Help this family

In this thread, the question is brought up of what differentiates the conservative or liberal worldview. The OP is somewhat confrontational, and, because of this, at least one interesting hypothetical was ignored.

I thought I’d approach it this way:

A single adult is living in a cardboard box on a sidewalk grate in an American city, caring for their 2 children. They have no address, no money, no food.

How should we deal with their plight?

As a way of framing this debate, I’d like you to keep these guidelines in mind.

  1. While this would be one family, whose problems may easily be dealt with in this case alone, we must deal with the likelyhood that there could be tens or hundreds of similar cases in whatever city this is, or thousands in that state, or hundreds of thousands in the country. If your solution is scalable, show how. If not, try to account for how to deal with these various scales.

  2. I have left out a great many details on purpose. If you feel compelled to ask questions (“Is it a man or a woman?” “Is the other parent contactible?” “Do they have family or friends in the area?”), don’t ask them. If you think the solution is dependent upon the answer to the question, please provide your idea of a solution for either scenario.

  3. I have not mentioned WHY this family is in this situation. I will assume a generic: “They have not found an accessible employer, willing to pay the adult a wage that keeps them from starving in the street, for the adult’s use of skills they possess, in working conditions the adult is able or willing to endure”. Again, if you feel the need for specifics, such as whether or not the adult is disabled or addicted to something, provide your best solution for all “values” of that variable you can think of.

  4. Although the case is generic, please feel free to include real-life solutions. If you can say “Well, in Chicago we would have this available to them…” please describe the solution, and suggest a solution for if the person is not in Chicago.

  5. Keep in mind that this family, and any others like them, are already a burden on the system. They go to the emergency room when sick, and the cost is passed on to the patients who can pay. Poverty often leads to crime, and should this family succumb, along with the many others like them, the system will bear the burden of increased police and prison expenditures, or suffer the consequences of not paying them. So what we’re really discussing here is:

“What burdens need to be borne to solve this situation, who should bear them, and why should they be asked or required to?”**

It is my hope that we will get a wider range of responses this way, rather than trying to defend right-wing or left-wing ideology as a whole. Just present your thoughts on how the system ought to deal with this problem, and at what level, and be prepared to back it up as best you can against challenges.

You aren’t going to get specific, but we should include all “values” to any variables. If it is handled one way in Chicago then we are to tell how it would be handled in Albany, NY; Fargo, ND; Santa Fe, NM; Portland, OR & ME; Atlanta, GA; Mobile, AL; Lincoln, NE; San Jose, CA; Paw Paw, MI; Gainesville, FL and other places?
Is this for a term paper or what? :confused:

In the example you gave, of a beggar living in his cardboard box. How is does one know the truth of it? Is it true that no-one at all (including the state) helps him, and he his truly hard-done-for, or is he in fact helped but still chooses to pretend? Is he mentally ill, or what?
What is the situation in America regarding such persons?

An end to poverty, in six easy steps :slight_smile:

  1. Raise taxes. This is gonna cost.

  2. Short term solution: Homeless shelters, enough for (at least) all homeless children and their families. Preferably for all homeless grown ups too.
    Some parents may be too mentally ill or drugged out of their sculls to take advantage of shelters. Their children will probably be better off in a foster home or orphanage. Try to help parent so (s)he will be able to take care of the children later, or at least be able to visit them and spend time with them.

  3. Short/medium term: Welfare. Enough for the basics - a place to live, food, clothes, health care. Preferably also some toys and sports equipment for the children.

  4. Medium term: Get as many of them as possible off welfare. Find out why they can’t/don’t support themselves, and try to fix whatever’s wrong.
    Accept that some people will never be able to support themselves, and will need welfare for the rest of their lives. Accept that some people will be able but unwilling, and that we probably won’t be able to distinguish them from those genuinely in need of help. Difficult dilemma: We want people on welfare to have a decent life, but we don’t want to be so generous that there’s little incentive to get a job.

  5. Long term: Use the info from 4 (why some people can’t support themselves) to try to prevent the problems from occuring. Some possibilities, depending on the reasons: Better schools and/or more funding for college etc. (if lack of education is a problem), obligatory sex ed (no opt-out) with info about contraception and abortion (if unwanted pregnancies is a problem). If there simply aren’t enough jobs, find some tasks that society needs done, and create jobs.

  6. Since this is USA: Because of 1, get kicked out of office after next election. :frowning:

Um, whatever neccessary to get them a decent life.

All of us. As the world is organised now, the burden falls on those of the same nation as the homeless family. Ideally, noone on the planet should starve or freeze, and all of us should share the cost.


