Recently in San Antonio Texas it was suggested that giving money to panhandlers, or beggars be criminalized. If there is no money given out the homeless will go away, reasoned the local councilman who proposed the new law. As if, what about the mentally ill and unstable? Released from long term care facilities during the Reagen years, many of these psychotic and schizophrenic street people know no other way to live. Sure, some are drug addicts as well. Some are run aways, some are left overs from the foster care system. With no family to support or guide them some young people end up homeless through some really nasty circumstances.

One of the problems with helping the "homeless" is that not all "homeless" are alike. The catch all term refers to anyone without a domicile. The similarities end there. It's like the way we use the word "Indian" to describe all the varied native peoples and tribes alive pre-Columbian contact. Their languages, lifestyles, money and commerce were all different from one another. The only experience they all share that defines them as "Indians" is being raped by the US government once the infrastructure for the United States was in place. And so it is with the homeless.

A middle class, educated woman fleeing with her children from an abusive situation may find herself homeless. If the situation is an anomaly, such as in my case when my electrician husband went covert with a prescription pain killer addiction, help can often be found from family members. Nonetheless, I was just as homeless if I was left to sleep on a friend's floor because I could no long afford my mortgage as any PTSD veteran who can't hold down a job. The main difference is, someone like me needs a job to solve my problems. Someone with PTSD needs therapy and drugs perhaps. Someone with a brain injury may need public assistance for the rest of their life.

Some things to think about when you give to charity: people rarely donate underwear. Buy a new pack and give it away. People rarely donate soap. It's fine to complain that homeless people smell, but finding a consistent place to wash is often a challenge to the homeless. No one wants to get undressed at a public park restroom, not even a "bum." Don't donate food you wouldn't want to eat yourself, it's arrogant. Honestly, 6 year old dried beans? Cranberry sauce in a can? Donating stuff you wouldn't use your self is just another way to pat yourself on the back, but it won't help anyone.

Think long and hard before you hand a stranger cash. Even if, even if they seem like a lost soul at the gas station just trying to get home. If you give a drug addict money for drugs you are part of the problem. Consider buying the gas itself for the person. They may surprise you by declining your offer. Same thing with the hungry person at the bus stop. Consider buying them lunch instead of handing them money which might be used to by alcohol.

Lastly, consider helping in the most meaningful way possible: one on one. I lived across the street once from a family of ten living in an abandoned shack with no running water or electricity. You can probably guess my home wasn't much nicer. I was a single parent myself, without many resources. But I was able to bond with one of the girls, who enjoyed coming over to play with my son and watch a little TV and actually listened to me when I gave a advice for life. Another time a friend of mine from high school was in between jobs and unable to make ends meet so she slept on my sun porch for a summer. On the one hand its a little unrealistic to think people who have sunk so far can turn things around on a dime. IF you are going to take them into your home, be willing to go long haul. On the other hand, enabling someone is not helping them. Set some ground rules. Demand they contribute to the household in what ever manner they can - taking out the trash, making dinner once in a while, contributing to groceries or utilities. Something. People feel better about themselves and begin to heal when they stop seeing themselves as victims and begin to redefine themselves as survivors.