None of the above. Homeless people are driven out of suburban neighborhoods because the police serve the public, and the public doesn't want that "problem" here. Thankfully, Portland is more tolerant. Sure, most people needing help head toward downtown -- the higher concentration of available services, better public transportation, and the ease of finding fellow homeless folks to share with and protect makes the urban areas easier. But they are here, in the suburbs, and they aren't just being polite. They're hiding. We tend to put them in jail, which is fine for some who just need a shelter and a meal, but less desirable for those who ARE suburban middle-class folk who fell on hard times, who don't feel comfortable with the inner city chronically homeless, and are hoping that fortune will again smile upon them soon.
There's this man whom I see every week or so. He sits at different corners on different days, because he's aware that people don't want to see him every day. He used to own a house right down the street. He's disabled and lives in his wheelchair, and he has a little wheeled basket that he can push his bedding around in. He's a veteran, but his disability isn't service-related. He goes by the name Jack, although I suspect he keeps his real name to himself because he's embarrassed about his circumstances. We get to talking every now and then.
Jack hates sitting on the corner begging for money. He never imagined he would be one of "those" people. I can relate only in that I never imagined I would get divorced. I did, I had to, and here I am, not dead. Homeless people tend to joke about being here, not dead, even though this or that or the other thing happened to them. We all use humor to help us through the stuff we don't know how to handle.
Today's topic was food stamps. I was asking Jack if he's able to get enough money every day to eat regularly, and did he receive food stamps. His answers were painful. To receive food stamps, one must have a mailing address. A lot of people do manage, by renting a PO box, or using a friend's address, but Jack doesn't feel great about either of those options. Because even if he did get food stamps, he can only buy food that needs to be prepared. Food stamps aren't allowed for hot, ready-to-eat food, even if it's healthy. They're not allowed for any food that's meant to be consumed on the premises where it's sold. That means he can't go get a hamburger and sit at a table outside and eat it, unless he uses real money. He can't go into the grocery store deli and get that great deal on fried chicken, unless it's yesterday's leftovers over in the cold case. He can't order a pizza, order a cup of soup, or have a sandwich toasted, if he wants to use food stamps. He's more likely to get a wholesome meal if he begs for it.
About half the people in the US who qualify for food stamps actually receive them. And interestingly, it's the states with poorer populations that are better about helping one another. I guess that's always been true -- it's the ostracized who can identify with the needs these people face. If you want something to get done, ask a busy person. If you want generosity, ask a poor person. This baffles me every time.
I know where Jack sleeps, but I can't say because he needs to stay under the radar. I see him out on his corners, rain or shine, patiently waiting for the few people who are both generous and don't suspect he's a drug addict. I drop by with food every now and then. The most helpful thing I can do, though, I think, is to work for exceptions to the "no hot food" rule for those on food stamps. Some restaurants and delis would be happy to serve disadvantaged customers, if they were allowed. Most can't afford to give out free food all the time, but they would take food stamps. Shouldn't they have that choice?