and worrying about more and more people in this world is often difficult as well…but I don’t want to stop caring. However, we can only help as much as they will let us”

      exactly….as much as these issues can be difficult to grapple with I don’t ever want to stop caring or stop being aware of them 🙂

  19. “We” here in the states (probably other places too but I’m not familiar with them like I am here since I live here) are providing a platform of laziness and hopelessness. Gone are the days where you had to really work for things. Now there are all kinds of lawsuits to get you out of working and make lots of money from being a crook, making sex tapes or writing books from those who have “wronged you”. You can become famous for being an idiot (as displayed on reality tv). I also think the stress of society in general where it moves so fast you can’t breathe affects many people with anxiety disorders. We’re letting everything go, slipping through our fingers until there is no middle class anymore…just the people who still have the drive to be successful and make money and those who live off of the people who do. That’s the sad truth. Okay I’m off my soapbox now! Good for you for engaging the kid in discussion!

    • “We’re letting everything go, slipping through our fingers until there is no middle class anymore”

      unfortunately this is a very scary reality…..and I enjoyed your soap box speech 🙂

  20. Been there, but only temporarily. Back in hippie times, a lot of folks had that attitude, many times elevated to a kind of ideology, which seems to be what’s happened with this guy. It’s our beloved Rugged Individualism carried to extreme, and extreme is what we’re all about these days, isn’t it? Perhaps it’s so irritating precisely because it’s rooted in our national mantra of individualism.

    • it does seem like there is a correlation between a lot of the young people now-a-days and the young people of the 1960’s….I wonder if they are upset about the same things.

    • Well, I hate to say it, but a significant percentage of the idealism of the 60s and 70s was simple self indulgence, and the idea that what I want must be good, because I want it. I say that as a survivor of that era. Not to say that everything we did was bad, but I suspect the motivation was less than profound. Nowadays, I’m considered something of an apostate by some of my contemporaries, although I still believe in many of the causes of the day. I’m just a bit more skeptical, and less apt to buy into the whole enchilada, so to speak.

    • Mikels,

      what bothers me is that (I talk to a lot of young adults) many of the youth of this generation have similar complaints as those from the 1960’s (in fact I’ve recently been reading a compilation book of essays from the youth written during the 1960’s and its eery how so many of the essays sound like things young adults are saying today) yet young adults today seem to not be aware of the ‘self indulgence’ that you’re speaking of….

      too many young adults gravitate towards the idealism of the 1960’s but don’t seem to realize that all those people who went to san Francisco (the promised land) back in the 60’s got there and found out that it was NOT the land flowing with milk and honey….you still had to work to be a part of society.

  21. Check out my David Hume Post.
    The guy you met reminds me of my brother in law.
    Good Post

  22. Whoops ! I meant John Locke. I’m totally sober. Really I am. Well, there’s the coffee.

  23. Not too long ago, my husband was talking to a fellow software engineer. During that conversation, he found out that the man had been homeless for several years before coming back to engineering. I think he had the same feeling about responsibility, life being overwhelming, values being screwed up etc… He wanted to see what it was like to be homeless, and to come and go as he pleased. He was out there for a few years. Life’s about experience and learning and paths. Yes, there are people who can’t help being out there and it’s truly tragic (and scary) for them. But, sometimes people choose things for reasons we don’t understand. That’s okay too.