  1. It’s the moral thing to do. (Yes, I’m imposing my morality on others here.)
  2. From a pragmantic point of view: It leads to less waste of human potential. Those children can become productive members of society. The parent may, with some help, be able to contribute something, too. Or at least welfare means (s)he won’t be forced into crime.
  3. Another pragmatic point: Under other circumstances, that homeless person might be myself or someone I care about.
    And it’s required, not asked, because I don’t trust that people would pay enough voluntarily - partly because of selfishness, partly because it’s easy to underestimate the cost, so I might donate a sum I felt was generous, and still fall pitifully short of my fair part of whatever’s required to solve the problems.

…oh, and please reassure me: You’re describing an exaggerated situation for the sake of this discussion, right? I know there’s poverty in USA, but there aren’t really children living in cardboard boxes in the most powerful country on the planet?

Yep, it happens. Social services you’d consider basic in Norway (health care, homesless shelters, etc.) are considered Communist plots in America. Usually families with children can find some kind of help, but we do not have enough shelter space and assistance programs to cover everyone in need. Families where a woman is fleeing an abusive situation, and does not have many job skills, are especially hard hit.

Ha. No.

Perhaps I did not remove my OP from the context of the thread that inspired it as much as I thought I had.

In the linked thread, the OP posits that the essential difference between conservatives and liberals in this country is a question of selfishness vs. magnanimity. Some conservatives countered that conservatives simply have a different approach to helping the needy that respects their human ability to take responsibility for themselves rather than to label them helpless.

So my intent was to put this idea to the test by creating a not-altogether-unrealistic portrait of someone who is in a desperate situation, who is not currently a productive member of society, and who is an existing burden on the system. Then posters could toss out solutions based on their own particular worldview and we could all hash them out until we had something that most could agree looked more or less like a way to get all, or at least a lot of people in similar situations back into a functioning societal role. Whatever the most workable solution looked like would be reflective of what sort of worldview actually worked best.

I didn’t say something like “There’s a crack-addicted, one-legged black prostitute with a long criminal record and no current job skills living on the streets of Baltimore with her two retarded children from different fathers, to whom she was married to neither” because I doubt this situation reflects the facts of the needy population here bery well, and a solution that works for that person may not work for another. Its a more general, global approach to the problem of needy people that I’m looking for.

If drug addiction were a determining factor for a particular poster, then the least I’m asking for is for them to say “Well, if the adult is not addicted to drugs, then we ought to do X, but if they are a drug addict, then they’re fucked as far as I can make out”. Then if someone else ( or even the same person) has a solution that works for drug addicts, we could see if those solutions had anything similar that could be applied generally. The same with other factors.

I allowed the specific of the two children to make things more challenging while keeping them somewhat realistic.

Good point. I thought my generalization of the cause of the situation more or less covered the spectrum between someone who could not find work in a bad local ecnomy and could not even scrape together bus fare to get to an area of greater prosperity, and someone who had any number of opportunities available to them but was simply a lazy good-for-nothing, unwilling to do a day’s work.

While a knee-jerk response might be to let the lazy one rot on the street, the fact of the matter is, in real life, such a person would still place a burden on medical costs, law enforcement, and other areas, and a way of dealing with that ought to be found.

I meant to imply that no solution of any sort had been applied yet. If a state solution is effective, what burden does it place on those it does not help directly, and is it reasonable for them to make that sacrifice?

Well, in the real world, some are and some aren’t. Are there two widely differing approaches for the mentally ill and the mentally stable, or only one for both?

I meant to address this part and did not.

I was trying to encourage anyone who knew of a real-life local solution that was working to put it forward.

If Chicago has some great scheme (I have no idea if they do or not, I just picked a city), then what can be done for someone who is not within the reach of that solution. Do we try to start something similar wherever they are (in which case, what do they do while waiting for the solution to work?), or find a way to get them to Chicago to take advantage of the solution (which, if done en masse, might overburden the system in which the solution works).

I’m trying as close as possible to a comprehensive approach as a means of examining the effectiveness of particular worldviews.

And MY view apparently excludes the use of question marks… :smack:

even sven:

What, you think we don’t have homeless shelters here in the USA? Of course we do. But here’s what happened with an attempt in NYC to resolve the homeless issue:

Step 1: Find out WHY the homeless won’t go to shelters. Turns out that shelters are full of drug abusers and criminals who prey on the poor, SOL families like in the OP’s example.

Step 2: Weed out those homeless with a criminal record, send them to jail, enable the law-abiding to use the shelters without fear.

