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For Inquiring Minds There Is Plenty to Do: The GFP spend much of their days at the public library, where the staff knows them and accommodates their needs. They both claimed to be Christians. One of them had read through long lists of philosophical and religious writings (including Eastern religions) and was plowing his way through the classics and “great books.” The GFP were well informed regarding the news and political events of the day. Interestingly, one expressed strong opinions about the federal government wasting resources on military and low-priority spending, instead of providing more for human needs.
Holding Lightly to Possessions: The physical limitations presented by physically carrying all of one’s possessions, frequent theft, and the lack of laundry service have taught the GFP to hold lightly to their worldly possessions. One of them commented that this is a spiritual virtue that was being strengthened by their homeless experience. It does not mean that they enjoy having their hat stolen while they sleep or having to exchange their dirty clothing for clean, “new” second-hand clothes. But they have learned by experience not to invest too much emotional energy in tightly holding their possessions.
Laundry Service Is Lacking: When we asked what services were most lacking for the homeless, the GFP agreed: available affordable laundry service. Generally the homeless have access to clothing through charitable donations. Because the homeless have nowhere to store their clothing and other possessions, they are limited to owning whatever they can carry on their backs (or, for some, in a shopping cart). With limited access to laundry services but relatively free access to clothing donations, this means that it is often easier to discard dirty clothing in exchange for “new” clothing than to clean the clothes they already own. The GFP seemed philosophical about this predicament, although a little wistful about having to part with clothes they really liked only because they were dirty. The GFP told us of at least one charity that provides laundry service, but it is a drop in the ocean compared to the need. If one were interested in providing a needed service for the homeless in DC, laundry service would be one avenue to explore.
Practical Tips for Helping the Homeless
In addition to providing hot meals or laundry service, here are a few practical tips suggested by the GFP:
Instead of giving out bags filled with toiletries, offer the opportunity to choose from an array of necessities. When well-meaning people (like C.S. Lewis Institute Fellows) hand out bags filled with various toiletries, the homeless will often keep the few items that meet their immediate need and throw the rest away. This behavior is driven in part by their limited ability to carry inventory with them and in part by the resources already in their backpacks or easily obtainable at local shelters or charities. And toiletries like shampoo are relatively heavy.
Clean undergarments greatly appreciated. See and contemplate “Laundry Service Is Lacking,” above.
Men would appreciate razors. Razors for shaving are relatively expensive and temporary (they wear out quickly). It is the one thing we did not have with us that almost every male asked for: “Do you have any razors?”
“Marshmallow Nirvana”: Toward the end of conversation, we asked the GFP how they would sum up their homeless experience thus far. After reflecting briefly, one said “marshmallow nirvana.” He explained that they have plenty of free food, sleep under the stars, have access to shelter when they need it, read and relax all day. They agreed that being homeless turned out to be much easier and more pleasant than they had expected it to be. But it is not so for the majority of the homeless population.
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