    • so perhaps being homeless will help this young man get his life back on track and offer him better perspective….its an interesting perspective you’ve given 🙂

  24. I wonder if this guy’s opinion about his way of life would change if people stopped providing him with money, food, clothing and other chairty. I want to note that I’m not advocating that homeless people don’t deserve compassion or any of the forms of charity offered to them. The mentality you described this young man had sounds very similar to many people I know in their early to mid 20’s. I wonder if there was some influence on this generation that caused them to shun the idea of work and feel comfortable (and even entitled) to live a life without responsibilites where other people, who do work for what they have, supply them with the basics they need to survive. Not all of the people with this mentality choose to be homeless, many of them stay at home with their parents, unemployed and often refusing to even help with household chores. They spend their time with friends or online, watching television and relying on others to buy food and wash their clothes. As long as someone else is willing to take care of them, they don’t have to. As nice as it sounds to live a life without responsibilites it is those very obligations that also enrich my life and provide me a sense of security. To each their own I suppose, but what will happen to our society if more people refuse to put forth the effort than those still willing to? Returning to a simpler time would be nice, but in those simpler times there was actually more physical work and responsibility with less goods to go around. Would this particular man just let himself starve to death if he could no longer get handouts? Would he choose to freeze if there were no shelters to go to? That is what I would like to know.

    • “I wonder if this guy’s opinion about his way of life would change if people stopped providing him with money, food, clothing and other charity”

      you’ve made a ton of good points…but your opening sentence is really the one that grabs me the most; this is what I’ve wondered about a lot of people (at least the ones who are not mentally ill or struggling with an addiction problem)….would they still be homeless if people weren’t helping them??

    • I hope to figure out the answer to that question someday.

  25. I completely understand your confusion Kenneth, but a few thoughts occurred to me as I was reading this.

    In terms of him having a high chance of dying. Provided he can get shelter from the wind and has enough blankets he can probably be fine. And as long as he can find the occasional shelter to sleep in, warm up in a coffee shops from time to time, he’ll probably be fine. Probably. But in terms of probabilities, is it any different that somebody who say want to enjoy the thrill seeking lifestyle. Those type of people often get admired and people want to emulate them. But people who go skiing in extreme places or jump out of aircraft probably have just as much chance of dying or at least getting severely injured and paralyzed. Heck look at many professional sports players, or people who race cars. We don’t think of them as odd (well I do lol).

    Now of course you can easily say that this mans life really isn’t as exciting to at least compensate for the probability of death. I agree, but from a probability standpoint all I’m saying is that it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

    His type is also not that extraordinary. There is always going to be a few people like him in every community. A wanderer, a hermit, a village idiot perhaps (I don’t say that disparagingly either. I really mean it to say, some guy who is just a bit off). Even those who cloister themselves in monasteries, take vows of silence, fast extended periods of time, etc….might also be said to be of similar ilk.

    The way he is deluded himself though is that he is not really as free as he’d like himself to believe. He can’t really come and go as he pleases. Everyday he does have to be concerned about getting enough calories to survive. There are many places he simply cannot enter. He may feel that other things like a job, and facebook are prisons, but he has simply given up one prison for another. He has also chosen a prison that will impact his nutrition and well-being such that he will be unable to make good decisions that will help him over time. This is what a lot of poor and homeless face. If he doesn’t see his lifestyle now as a prison, then I guess that’s good for him, but he isn’t any more free than any of us.

    Of course it may also be that he has a freedom that none of us have. Which is the freedom to have rich siblings that would give him a job should things become really dire. Thus his choice of lifestyle is one that he can actually “Afford” to make.

    • totally agree with Swarn’s point:
      “but he has simply given up one prison for another” –
      so true – so true….

    • “His type is also not that extraordinary. There is always going to be a few people like him in every community. A wanderer, a hermit, a village idiot perhaps (I don’t say that disparagingly either. I really mean it to say, some guy who is just a bit off). Even those who cloister themselves in monasteries, take vows of silence, fast extended periods of time, etc….might also be said to be of similar ilk”

      so true Swarn…..these particular people will always exist…..and there will always be people like me who have a tough time accepting them. it doesn’t mean that I won’t accept them….but I just have to work a bit harder at it .

  26. As a family doctor, I really do think that mental “conditions” are behind a lot of homelessness. It may not always be “illness” as we usually think about it. It may be personality disorders, which are much more subtle but lifelong and very hard to change. Personality disorders can make it very hard for them to maintain relationships and observe social contracts.

