Feeling so bad for the homeless people I see on the streets

Just moved to NYC. It's been eye-opening seeing just how many homeless people are on the streets here. I feel so guilty every time I walk by someone who looks ragged begging for money or sleeping on the sidewalk. Like dang, seeing another human being in a state like that makes me feel terrible, especially given how my financial status compares. I wish I could hand out a bill or two every time I pass someone like that, but I know it's not realistic to expect to be able to help every single person. 

Yeah yeah, sure a lot are probably there due to addiction or their own life choices, but it's hard not to feel pity. How do you all deal with it, or make yourselves feel better? Or will I eventually just become one of you hardened city folks with a heart of stone.

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Comments (69)

Controversial
  • PM in HF - EquityHedge
Jul 27, 2021 - 10:48pm

I feel zero sympathy to those who have given their lives over to indolence, addiction, and/or refusal to address mental illness.

And don't worry - they do pretty well panhandling. The ragged look is part of the value prop. 

Most Helpful
Jul 28, 2021 - 1:14pm

Refusal to address mental illness is such a categorically stupid statement, I have difficulty responding to it. The spectrum is so wide ranging and the effectiveness of treatment is so sporadic, for you to make so blatant a statement is just idiotic.

Vet comes back from watching dozens of their closest friends and comrades murdered in front of them, fucked up physically from burn pits and all kinds of other shit and ends up homeless, and you're like, "Got to address those mental illnesses and get back on the grind." It's such a stupid fucking attitude. And people wonder why finance is so unpopular in this country.

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  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jul 29, 2021 - 3:37am

Well said. And, not to mention, there's financially well-off, well educated people that do not even take care of their mental health or illness (some even in banking....). You'd be surprised the amount of people in banking/pe who have had a mental breakdown. And the idea that laziness is the driving factor of making people homeless is so silly.

  • Intern in HF - EquityHedge
Jul 27, 2021 - 11:09pm

For some reason, I am universally hated by homeless people. One attempted robbery and several incidents in which they have tried to fight me. Regardless, I always have a cup full of change/bills to give out. Even if it is two dollars, maybe you being kind even if it is the bare minimum could make someones day. 

Jul 28, 2021 - 1:53am

Purposely carry dollar bills on you to give to them. Shit, if you rich give them 5s.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Jul 28, 2021 - 5:17am

Grew up in LA, worked and lived in many places, among them NYC and London. It is weird that you'll see far more homeless in the US than elsewhere. I understand that the situation is complex and not easy to understand the details. Still, when I went back to LA a few months ago I couldn't believe what happened in the last years.

Solving the homeless puzzle is one of the more complex issues of our society, I guess.

Jul 28, 2021 - 9:34am

This one hits real hard. Can't say I've solved this puzzle yet myself but I can share a few observations that work for me:

How do I deal with it:
The city I am in had a massive homeless encampment problem. Driving by it each day made me sad as fuck, especially at the beginning. It sounds horrible, but some things are not in your control while others are. Know the difference here. A tactic I used was simply taking a 30 second detour so I didn't visually encounter the encampment. Horrible, but it made a material difference on my mood. It is what it is.

How do I make myself feel better:
Recognize the things you can control. The impact you can make on a small scale. I bought a homeless bro dinner last night. I debated letting him sleep in my house too because he was a good dude. But all the natural thoughts of safety/security didn't allow that to occur. I might get there one day though. You might not be able to solve the problem entire web of problems a person faces (PTSD, physical/sexual abuse, mental illnesses, etc.) but can you help a dude not go hungry for a night? Everyone has different tolerances and that's okay man. 

Will you become hardened?
Maybe. Depends on your outlook on life. But this is for you to decide based on your criteria for how you judge another human being. Some people have a really fucking hard hand dealt to them in life.

Just had my trade dispute rejected by Schwab for a loss of 35k. This single issue alone should be a gigantic red flag to anyone who trades on their platform.

If they have a system error, and you do not video record your trading (they actually said this), they will not honour their fuck up. Switching everything away from them. Fuck this company.

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  • Associate 1 in IB - Gen
Jul 28, 2021 - 9:51am

Most of them are severely mentally ill people with no support networks or hardcore addicts (which functionally causes the same thing). The addicts could possibly be helped, the mentally ill will never be anything but a nuisance.