Step 3: Get accused by liberal “homeless activists” of “criminalizing the indigent” and the whole plan gets bogged down in lawsuits and restraining orders, essentially returning control of the shelters to the criminals.

It ain’t the right that’s screwing up the situation for homeless families like the one described in the OP.

Touche! your solution is as generic as my example! :smiley:

At what level should they be raised? City, county, state, or federal? On what would the tax be based? Income? Property value? Use of various commodities, like gasoline? What makes the most sense?

Is there a standard length of time that should be considered short term? Or does it need to vary according to some formula on a case-by-case basis?

Do the shelters support themselves exclusively on tax money? Or should they be required to take in a certain amount from other sources to receive tax funds?

Thoughtful about the toys. I like.

Well, there are a lot of variables there. I’ll try to dig up some reliable figures on who may be destitute for whatever reason so we can deal with this more realistically, but it may take a day or so. (Gotta work, eat and sleep sometime, ya know.)

Almost definitely. :wink:

But how much should be handed to them out of what amounts to pity, and how much should their right to the dignity of pulling themselves up be respected? That’s the essential difference between the basic conservative and liberal approaches, IMO.

Exaggerated? Ooooooohhhhhhhhh, dear… :frowning:

I really like this example, cmkeller, because it shows the wrong general approach hurting people more than it helps.

So I guess what we take from this toward an effective solution is a principle: that when deciding how much to forgive behavior in light of circumstances, society must draw the line very firmly at destructive criminality.

(And the thread echoes with a resounding “DUH!” But it’s a start.

Well, what then is to be done about those who are poor and homeless because they habitually engage in “destructive criminality”?

Suppose your hypothetical homeless family is homeless because the adult (or adults - you said “single” but then started talking about “they”) spends the rent money on crack? Send them thru treatment? Do you have figures that show that enforced chemical dependency treatment is usually effective?

I think you underestimate the scope of the problem. In many instances of chronic, long-term poverty, the common-sense solutions have been tried. And failed.

ISTM that many of those we all want to help the most are in need of help for politically incorrect reasons. They haven’t just hit a rough patch in their lives; they are chronic fuck-ups or alcoholics or schizophrenic or some combination thereof.

No, not all poor people are like that. But a substantial number of the chronic, long-term homeless and destitute are. And offering assistance to those who “don’t need a hand-out, just a hand up” is not going to address the problems of the rest.

If there were an effective, easily scalable solution to chronic homelessness, we wouldn’t have chronicly homeless people. I don’t think it is because of lack of funding, and I don’t think it is because of lack of good will. Sometimes, you can’t solve other people’s problems for them.


In Santa Cruz, we used to have a camp that was built, policed and maintained by the homeless that lived in it. It had sanitary facilities, a bus line running to it, and was a safe place to live. Even though it could not continue forever (it was illegally built on city land, and the city could only turn a blind eye for so long) it was quite effective at providing safe and reasonable places for the homeless to live.

I think that more sanitary, safe, self-policed camps are a good idea. I know they’ve set up “tent cities” in some places that have been effective. They may be unsightly, but they allow the homeless a chance to participate in a community, and to take responsibility for that community. It’s hard to get excited about living in some church shelter where you are constantly reminded that you are living on charity and that other have control of your life (you must be in at eight, we’ll throw you out if you smell like smoke, you must attend chapel). But a community that you are a part of and that you contribute to makes for a healthy attitude, and a good place to live.

I think people living in these situations should have access to a canteen, a clinic, and a clearinghouse for job training and educational information.

These should be provided by taxpayers. As a prosperous country, we have an obligation to each of our citizens to live a basic life without hunger, disease, or extreme homelessness. Giving our citizens a chance to better thier lives, prevent diseases, and stay off the streets also benefits us all by giving us cleaner, safer cities and more productive citizens. Ideally, private charities could supplament or take over parts of these services. But in no cases should they be ignored.