    • bwdell,

      totally hear ya…..having studied so much psychology it was engrained in me to be aware of the many complex issues revolving around these types of situations…and that’s why I tried to tread carefully in my article and not come out and completely condemn the young man (or anyone in his situation)

    • I agree that other conditions may be at play here as well – like the personality as ya’ll note – but also life conditioning and circumstance – and then family of origin stuff – like maybe not knowing how to cope – or giving up from feeling defeated all through the teens – many times people sabotage success because of past hurts and scars – and it is too bad that counseling and therapy is not more readily available to everyone! I know that many folks get addicted to counseling – and I am not talking about the elite upscale therapy sessions – I am talking about having practical help and assistance more available to those who need it – before it gets to maybe where this young 20 year old is at. Because while it is young in some ways – he also has lived man-years that were likely filled with things that took a toll.

      but really like the point about personality disorders – and how there are often “many complex issues” at play…. sand I just prayed for this guy too – that the Lord would keep him safe and help him during this cold weather – but also help the guy in all other areas – and to help in ways that only God can….

  27. As a police officer, I ran into so many homeless who were that way because they wanted to be, just like this young man. Some are mentally ill but most just like ‘living off the grid’. I have to compare them to the men of a different era, they were called ‘mountain men’. They roamed the forests and mountains, living off the land because they did not like society and preferred to be alone. For them, it was considered a romantic notion; for today it is considered crazy. So, homeless in an unpopulated rugged land or homeless in a concrete jungle?
    We have to find the ones who don’t want to be there and give them a helping hand and leave the ones who want to be there alone. I think it is part of the human condition so let them be human.
    (Thank you, Kenneth, you find the best topics that make people think. I am reblogging this as it is thought provoking.)

    • “a romantic notion”

      I’ve talked with a few people who fit the description you’re giving….and they are definitely a breed all of their own…it takes a lot of mental strength to go off the grid and live off the land……I don’t think I could It even if I tried….I like my creature comforts too much

  28. Reblogged this on Thoughts of Kat Canfield and commented:
    As a police officer, I ran into so many homeless who were that way because they wanted to be, just like this young man. Some are mentally ill but most just like ‘living off the grid’. I have to compare them to the men of a different era, they were called ‘mountain men’. They roamed the forests and mountains, living off the land because they did not like society and preferred to be alone. For them, it was considered a romantic notion; for today it is considered crazy. So, homeless in an unpopulated rugged land or homeless in a concrete jungle?
    We have to find the ones who don’t want to be there and give them a helping hand and leave the ones who want to be there alone. I think it is part of the human condition so let them be human.

  29. After having worked in Social Services–Addictions–for more thank twenty years I do get your concern and where you are coming from. However, I learned that people are free to make up their own minds (I needed to learn how to allow others to determine their own fate) about how they want to spend the precious life they have been given. If this guy doesn’t want to work–so be it. That is his choice and although it is a choice I wouldn’t make it doesn’t make his choice wrong. I know that is not what you are saying but in the end he is free-free to decide the type and quality of his life experience. I think that the important thing here is that you care about him–that’s how I see it anyway, Jim

    • “However, I learned that people are free to make up their own minds”

      so true…this has been one of the toughest things for me to learn…to simply let people choose for themselves what they want and for me to accept them and not interfere….

    • Jim, I wonder if people ARE all free to make up their own mind. It’s surprising how strong peer pressure and upbringing is. I kept working (even when I was unfit to do so), because I couldn’t pay my medical bills & rent.

      Family didn’t give me the help I needed. They gave me what THEY thought I needed. They told me in no uncertain terms how much I did wrong. No one ever asked me what I needed, (when I needed help), and I had it drummed into me as a small child that I had to stand on my own two feet (and NOT ask for help).