Most of these people would likely have been institutionalized or relied on family networks in the past. On deinstitutionalization the left and right both fucked that one up, citing cruelty and cost, respectively. 
 

But agreed with the sentiment above that until rounding them up and putting them in mental institutions is feasible again, liberals have made them far more of a plague than they were ten or twenty years ago. Decriminalization of criminal behavior, allowing streets to become open air sewers, not clearing out tent cities etc.

Jul 28, 2021 - 10:48am

Solution 1 is to recognize that we were wrong. Not all reform measures payoff. In this case, getting rid of the mental institutions was a clear mistake. The mentally ill need to be institutionalized and treated with pharmaceuticals. If we're going to blow trillions of dollars a year on random "infrastructure" we might as well actually get some tangible benefit for the capital investment; in this case, mental institutions. 

Solution 2 is to arrest the homeless for petty crimes and the ones who are drug addicts force them into drug treatment and the ones who are mentally ill have them forcibly committed. Despite what the libertarian scum say, drug addiction isn't freedom; it is slavery. Mental illness isn't freedom; it is slavery.

For the 20-30% of the homeless who are mentally sound and not drug addicts, I don't know what to tell you--they must have incredibly low IQs or they are there by choice. There are endless government programs for the poor. If you're rich or poor in the U.S. you are doing fine. So Solution 3 is to make life as difficult as possible for the mentally sound, non-drug addicted homeless. Don't allow them to panhandle. Arrest them for every petty crime. Have the police harass them. Enforce loitering laws.

The liberal scum have gotten court rulings that allow people to panhandle under the First Amendment, which would make James Madison turn over in his grave. The solution here is simple: ignore the courts. Pressure on the panhandlers will send them elsewhere, regardless of the "law."

Fixing the homeless problem isn't difficult in principle. Fixing it is difficult in practice because of the libertarians and liberals who are so committed to their reprobate ideologies that they would gladly see the drug addicted enslaved, mentally ill descend into madness, and the public harassed to fulfill their deranged sense of morality. Wickedness often is dressed in the garments of Goodness. 

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Jul 29, 2021 - 10:51am

Memberberries

Solution 1 is to recognize that we were wrong. Not all reform measures payoff. In this case, getting rid of the mental institutions was a clear mistake. The mentally ill need to be institutionalized and treated with pharmaceuticals. If we're going to blow trillions of dollars a year on random "infrastructure" we might as well actually get some tangible benefit for the capital investment; in this case, mental institutions. 

Right, but doesn't this get into really sticky situations about consent, and actual civil liberty issues?  The homeless are unsightly and (rarely, but occasionally) dangerous - but to essentially imprison them against their will, because that's what it is, just because they're dirty and ill and might commit a crime is... well, seems ethically to cross a line.

Solution 2 is to arrest the homeless for petty crimes and the ones who are drug addicts force them into drug treatment and the ones who are mentally ill have them forcibly committed. Despite what the libertarian scum say, drug addiction isn't freedom; it is slavery. Mental illness isn't freedom; it is slavery.

This seems like a slippery slope argument.  What about the homeless who aren't committing petty crimes?  If loitering is an arrest-able offence, then there are a lot of non-homeless who will get caught up in it.  And if you won't arrest those people, and the laws are being used to target a certain group, then see the above point.

For the 20-30% of the homeless who are mentally sound and not drug addicts, I don't know what to tell you--they must have incredibly low IQs or they are there by choice. There are endless government programs for the poor. If you're rich or poor in the U.S. you are doing fine. So Solution 3 is to make life as difficult as possible for the mentally sound, non-drug addicted homeless. Don't allow them to panhandle. Arrest them for every petty crime. Have the police harass them. Enforce loitering laws.

The liberal scum have gotten court rulings that allow people to panhandle under the First Amendment, which would make James Madison turn over in his grave. The solution here is simple: ignore the courts. Pressure on the panhandlers will send them elsewhere, regardless of the "law."

Look, to a certain extent, I agree.  NYC spends a fortune on housing the homeless.  Most of the people you see on the streets choose to be there instead of in a shelter.  If your argument is that their choice shouldn't be respected, how long until we start applying that elsewhere.

Fixing the homeless problem isn't difficult in principle. Fixing it is difficult in practice because of the libertarians and liberals who are so committed to their reprobate ideologies that they would gladly see the drug addicted enslaved, mentally ill descend into madness, and the public harassed to fulfill their deranged sense of morality. Wickedness often is dressed in the garments of Goodness. 

