Homelessness is not slow suicide

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:
By the time alcoholism has put someone out on the street isn’t it slow suicide. I do think all people deserve help, regardless of their situation, and if I decide to give a homeless person money I generally make a point of not thinking about how they’ll spend it. But taking a moment to think about it, does it actually help them if the money is spent on booze?

realsocialskills said:

I don’t think “slow suicide” is an accurate description. If someone is homeless and asking for money, they’re not trying to die; they’re trying to survive.

Spending most of their money on alcohol or other drugs does not mean that someone is trying to die. It can mean that their life is difficult and they’re doing the best they can right now.

Addiction to alcohol or other drugs will usually kill someone in the long run through organ failure. If you think of that as the only thing that matters, you’re going to misunderstand the situation badly. 

Here’s something else that matters: If someone quits something they’re addicted to without a support system, that can often kill them a lot faster than the drug use.

Chemical dependence on a substance means that it has become a physiological necessity. If someone is a heavy drinker to the point of physical dependency, quitting without medical support is physically dangerous. People can die from alcohol withdrawal. Suddenly cutting off a homeless addict’s supply is not doing them any favors. 

Further, sometimes people drink because the situation they’re in is unbearable. Sometimes, people drink to make things tolerable enough that they can stand to remain alive. Ideally, people should transition to coping that are less physically damaging and allow them to survive longer and function better. Not everyone is in a place to do that. If heavy drinking is the main thing standing between someone and suicide, it’s much better than they should keep drinking than it is that they should kill themselves.

If someone wants to take those risks, it’s a courageous thing to do and they deserve a lot of respect for it. Being willing to take those risks shouldn’t be seen as a precondition for someone being worthy of help.

People in difficult situations with no access to better coping mechanisms than drinking still deserve life. And they need money to survive.

It’s urgently important to make support more available. (One thing that is especially important is getting people places to live that do not require them to be sober or attempting sobriety. It’s much more humane, effective, and affordable to give people housing not attached to coerced participation in programs aimed at changing them.)

It’s also important to create support systems that help people *before* they get to such desperate circumstances. (Some areas in which dramatically more is needed: disability services, support for veterans, support for children who age out of foster care, noncoercive mental health care, affordable housing, and employment opportunities for those who need modifications and support).

In the meantime, people who are living on the streets with no effective access to support needed to make things better need money to survive. Even if that means they’re spending most of it on alcohol.

They’re trying to survive in very, very difficult circumstances. That’s honorable, and worthy of respect.

tl;dr Preventing homeless people from having access to alcohol is not an effective or respectful way of helping them.

"They'll only spend it on booze"

Sometimes, people object to giving homeless people money, on the grounds that “they’ll only spend it on booze.“

That ignores something important: people who are dependent on alcohol still need and deserve help. Alcoholism is not a superpower that allows people to survive outdoors in subzero temperatures without food and warm clothing.

The idea that people have to be sober to be worthy of help kills a lot of people in other ways. Most transitional housing services require someone to be either sober or in treatment. The practical effect of this is that people who aren’t able or aren’t ready to get sober are often denied assistance with housing. It’s true the chronic alcoholism kills people, but exposure and starvation kills them a lot faster. 

Further, homeless people who are hardcore addicted to alcohol *need* to spend a lot of their money on booze. If someone is addicted to alcohol, then alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening. Suddenly cutting off their alcohol supply isn’t going to save them, and it may well kill them.

Also, people who are homeless and addicted to alcohol are often veterans who returned home from war traumatized and with no material or mental health support. They’re also often people who were abused as children, grew up in foster care, and aged out with no support. Or any number of other things. American culture creates circumstances that drive people to drink, then uses their drunkenness as a reason to deny them help.

Denying people access to housing and other forms of support necessary for survival not a good way to help them get their lives together. 

tl;dr Homeless people who are addicted to alcohol still need and deserve help. “They’ll just spend it on booze” is not a good reason to deny someone money.

Supporting kids who are below grade level


I’m a reading tutor for kids who are below grade level. This is a Title 1 school, which means poverty and the parents don’t speak English. The kids in my program do. I have a lot of discipline problems, ie, kids refuse to come in from recess to come to the program, kids being disruptive in group sessions. We don’t get the kids who are DIAGNOSED severely disabled. They’re all in grades 2-5. 