      Maybe this 25 yr old guy is not ‘free’ (to make his choices). Maybe this young man is shackled to his past and doesn’t know how to go about living life alternatively. He knows and can tell us he doesn’t want to live like his siblings, so he leaves his family & convention behind and wanders through the realms of the homeless (depending on charity) because he’s stuck in this no-man’s land of not knowing what, or how to move forward.

      It’s all such a guessing game isn’t it.

      No one can ever really know another person’s reality.

      I agree with you, Jim, that’s it’s important for Kenneth to let this guy know that he cares. Listening and Caring are two of the hardest things modern society encounters. In this mad world we live in, very few people have time to Care.

  30. It’s Tragic that a 25 yr old guy would rather freeze alone than live in social life. Seems like he had enough of rules,law, responsibilities.. and choses what his mind commands him. Mind is a strange and indescribable element.Yesterday I refused to drive in this freezing weather and I appreciated God for my warm sweet home. Hope he ends up in the hospital a life better than under the bridge and after that he makes better choices for his life. (It’s all up to him)
    Now I wonder how many people are freezing or starving in this harsh winter?? Sad and disturbing!

    • yea…even though I ventured out yesterday; I was in my warm car, then I was in a coffee house, then back in my car, then back home…..I couldn’t even imagine LIVING outside in this weather…holy cow! I talked with a different homeless guy this morning who walked 5 miles at 6 am today!!!! it was -12 out!!!!

  31. I’m sad and scared for him. I can see how his comments would make you, most people, frustrated, questioning his sanity, intentions, “bravery,” etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t hear the whole story of this man’s life. I dare not “diagnose” or judge what he’s doing based on the circumstances of your conversation. I’m glad you recognized his existence and spoke to him. You wouldn’t believe the lack of support I get from friends, many of whom consider themselves “compassionate” vegans but plenty of non-vegans, too, when I bring up the subject of the poor, hungry, homeless people in our country. Silence. Crickets. Hey, until my stint in the psych ward (not to equate homeless and mental illness) I couldn’t look homeless people in the eye. I was embarrassed and embarrassed for them. Who would’ve thought 6 days in the psych ward would be one of the best “vacations” of my life? My view, perspective, and heart grew by leaps and bounds as a result. In NYC last month, I gave money to a homeless guy (he was young, too), you know, smiled at him and said, “Here you go,” as I placed it in his cup. He said, “Thank you, miss.” I returned to my mom and friend and she said, “Did he even say thank you?” Even? Seriously? Even? Just thinking about that moment and legislators coming up with ever more inventive ways to say, “Fuck you and die,” to the poor, homeless, hungry, unemployed, mentally ill (while invoking the word of God or Jesus, no less), makes me better understand why this guy you spoke to took to this life. As someone who lives with major depression and takes the highest dosage of a heavy duty anti-depressant and anti-anxiety meds and sees a therapist regularly, I’ve felt so hopeless about the state of this world that it takes every ounce of strength to not end my life. Is it really so unbelievable to think a sane person could feel the same way?

    I so enjoy your thought-provoking posts. This will be on my mind for a while. Peace.

    • one of my really good friends was in the psyche ward for a while and I would visit him twice a week…..it was a really eye-opening experience for me, just being a visitor. Many of the things you mentioned were thoughts that raced through my brain as I would hang out there and simply observe all that was going on.

  32. Tough question indeed. As a society, I guess, we just need to let people live/die with their choices. Since this man wants no responsibilities, did he think that society owed him food, shelter, healthcare, etc.?

    • “Since this man wants no responsibilities, did he think that society owed him food, shelter, healthcare, etc.?”

      this is the conundrum….a lot of people (not just the homeless) don’t want any kind of responsibility yet they feel that society owes them something…..we would all do well to remember Jamestown.