Your replies to my comments have made me feel quite dizzy. Your thread starter was a good one, and your replies are good too. It’s a conundrum alright.
Where I live, there are loads of places for the homeless, though they have to live with various restrictions. They have rooms of their own though, and as far as I know they get free meals and whatnot, though the present government seem hell-bent on changing things so fast, so I may be wrong on the above statements.
As far as I know, those here with ‘families’ are on the priority lists, and get a house and loads of help. I am not a fan of the British welfare state, but it makes things a bit clearer on whether one gives to beggars (sometimes).
As to the ‘mentally ill’, this is very difficult to answer. Fot more than twenty years, here in Britain, they have gradually been closing down the Victorian Mental Hospitals, replacing them with the dogma called ‘care in the community’. Other things have changed, like the much greater nunbers of (mostly) young people hooked on heroin. Crikey, typing this out has made me even more confused.
I’ll cut to the chase and try and descibe how I personally treat those unfortunates who ask complete strangers for monies. For most, it is easy, for I know they get benefits (some more than I - yes! - for I am officially classed as poor, and am a spunging parasite living off money stolen by the state from others - though I honest about this and do not earn any monies off the side, or from the past etc).
So how do treat them? It depends on many things, like how they ask. Some are trying to sell something called ‘The Issue’(I think). This is a total scam, and if I am feeling in a particularly angry mood, I tell them so. Others are things who want money to buy another drink, or whateaver. If in the quickness of the moment I can work this out, I ignore them and rush past, sometimes muttering depreciations. Sometimes though, I have given to some poor sod who has explained that he has spent all his money and cannot get the bus home (hopefully when I knew that you could still get the bus). Perhaps I have been conned in these moments. No matter, what worth is a pound after all?
Oh dear, I have just reviewed the above, and it seems to get worse and worse(the confusion). It does not come close to describing the complexity of the situation, even here in Britain. I presume you are are resident in the US? Most of the above must seem utterly irrelevent to you.
Have you ever been to a truly poor country - that is, where there are millions and millions of beings who make the ‘poor’ in the west look rich?
My first day in India, I saw more far more far more wretched beings than I had seen in my whole life previous to. I think you should go there, and ask your guestion again.

I don’t understand this. You mean it is hard to get excited about such a situation vs living in a cardboard box on the street? Really? The box is better than being in by 8 and not smoking? Your exagerating to make a point right?
Otherwise I like the idea of tent cities. Perhaps some sort of centralized location can be set up to house, cloth, feed, medicate, and administer the chronically homeless. Not as the only plank in a solution, of course. but it could provide one possibility. Would putting them other than right in the middle of downtown be objectionable?

Firstly I have to start at this from the outside and move in.

As someone who spent roughly 7 years of his life studying economics, I believe that a properly managed and unhindered economy would in the long run create more prosperity for all. In the process, a few people very occasionally would perhaps fall through the cracks and die of starvation. But from a strictly impersonal view the costs associated with that would be negligible.

As a human being, I don’t quite find that acceptable, and almost no conservatives do. The number of conservatives that find that acceptable are probably less than the number of liberals who are communist-leaning.

In that particular situation I would have the children seized from the parents and the parents declared legally unfit to ever be their legal guardians ever again.

In the United States we require payroll taxes and such that fund unemployment. So when someone goes unemployed they should be given some cash right then and there.

For people who can prove they are chronically unemployed, have been seriously and dutifully trying to find a wage et cetra we have welfare to help them out once unemployment dries up.

For people with children we have Federal and State programs to help keep those children fed, clothed, and sheltered. We have HUD housing, we have subsidized medical care, we have a plethora of options out there.

The simple fact of the matter is there are far more social safety nets in this country than most anyone really thinks.

You don’t end up homeless because of economic difficulty 90% of the time. There ARE a lot of social programs to help people get through rough times. They aren’t unlimited, in that people without mental or physical defect cannot live off of them forever in many cases, but they do tend to last for quite a long time. Up to five years in some cases.

And being out of work for five years if you aren’t disabled in some way is unacceptable. That is typically several economic cycles so you almost certainly should have found work somewhere during that time. So what if it only pays $5/hour. Even if you can only find minimum wage work, government programs (other than supplemental income) will be available to you while you try to get yourself back on your feet.

As I’ve said before I have no problem with welfare. I just don’t feel that people should be able to live on it for over a certain period of time if they aren’t 1) disabled or 2) in some other extraordinary circumstance.

Basically I don’t disagree with a safety net, I just disagree with others as to how large it should be.

To elaborate on the homeless problem. It is indeed a fact that the majority, the overwhelming majority, of homeless persons are mentally ill. Other than running around in black vans, abducting them, and dragging them off to mental hospitals, there is not much to be done for them.

One big problem with welfare is often times many of the jobs that are readily available to people recently running out of unemployment is that these jobs are a lot harder than sitting on your ass and collecting checks, and don’t pay much better or actually pay worse.

That’s why I think the system should be designed to that people ARE forced to look for work, but at the same time we should give them some incentive to find work sooner rather than later.

For example if an employment agency has found several willing employers for a person and the person refuses to work for those employers, that person needs to lose their benefits.

To try and keep them from weighing the benefits of staying on welfare versus the benefits of getting a job, we might need to be a bit more lenient in giving out cash to people coming off welfare who are still in very low income occupations.