Love it when I find myself defending a "conservative" or libertarian position.  But again, your argument is that free will to do what you want with your own body and your own time does not take precedence over the comfort of the rest of us to not have to see or smell something unsightly.  That seems wrong.  And I know you well enough to know you're smart and prescient enough to understand the ways in which that argument would apply to positions you support.

Arguing that this is a "liberal" problem is absurd.  Liberals handle it differently than conservatives, or want to.  I don't think locking up people who look or think different is an appropriate response to homelessness, or mental illness (and the two are tightly intertwined, at least here in New York).  I think James Madison would be far more horrified by the idea that we should imprison people because they might commit a crime than because poor people were begging in the streets - I guarantee you he was quite familiar with the sight of an urban beggar, as is anyone who has been in a city since the dawn of urban civilization.

Jul 29, 2021 - 11:27am

I simply don't understand the progressive viewpoint on the homeless.  You're arguing that institutionalizing the mentally ill is a violation of their civil liberties? They don't have functioning brains in which to make decisions. More than 1 million American adults are under legal conservatorship because they are incapable of making decisions for themselves. Institutionalizing the mentally ill is no different in function than putting mentally incompetent people under conservatorship. It's for their own protection. How is this even controversial?

 

The slippery slope argument doesn't hold water here. No one is going to be arresting normal people for hanging out on a stoop. At worst, they would be told to move along. But people who are mentally incapacitated would be easily identified when told to move along then and taken into custody and then institutionalized or put into drug rehab. You progressives are so obsessed with the institution of slavery, yet in practice you won't take even the simplest policy steps to liberate people from their enslavement.

 

I actually can' t believe you're arguing that we should respect the decisions of people who have chosen to live on the streets. Of course we shouldn't respect their decision to do that. They are defecating on public property, blocking walkways of the public, taking up public benches. You don't have the right to dominate the public space. Public space is for the public; the homeless do not constitute the sum total of the public.

 

"Poor people" are not begging on the streets in 2021. Not one poor person in America needs to panhandle. Since 1965, the U.S. has spent $22 trillion at the federal level alone on "anti-poverty" programs. There are endless services and an endless supply of money for people out there. Your premise is that poor people are panhandling for basic sustenance. This is a false premise and you know it's false.

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Jul 30, 2021 - 5:37pm

While I'm not the warmest on some of these points, you're absolutely right. The homelessness problem has some fairly straightforward solutions, just certain groups completely lack the will to utilize them. Liberals especially have a hard time realizing that many solutions to real world problems are the complete opposite of what they believe in (partly because so much of what they believe in is literally fantasy). 

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Jul 28, 2021 - 11:59am

I also feel very guilty. Yes, some people are in that situation because of very destructive habits and bad live choices. But there are many people who are in that situation because of life chose so. For example, knew an ill man of old ages who was living and begging at streets because after his wife died, his children took everything from him including his pension card and house and left him to the mercy of life. So saying that, every beggar or person living in the streets are there because of their own choices is a narrow way of looking at things, like saying that every rich person is there solely because of he inherited a lot of money, or example, made that money in an illegal way.

I am student now, so I don't have a salary. But my plan to your situation is following; keep away some portion of salary, divide it into 10 parts, and give each of these parts of salary to some people which are in bad situation.

For example, in Islam there is a rule that you must portion of your salary to poor people in some periods of year and also in holidays.

Jul 28, 2021 - 12:49pm

There are 0 adults in America of sound mind who live on the streets in absolute poverty against their own will. This country--both public and private--has endless services for the poor. Not one person needs to panhandle on the street. Food banks, food stamps, housing vouchers, utility reimbursements, free phones, clothing donations, direct welfare payments, "tax credits," and the list goes on. If you are mentally sound and living on the streets it's because you have made an active choice to live on the streets.

Stop feeling guilty. All of these "guilty feelings" from progressives is why the homeless situation is being so poorly handled in big cities. The policies are premised on lies that guilty rich people tell themselves.

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  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jul 29, 2021 - 3:42am

Do you know how many homeless youth are on the street because of volatile family circumstances (e.g. being kicked out by a parent or parent(s) who are possibly mentally unstable)?  Do you know 1 in 10 NYC Public School students is homeless? Do you know how many students on campuses at elite institutions are homeless? Do you know how many people with jobs are homeless? To say that number is zero with such conviction is absolutely false, 100%. 