  33. see, u are SUCH a better person than me…with people who are struggling who don’t WANT to struggle , who would LOVE to work…ok see …i NEED coffee now

  34. Great insights here. What I really don’t understand is how a guy from Texas picked the frigid Midwest as the place to be homeless in the middle of winter. The homeless people I saw in the park in Honolulu, I totally get. But the frigid Midwest? There’s something definitely wrong there!

    • Mel, I hope people aren’t offended by this….but maybe I’m nuts but Id love trying out being homeless in Hawaii for a minute….sounds like fun if ya ask me

    • I hear you. If I were choosing to go off the grid like this guy, the first thing I would do is buy a one-way ticket to Honolulu or some other tropical city.

  35. Apparently the homeless guy caught you on a bad day, Kenneth. Normally you don’t judge or condemn anyone. It’s a good thing to know – before your start your big trip – you’re not the flawless saint you often appear to be. Thank God you’re only human!

    The reason why lots of people, including you, don’t understand why the homeless guy does what he does, is because you think he has a choice. Where as I am convinced he actually hasn’t got one.

    Compare it to being heterosexual. Do heterosexuals have a choice whether or not they love someone from the opposite sex? Do homeless people have a choice whether or not they are able to deal with the pressure family, friends, coworkers or society in general put on them?

    My son is quite a smart boy. And still he dropped out of school. Why? Because he couldn’t deal with the pressure. The pressure made him feel bad about himself, it made him feel depressed and he even at some point wanted to end his life. Was dropping out of school a choice to him? No. It was a way to survive. The only way to survive.

    • your so right. a lot of people are under tremendous amounts of pressure….in fact western society seems to be inundated with stress and pressure that is put upon people.

  36. That’s a tough one. I’d like to think that, once his situation gets bad enough, he will try something that requires responsibility. I mean, if one of his family members were to agree to take him in, they could only let him mooch off of them for so long. I say mooch because that’s what he’d be doing. It doesn’t sound like he would take the opportunity to search for employment or some way of becoming independent. Homelessness is his independence. Maybe that fact makes him happy, regardless of how it shortens his life (because his life will be shorted, by freezing to death, issues with malnutrition or something else related to the hard life he has chosen).

    I guess I would agree he needs a kick in the rear. Maybe the question that should be asked is “what happened in your life that brought you to this answer?”

    • TK, he and I talked for quite a bit and the best I can say is that a combination of factors converged in his life and he finally woke up one day and said ‘F*** it’ and just left everything…….yet there are other people in similar shoes as he was and they simply kept showing up to work and getting their s**t done.

  37. thanks for sharing his story. I can understand the desire to run away from the technology lust and keeping up with the Jones’s materialism; there’s respect for living simply. It didn’t sound like that’s his primary motivation though, if it were, farming or contributing to change the tide of society would be a natural outcome (perhaps he tried and got burnt out). But it sounds like somewhere along the line he’s been burned. Maybe the pressure of being compared to his extremely successful siblings got to be too much (sure, well paying job, but all three of them run their own show), and he hated being a disappointment, or he hated feeling like he was never enough, so he decided to renounce attachments to everyone and everything. That way he’s never have to disappoint anyone, including himself, ever again. Why shirk commitment to jobs AND people to such an extreme degree? He could find a job he loved and live as an artist, if he was so inclined. Continue to use his life to contribute to society in a way he was pleased with. Continue to keep in touch with his siblings (there must be at least one that he likes). But he sounds like he just doesn’t want to answer to anyone, and in that, there’s either extreme arrogance, and/or pain and disillusionment. (That’s the only way I can make sense of it). It’s unusual that people would turn their backs on family for no reason at all, especially if they cared enough to offer him jobs (but perhaps that would be even more shameful, to work for your sibling).

    • so many good points you make I’m not sure where to begin.

      “That way he’s never have to disappoint anyone”…..I might be wrong but after talking to him for awhile I believe that what you’ve said here is definitely an element of what’s going on in his life.

