Homelessness Myth #22: ‘They Have Enough Money’

by on May 23, 2012

in Activism, Health

by Christine Schanes

Do homeless people need money? Of course, housed or unhoused, we all need money. Some housed people believe that homeless people have enough money to get what they need.

However, do homeless people really have enough money to get what they need? I think not. For example, one of the most important things that any person needs is government-issued identification. People need this ID for many reasons, including to get a job, housing, food stamps (after the first month), healthcare, a bank account as well as to get married.

In California, there is a schedule of fees for DMV-issued photo ID cards. There is no fee for senior citizens (age 62 or older) to get these IDs. For everyone else, the fee for California photo ID cards is $26. However, this fee can be reduced to $7 when people meet the income requirements of a public assistance program and complete the Verification for Reduced Fee Identification Card form (DL 937) available from a host of governmental or nonprofit programs.

Homeless people under 62 years of age generally qualify for this $7 California reduced-fee photo ID card.

But do homeless people have $7? And if they need to get $7, how do they get it?  Some homeless people work, indeed, sometimes at more than one job. They may “can,” meaning they recycle. Some homeless people, including unaccompanied youth, go “spanging,” that is, they ask strangers for spare change.

Often they “go signing” or “fly a sign” which means they use a sign indicating their need and request for money. Some musically talented homeless people raise funds by “busking,” a term used for playing music for donations.

Homeless artists sometimes solicit donations for their creations. Some homeless people suffering from disabilities may receive money from government programs. And many homeless people involve themselves in any combination of these efforts to raise funds.

I asked the following people whether they had $7 and, if they didn!t, how they would raise $7. I am grateful to them for their answers to these questions.

Grace, age 52, lives in her RV

“I have $7. I am frugal. I get disability and supplement it by making jewelry when I can. These are the two ways I get income.  $7 is very important. You can do a lot of things with $7. To me, $7 means a meal, gas to move the RV, toilet paper or loads of laundry.  “$7 is a new wardrobe for a homeless person. Recently at the $2 Store, I bought a young homeless woman a dress, a pair of shorts, jeans, a t-shirt – three changes of clothing – all the clothing that you can carry.”

Eric, age 35, homeless

“I don!t have $7. To get $7, I have to beg practically all day. I don’t ‘can’ because of germs, it!s dirty.  Also, I make roses and angelfish that I give out for donations. Sometimes I make money, sometimes I don’t.”

OB Dillon, age “pushing 69,” homeless

“I have $7. People give me gifts because they like my guitar playing. That makes me a professional.”

Jon, age 49, lives in his van

“I do have $7. To make money, I spange.”

Justin, age 25, homeless

“I don’t have $7. What I do and what I’d like to do is different. It’s really demeaning for me. I have to swallow my pride… It would be nice if there were part-time jobs for the homeless to do.”

Manuel, age 30, homeless

“I have no money. I’m just looking for work. What would I have to do to get $7? Whatever it takes. I ask around for work. I do yard work. Whatever it takes.”

Anonymous, age 40, homeless

“I don’t have $7. What would I have to do to get $7? I’d ask someone – probably have to ask several people. I don’t like to do that. I’d rather do some kind of work.  How long would it take to get $7? It took me one hour to get $12 to go to a Christian rock concert. I had $13, but I didn’t realize that the ticket was $25. I just told people why I needed the money and I got it right away.  Getting money can take a dollar an hour, if you’re lucky.”

Bobby, age 41, lives in his car

“I always have $7. To get money, I go to work or to the bank. I work for a living, you know.”

J.D., age “almost 39,” homeless

“Nope, I don’t have $7. I make hacky-sacks and in four years [displaying his creation] this is the first one I’ve made. I haven’t eaten for a while so I’m hungry.”

Ethan, age 18, homeless

“I do have $7. To get $7 I sit around and make jewelry out of bamboo and sell it. It’s pretty much my life right now.”

Oasis, age 49, homeless

“I don’t have $7. I make a product out of scrap metal. I take the casings of old 50 caliber bullets and 20-millimeter bullets and I make peaceful pipes. I sell them to the public as they walk by. I’m self-employed.”

Christiana, age 26, homeless

“I don’t have $7. I manage a band named, ‘Welcome.’  We have our first gig this Thursday at 8pm at Bar 11… It’s $5 to get in. We get a split of the door.”

Jay, age 25, homeless

“I don’t have $7. I’m unemployed. In order to get $7, I’d have to get employed.”

Sandy, age 49, homeless

“I have $7 now, but I may not have it by tomorrow. I didn’t have a cent to my name yesterday. I was starving. I just asked people on the street for money.  I get social security but I can’t live on that. I was a homeowner. I left my husband.”

Erick, age 40, homeless

“I do not have $7. The $7 itself doesn’t mean anything to me – it’s what I can buy for myself that matters.”

Lena, age 29, housed

“I don’t have $7. I have $2 in my guitar case.  To get $7, I would either clean houses or I play the guitar. Most of my income comes from cleaning other people’s houses. I stay with my husband in a motel that charges $175 a week for our room.”

I look forward to your comments.

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Christine Schanes

Christine Schanes, J.D., Ph.D., is a consultant and public educator in the area of homelessness. Christine is director of two departments within Nos Amis/Our Friends, Inc.: (1) the new Center for Justice and Social Compassion (www.centerforjusticeandsocialcompassion.org) and (2) Children Helping Poor and Homeless People (www.chphp.com), co-founded by Christine and her two children, Chrissy, age 8, and Patrick, age 6 over twenty years ago. Today, CHPHP is a nationally recognized educational outreach program conducted by children and teens with adult advisors that encourages direct service.
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