Letting them pay a little bit on their own and still giving them some necessary money is a lot more palatable to me than having people refusing to work or find work the whole time they are eligible for welfare simply because the benefits of working don’t exceed the costs.

Okay, I have a little better idea of where this is going. What I have to add is from personal experience and probably isn’t going to be too popular.

My wife and I used to be foster parents. From experience I know that this immediately sends up red flags, because foster parents are seen as bad people. The real problem is that not many people want to dedicate themselves to being foster parents, which in turn makes the social workers perhaps too eager to sign up people for the program. In any case, my answer to the part about the two children is that they be put in a “good” foster home, until the parent can get back on his/her feet again. Of course, if this is not possible then the children should be taken from the parent. Again, there is the problem of not enough people wanting to adopt these children (we adopted 3 in cases like this.) For the state to care for such children cost something like $27,000 a year, while they were paying us $120 a month. I don’t know the figures now, but I really doubt that it is really possible to make money as a foster parent, unless there is absolutely no supervision.

Having taken care of the children, I will leave the rehabilitation of the adult for others. Foster parents tend to become cynical of such things.

I disagree strongly with #1- turns out the Homeless don’t go to Shelters because most of them don’t like the rules- no drugs, smoking, drinking, and some dgree of personal cleanliness.

  1. You can’t send someone to jail just because they have a criminal record. If they have done their time, they are free.

In the OP’s case- the Mother and her kids will get Welfare. Until they get welfare there are private groups who will help for a short time, put them into a woman’s shelter for families, and get them clothed and fed. Then they get welfare, WIC (free food 7 such for women with Infact children) and Food stamps. This gives them about 2 years of public assistance. There is also job training available. if they aren’t back on their feet in two years- well sorry.

You DO have to say what got them there. If it is their choice- why should we do anything but take the kids away and put them in Foster Homes?

Who among us hasn’t at one point refused our parents’ help, even if it would have lead to a better standard of living, because we didn’t want to live under their thumb? Who hasn’t resisted our parents’ most reasonable rules simply because we wanted to feel a little bit of autonomy?

The mental toll of living entirely on charity is quite large, and it’s something that some people don’t want to do, even if that means living on the streets. Self-built, self-policed tent cities would give the homeless a chance to have shelter in which they actively participate. It would be far more attractive than church/city shelters and would foster a mindset more condusive to becoming a productive member of society.

Of course…just make sure you run a bus line out to it and provide some way for the homeless to get bus passes so that they can reach jobs, etc. in the city. This is starting to seem like a really good solution.

Just want to point out that unemloyment isn’t pefect- for example I got screwed because I couldn’t get a job after graduating college. My last job was a summer job I quit so that I could go back to school. This isn’t a good enough reason according to unemployment. People doing “independent contractor” type jobs- which nowdays covers everything from day labor to many tech workers- also don’t get benefits.

For some people. A single mother with a couple kids will be okay. But I was shocked to find that I qualified for exactly nothing (admittedly, I had modest but dwindeling assets), no matter how hungry I was or how much I couldn’t pay the rent. As far as I could tell from my research, food stamps and discounted electricity/phone bills (if you live alone) are the only benefits availible to an able bodied person without dependents. Even the food bank (which was a bitch to actually find information on) would not touch me.

Sure there is. We could provide outpatient clinics- especially to help people who want to get off drugs to get off drugs. Our current rehab programs have long waiting lists that leave addicts on drugs until space opens up. We can provide shelters so that we don’t trip on them on the streets. We can provide education and outreach so that they can perhaps recognize their problem and a few will seek treatment. And we can provide food and councilling to make their unlucky lives a bit easier.

Well, sorry, what? Sorry, you stay in the gutter? Sorry, you go to jail? Sorry, we send out hit squads? The OP was looking for answers, and “well, sorry” isn’t an answer. What is it that you plan to do about this family? If you are going to participate in this debate you have to answer all the questions, not just shrug and say it’s not your problem.

Because- except for cases of abuse- foster care takes kids away from the families that love them and will guide them on a lawful productive lives and puts them in homes where they will likely never have a birthday party, never be asked what they want to be when they grow up, never have any sense of family or stability and will probably be kicked out and never seen again on their eighteenth birthday regardless of if they are still in high school or not. While there are some good foster parents, most foster homes are cold, loveless, uncaring wharehouses that are only better than the worst abuse. It is a broken system that destroys many kids lives and futures. And it isn’t a cheap one either- it is far cheaper to provide direct assistance to these kids’ families. This is time to think of the kids- and their chances of becoming productive members of society, not of punishing the parents.