  38. I knew quite a few of these types when I had my homeless period. Some where shell shocked vets, some just wanted to have no responsibility for anything. They all used shelters, food kitchens and medical services. For the shell shocked, I can sympathize, but so many just become parasites to anyone who tries to help them. What do you do? Serenity Prayer is about the best answer I can come up with. Help those who want help, do what you can and move on.

  39. Wouldn’t we all like to “come and go as we please” The man has chosen to become a burden on society. Most people choose to make sacrifices to avoid this very thing. You cannot force him to care.

    • “Wouldn’t we all like to “come and go as we please”

      there are so many days I would love to be able to do that as well…..but I’ve got responsibilities that keep me going I guess

  40. It is simply impossible to reason when the other can only hear his/her own ideas.
    Sure, you can pray for that guy, and time to time you can check on, how he is doing.
    It might be a rebellious mind, or a simply immatured one, without responsibility, although, he sensed something right: the world we build day by day is corrupted, doomed. We do have good moments, however, we are so self-occupied…
    And yes, you are right, no one can live in an isolated island, simply, the life is about relationships, in every aspect. The quality of our co-existence is the real issue here, how much we really live for others, without any expectations to receive anything back…
    I am sure, in time, both you and this young man will arrive to a very similar conclusion…
    Think of the seeds when you sow: some fall into fertile soil, some among to stones, and some among weeds…

    • “The quality of our co-existence is the real issue here, how much we really live for others, without any expectations to receive anything back”

      I really like the way you phrased that and its a great point

  41. His story is definitely one of those mystifying and horrendously infuriating and frustrating ones. It’s not like he can’t work or doesn’t have options, he’s simply choosing not to -it doesn’t fit what we “think” we know of homeless people. It also doesn’t fit the “American Dream,” etc. As a society we always have a hard time with anything that’s an outlier so we try to force it into a little box or category we can understand but that’s just not always possible. Seems to me he’s one of those young idealists that has a different sense of freedom – one that doesn’t include being responsible for anything or anyone but himself. In reality, at it’s core it’s almost extreme selfishness in a sense, though for this young guy it doesn’t really hurt anyone but possibly himself. I just hope it doesn’t get him killed. 😦 I don’t think this guy represents the majority of homeless folks, but there are some who are willingly homeless and it’s hard to understand, but unless we’ve walked a mile in their shoes, we can’t really judge them for it either. It’s a hard one for sure but it is what it is I guess.

  42. Guys like that just need to be treated respecfully and left alone without “gifts” . . . their futures may be horrible or great . . . Winner? loser? . . . who knows?

    I hired guys in alaska who would work their asses off for a few months, get a nestegg and spend the rest of the year in the bush till it was all gone. . . . That was their chosen path.

    The only word I have for them is that . . . “you have the right to live anyway you want, but don’t be begging from me cause it gonna work until you do”.

  43. Fine line here.. Like JJ Walters said, we have to respect their decision and hope they fare the weather well..

  44. Great post, Kenneth. I’m trying to imagine how I might talk with him. I might try my usual fall-back plans, including losing my investment in his outcome … but it’s really tough to do that when the person is in danger and his behavior just doesn’t make sense to you. As usual, you’ve got me thinking.

    • Ann,

      when I was working at the rehab clinic we were ‘taught’ how to talk to people in these situations but the truth of the matter is the ‘textbook’ answers simply don’t work all the time (do they work even 1% of the time? I don’t know)….there are so many variables in each person’s life and sometimes all I can do is say ‘I don’t know’

    • “I don’t know” is a great response, if that’s the authentic one. Thanks, Kenneth!

  45. A great conversation. Is our task to set him “right” based on our notion of what is legitimate? Can we not do as you began to do, accompany him for a bit to learn from his experience of life and then let him go without projecting a system of value on him that is based on a set of norms he chooses not to be a part of? I don’t understand his choice, but wish to respect his personhood.

