Homeless – Fact or Fiction?

How do we determine if someone is homeless and genuinely needs help?

My husband and I recently saw a man, woman, and two children around seven, eight, or nine-years-old, standing by the entrance to the Bristol Farms grocery store. The mid-forties man held a sign saying: Homeless, Please Help. The four individuals had olive or dark skin—I wondered if they were from India—brunette hair, deep brown eyes, wore clean clothing and appeared to be well fed.

As we drove past, I studied the children. Their energy seemed down, their expressions sad, and their slumped shoulders suggested a demeanor of accepted resignation.

Something about them didn’t seem right. Suspicious, I didn’t ask my husband to stop so I could give them a donation. As we drove away, I recalled seeing either this family or a similar group a couple of weeks prior near another shopping area.

Later that evening I read a posting on Nextdoor, the digital online community network, identifying the Bristol Farms location and describing the “family” as Gypsies, and imploring people NOT to give them money.

One of my neighbors, who owns several business properties in a nearby city, stated, “They’re Gypsies, and their business is panhandling. They appear to be a family, and sometimes they’re related. They live in tribes, have a unique language, and very few are literate. The children never attend school, nor are they taught to read or write; when girls reach a certain age, they’re sold for a ‘bride price.’ It’s a misogynistic society—the women and children are told what to do—and they migrate from one upscale area to another. DO NOT give them money.”

Whoa.

Intrigued I did a little research. My initial impression was correct—the Gypsies originated from Northern India and Pakistan. Frequently they’re referred to as Roma or the Romani. I’d always thought they came from Romania—but that’s a misnomer.

Over the next few days, the comments on Nextdoor multiplied.

One woman remarked that she saw them in the Bristol Farms Market, trying to exchange the gift cards that someone had given them for cash. Another person reported seeing them get into a new white minivan and drive away. One other neighbor said he’d seen them leave in a Mercedes.

These reports were upsetting. I experienced a range of emotions: I felt violated, scammed, and angry.

I wasn’t the only one.

Neighbors from local communities contributed to the online conversation. Fascinated, I read each posting. As the dialogue grew, so did the vitriol.

I considered commenting then I decided to wait and see if anyone expressed caring or concern for the homeless.

Finally, one woman spoke about giving to the homeless, and she was crucified.

Oh my goodness; I was flabbergasted at the ostracism and negative attitudes.

The following are quotes:

All homeless are panhandlers.

All homeless are drug addicts.

Don’t give money to the homeless; otherwise they’ll flock to our city, and we’ll end up like San Francisco.

There are plenty of places for the homeless to be fed and sheltered. Donate to the organizations that provide that care—not to the people who beg in our neighborhood.

They’ll take the money and spend it on drugs.

They could work if they wanted.

Where are the police? Why aren’t they doing more? (FYI: Police can’t evict people on public property.)

Ignore them, and they’ll go away.

*****

What has happened to our humanity?

Then I realized that many people must have given money to the Gypsies—otherwise, how could they have afforded to drive the nice cars? This thought made me feel better and worse. Better because many people do care; worse because the Gypsies took advantage of strangers’ kindness.

The bad news is that when one group suckers society’s generosity, everyone becomes tainted.

The picture below accompanied one of the comments on Nextdoor. While the little boy smiled and waved, the man got angry at the photographer for taking his picture.

Homeless man and child

A good friend, who’s a retired attorney that prosecuted for insurance companies, told me she’d had many cases involving the Gypsies. They’d rent a home, secure renters insurance, and after one small monthly payment of $50, experience a crisis which necessitated filing a claim worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. This practice became apparent when the same furniture appeared in multiple claims. (Maybe this is why they drive expensive cars.)

At the end of July, I met Natalie Basmaciyan, the Newport Beach Public Library Services Manager. Natalie has invited me to speak at the library on October 11th.  After she read my novel, Busted, she emailed me, and we discussed the homeless issue. (My book begins with a scene in a food kitchen for the homeless; and she said I’d nailed the description.)

We scheduled a time to meet, and a few weeks later, we met and talked about the homeless.

Natalie shared a story about a woman named “Mary Jane.” In her forties, she’d unexpectedly lost her job due to a round of layoffs. Then she got sick. Unable to pay for the medical treatment and rent, she lost her apartment and lived in her car. Then her car broke down, and she couldn’t afford to fix it. Never in her wildest dreams did Mary Jane expect to be homeless. For two years she slept outside. She never bothered anyone, didn’t use drugs or alcohol, and was courteous and polite when addressed.

This story has a happy ending. The Homeless Liaison Officer for the Newport Beach PD located an inexpensive apartment in Mission Viejo and Mary Jane is no longer homeless. (Having a place to live improved her wellbeing, enabling her to find a job.)

I’ve shared that I’m a Board Member for Human Options, a non-profit dedicated to ending interpersonal violence and abuse. All of our clients would be homeless if it weren’t for the services Human Options provides. One of our biggest challenges, (besides eradicating domestic violence and abuse), is finding affordable housing for our clients. Thankfully, we’re able to support multiple families until the single parent can find a safe and inexpensive place to live.

I guess I have a different perspective on homelessness. Other than the dishonest Gypsies, I don’t see drugged out individuals; I see people in need of a helping hand.

Thanks for reading.

What about you? What do you think? Who do you see? How does your city deal with homelessness?

Warmest Regards,                                                                                             Michele

P.S. If you like suspense novels, please consider reading my debut novel, Busted, which shows both sides of the drug debate. To buy, click on Amazon. If you’ve read it and liked it, please recommend it to a friend. Thanks!

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