Jul 28, 2021 - 2:20pm

note, I don't live in LA, SF, or NYC so my comments will vary from the realities there

addiction - having dealt with several addicts in my life, they are beyond help until they choose to quit. try as you might, you cannot convince an addict to quit. I seem to recall a story of some homeless electing to stay homeless addicts because shelters required them to get clean and they chose to stay homeless and use. not much you can do there unfortunately.

mental health - enormous can of worms that I'm not qualified to discuss, but realizing it's not your fault and potentially donating to causes which do know the landscape could help your mental state. personally, I donate to organizations that work on PTSD (being in the SE, a lot of homeless are veterans unfortunately). it's not much, but it's something. I'd bet your firm has a program where your charitable donations get matched.

one offs - if I've got a doggie bag with food in it and I pass someone homeless, I give it away. if they're sitting outside a c-store, I buy them some healthy food and water on my way out. the trouble with that is unless I've seen the person sleeping on the streets, it's possible they're a fraud, and you don't want to make panhandling profitable, which is why I encourage going to organizations that know the landscape

finally, I remember a time I met a retired NFL coach at a conference and asked him about this very topic. I was sharing my frustrations on working with at-risk youth, not frustrations at them, but internal frustration with not being able to make a difference no matter how hard I tried. having done a lot of the same work himself, he simply said "you can't save everyone" and that always stuck with me. so pray for them, do a little bit, but surrender a little as well because you cannot solve this problem, and I'd argue it's borderline unsolvable so just do what you can and ensure you arrange your life so that you never add to the problem

Jul 28, 2021 - 4:31pm

CollierV

Proverbs 19:17 "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed."

They're not poor in the traditional sense of the word. The majority are drug addicts or mentally ill. Most of the rest have made an affirmative lifestyle choice considering the endless supply of money for endless welfare programs.

Being generous does not include giving people money to feed their addictions or their sloth. Being generous does not include voting for policies that support letting the mentally ill decline into complete madness. This is truly a policy problem requiring tough love that doesn't feel empathetic. 

The guy dancing and cycling in circles in front of the 7-11 doesn't need your money. He needs you to kick out of office the wicked policymakers who mistake slavery for liberty.

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Jul 28, 2021 - 4:37pm

Generosity isn´t only portrayed through cash money. It could be portrayed by giving them clothes, food, sanitary products, housing, job offers etc. 

And homeless people are arguably the poorest people considering that they do not have shelter due to lack of financial capabilities.

  • Intern in IB - Gen
Jul 28, 2021 - 4:43pm

I think the biggest issue is that it's extremely difficult to maintain a sound mind and rational decision making once homeless. I personally think I would have at least a 50% change of losing my grip on reality after a month sleeping on the street. For people who have been homeless for years and/or are actually mentally ill, they're completely unemployable. They contribute nothing to society, and no amount of therapy or social programs will ever make them self sufficient. So what do we do about them?

1) Basically nothing, keep pretending that programs (exorbitantly expensive ones payed for with taxpayer dollars) will make them into functioning members of society (current system, not doing well)

2) Institutionalize them

3) Pay for their housing as if that's the only problem, ruining whatever neighborhoods you choose to allow them to live in

4) ???

Jul 28, 2021 - 6:55pm

Some homeless people just want some booze or 420.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

  • Business School in IB - Cov
Jul 28, 2021 - 8:21pm

I am not going to try to provide a solution to homeless crisis we have in big U.S cities, nor will I state my opinion on the matter.

However, similar to the comment above me, I feel comfortable giving the homeless necessities like food, but not money. There have been many occasions where some will not only refuse food from me, but become visibly upset if you give them anything but money. The reason for which is obvious.

OP, I completely understand your frame of mind, and no you don't have to become someone with a heart of stone. I just personally would rather directly contribute positively to their lives by giving them an apple and coffee rather than tossing a few bucks that could very likely be contributing to their crack pipe that night. This is why I encourage kids to help at a food bank rather than tossing a few dollars if they want to ENSURE (with some level of certainty) that their impact is generally positive and not the negative side.