So, what should I  be doing to get kids who don’t want to come in from recess to come in? So far, a sticker/star reward system is helping the group sessions, but some kids still call out, interrupt me and other kids, and won’t write answers unless I tell them what to write. 

Any suggestions?

realsocialskills said:

Someone I know who does remedial reading has had success with some of these things:

Using computer or iPad reading games

  • Some kids who associate books with humiliation and failure don’t have the same association with computer-based things
  • But if you’re going to do this, make sure the games you pick are actually fun
  • It doesn’t work if it’s exactly like the thing that’s miserable for them off the computer
  • Particularly if it’s just a simulated standardized test

Having kids read plays together

  • This can work well as a group activity,
  • Particularly since all the kids are involved even when it’s not their turn to read
  • Some kids who don’t like taking turns reading stuff *do* like taking turns reading parts in a play
  • Also, again, it’s something they’re much less likely to associate with failure and humiliation
  • You can get books of kids plays that are designed for various reading levels

Use books with positive representation of kids like them:

  • Far, far too many kids books are about rich white kids
  • If all of your books are about rich white kids, you can end up inadvertently sending the message that you don’t respect your students (especially if you are white, but even if you are not)
  • Or that reading is rich and white
  • Having books that have poor kids, disabled kids, and kids of color can make a big difference
  • Particularly if they are good books
  • Particularly if they are books written by people from the same culture as the kids you teach
  • Immigrant kids come under *tremendous* pressure to assimilate and reject the cultures they came from
  • And it’s worth making an effort to make sure that what you do isn’t part of that

Do what you can to make it a safe space for kids who are struggling:

  • Do not let kids make fun of other kids
  • Do not have competitions between kids
  • Do not laugh at mistakes, even if they’re funny
  • (But do let kids laugh at *your* mistakes, even if they’re not funny)
  • Praise people for trying, not just succeeding
  • Because being willing to try over and over until you do something successfully is important
  • And for kids who have been humiliated for failing, it can be really important that you explicitly respect their efforts

Sometimes it helps to modify things in a way that work with rather than against kids’ behavior:

  • If kids are calling out, make a lesson where that’s *supposed* to happen
  • Have some time where you tell kids what to write and that’s ok
  • (And where if kids decide to not write what you tell them and to write something else, that’s also ok)
  • I can’t think of more examples offhand, but I know that this is something that people do successfully
  • Remember that the point is getting kids to learn, not getting them to obey you
  • (You do have to control the classroom to an extent - but it’s worth avoiding avoidable power struggles, and modifying your approach when kids refuse to cooperate with your initial plan isn’t a failure )

But also, are kids being pulled out of recess in order to go to extra lessons? That strikes me as inherently likely to end poorly. If that’s what’s happening, is there any way you can pull the kids out of something else instead? 

Assume your audience contains poor people

Many teachers, religious leaders, and civic leaders want to raise awareness of poverty, often in a move to get their people to favor more socially progressive laws.

One way they do this is by promoting poverty simulations like The Snap Challenge or a Hunger Banquet.

Often, the way they talk about this undermines their own message by assuming that there are no poor people actually in the room. Or, even more so, speaking as though only privileged people have a place in the conversation about poverty.

The fact of the matter is, in just about any room you’re in, there will be people who already know what it’s like to depend on food stamps. There are people in the room who depend on food stamps or have in the past, and they know more about it than the people who spent a few days playing a game.

Those are the voices that should be primary in the conversation. When you’re trying to get people to care about poverty, don’t drown out the voices of actual poor people.

Some practical things this means:

  • Don’t ask people if they’ve done the food stamp challenge yet
  • Don’t tell a whole room you’re addressing that everyone should do it, because there are people in the room who shouldn’t, and people in the room who have n choice
  • If you’re talking about these things, explicitly acknowledge that probably some people in the room already know what this is like and don’t need a simulation to tell them
  • And point out explicitly that you don’t really know what things are like after a few days
  • Especially since people get all sorts of social points for participating in those things, people who are *actually* poor get shame and hate and hostility.
  • Simulations only simulate some things, and not necessarily the most important things
  • Do not talk over people who have experienced the real thing

When you say “we” to a room, make sure your we includes poor people. If you don’t feel like you can do that within the exercise you’re doing, it’s probably a program that shouldn’t be happening anyway.