  46. It is one of those issues that does make you wonder.
    A flips side however could well be that we are to spoiled with what we have. warm water clothes food. and yet there they are people who can do with out those. who are helped with nothing but a sweater and they make it work.

    Not wanting to work yes some don’t they learned to live without luxury without the toes that binds us. I would kill for a job right now.

  47. So on the other side of the coin if he dies, what will you do? cry, scream, feel sorry? you tried when you could and if he dies and you know in time, go to the funeral. then life goes on.

  48. Don’t bite my head off; i’ve been burnt out of my home from a careless neighbor who needed a smoke at 2.30 am. it was freezing. had to change in my car for a bit, it was closing out of winter. I’ve been out of work, no fault of my own, I felt like dying at the time, but hey, life goes on.

  49. I would have invited the young man to stay in our home for the night (well maybe, it would depend and I see if the Holy Spirit led that at the time, but as I read it I was thinking I would have offered this – and while I know there are debates on the dangers of doing that – and debates about whether or not this helps in the long run – I would have made up the down stairs couch up with some flannel sheets and made a warm meal (and coffee of course!).

    anyhow – I like how this post (and all the rich comments) are talking about the “cold” parts of society during this record breaking cold spell – such deep and meaningful angles!

  50. I totally agree with you! I don’t understand why a young person is homeless first of all, when they can easily go get a job. Second, why would they want to be in freezing weather? I am really interested in your 100 coffee house tour you are doing. Thanks for following my blog, and looking forward to following yours. Cheers 🙂

    • This has been such a thought provoking discussion and it’s immensely ‘warming’ to hear so many different views. If we were all exactly the same, think how boring life would be.

      All I can say (after contributing several comments of my own) is…….I hope all of you in the ‘big freeze’ get a break in the weather soon. Some of you must be totally unprepared for the severity of the winds & snow. Following so many photography blogs all over the world really is an eye-opener to this season’s weird and erratic weather.

      I certainly DO wish all the homeless find some shelter & food in these difficult times. We all need a little Compassion & Kindness when the ‘going gets tough’ no matter where/why/how we all live the way we do.

  51. There are a lot of youngun’s out there that see the street life as cool. They could be out working, but they’re not. Which reminds me of a tangent to this story – so many complain about illegals taking all the jobs, but I never see any “whites” hanging out at the lumber store looking for work – just sayin’.

    So back to this kid – I can understand wanting to be free of commitments. But along with that comes a freedom from comforts, too – like food and warmth.

    Come to think of it – there are a LOT of non-committal things one can do to make a living. I do it all the time.

    So he doesn’t want to be told or questioned about what he is doing – fine. Don’t then. Is he interesting to talk to otherwise? If so, talk – if not, don’t. Compassion is one thing, but it’s clear that this kid has chosen his path – let him walk on it.

  52. Amazing post. I’m going to have to check out more of your blog once I get a chance.
    Blessings =)

  53. Many cultures make room for people to live as

    We’ve all heard about the role of the Shaman.

    As I read your description of this young man
    I had two thoughts simultaneously:

    1. Depression; severe

    2. St. Francis

  54. While I certainly could not live that kind of life, (at least not in this climate) I kind of wonder what else might be motivating him – socially, philosophically, maybe even spiritually (maybe. I don’t know the guy beyond your 2 cents.)? I know at least a few people who feel oppressed by our current social order (my own father even spent some time in his younger years “living off the land”. Read: Voluntarily homeless) and are lashing out however they feel they can. I’ve also a few friends that have sloughed off all but the most basic necessities as a way to live a more simple life – almost Buddhist in their worldview (and I wish I had the willpower to do so myself a lot of days).
    I’d like to know more about the man’s ideals and worldview before I passed judgement. But, even if you can’t see his viewpoint, and you understandably worry about him, this is his own choice.

  55. Nice post. Our society – or perhaps any society – doesn’t fit everybody. You have to respect a person’s right to do what they do.


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