I know some may call this a selfish way to think and operate, as inherently it's self serving, but if you can wrap your head around ensuring a positive impact, I think you can reach a happy medium as a person where you don't feel like you have a heart of stone yet you're not contributing to some of the problems. 

Jul 28, 2021 - 9:14pm

Carry around some snack bars/trail mix, that way you avoid giving people cash they use to buy drugs.

John stossel actually made a video about this. He followed a homeless guy around for a day and realized that at night he went back to a house! Stossel then posed as a homeless guy and got people to give him money.

Giving food to them still satisfies a need but the people who are faking it won't care to accept it. I've handed out food before and some of them really appreciate it while others say "no I just want money!"

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Jul 28, 2021 - 9:41pm

I've also gotten in the habit of boxing up leftovers when I go out to dinner and giving them to someone on the way home. Feel like feeding someone who's hungry is a better use than eating reheated pasta for lunch the next day

Jul 28, 2021 - 9:44pm

My dad told me a story about this guy he stops to give food every day on the way from work. My dad said to him, "See you tomorrow Jimmy", and the guy responded with "I'm actually headed down to florida for the next month for vacation" lmao

Jul 29, 2021 - 12:08am

Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime

What they don't tell you is if the person is either too lazy or incapable (whether due to mental illness or physical ailment) of learning how to fish, that's nature's way of saying "this one doesn't get to pass its genes on." We have such a dramatically unbalanced society because it is too easy to survive and we continue to give handouts out so readily to those who STILL can't manage to get their shit together in what it quite literally the easiest time to be alive in all of human history. This does NOT mean you shouldn't have sympathy and still treat them with the same respect as any other human being. 

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  • Analyst 1 in S&T - Equities
Jul 29, 2021 - 11:32am

Oh don't worry, with the incoming tax increases I suspect this problem will be all but gone within a year. Thrive NYC was a smashing success as well. 
 

Keep voting democrat NYC and reap what you sow

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Jul 29, 2021 - 1:58pm

To the addiction point… no one realizes how much addiction controls your life until you've actually experienced it. It truly is an insane sickness that has a tight grip on your life. I've struggled with it in the past and even when I had the desire to quit, the desire itself wasn't enough. The biggest thing is having a support system that promotes self control. My addiction was substance abuse and I would wake up in the morning with the mindset of not using and next thing I knew I was under the influence. It never negatively impacted my life in the sense that I couldn't perform/get shit done, but the presence of addiction had a negative impact on my life bc I lacked self control. Now I'm to the point where it has no control over me and I have no desire to partake.

Basically just a long winded point to say the most effective way to help someone struggling with addiction is to donate to a support system for them.

Jul 29, 2021 - 2:51pm

The best way to reduce homelessness is to simply house them. That's it. Numerous studies have been done and the results are fairly clear on the most dollar-efficient way to reduce homelessness

You have to understand that it isn't easy for even a non-mentally ill homeless person (which is a small percentage of the homeless population) to find a job. They smell terrible, look gross, and have shitty, tattered clothes. Nobody is going to hire them over someone who has access to a shower / clean clothes. By deploying housing as an anti-homelessness measure, you can get people back on their feet and into real jobs / apartments. 

Obviously this wouldn't be for everyone - the people with mental health problems will need more specialized care. 

  • Intern in IB - Cov
Jul 29, 2021 - 11:48pm

I used to give homeless people around my school stuff (food/water) then one day they harassed me, so now I don't. 

Jul 30, 2021 - 10:58am

To OP, to start, you need to think about how you view the homeless. Some view them as crack addicts on the street, others view them as people down on their luck. In reality, they probably run both sides and in between. If you're trying to help I'd equate it more to VC funding, you could give out a lot of money to different people, but don't expect them to all work out. 

Like it or not, our society in American is really built around using your brain/knowledge to work. We have manual labor jobs and such, but those require knowledge as well. So basically, to be okay in our society, you need to be of (some) sound mind. Imagine a society were it was just based on being able to run, some people would naturally be good runners, some would work hard to be good runners, some would run everyday but just not be able to get good at running, while others would just naturally be bad, some physically would be unable to run, and some would just refuse to run. 

I'm not saying don't help or help the homeless, but I would say ask yourself what are you trying to achieve. Yes, its good to help for a day, or maybe help someone get back on their feet overall, but more often than not homeless people ether can't be helped, or don't want to be helped. 

Jul 30, 2021 - 11:20am

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