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Friend in extreme danger of homelessness and I don't know what to do
April 4, 2013 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Friend in extreme danger of homelessness and I don't know what to do. One of my friends is 22 years old and lives in Brooklyn, New York, in the same city where I live. She was living with her mom in Virginia and then moved into her boyfriend's parents' house here in Brooklyn, NY. Her boyfriend got into prison about a month ago. She's been living with her boyfriend's parents for 7-8 months and they took her in after her past roommates were violent to her.

Her boyfriend's parents want her to move out because they can't take care of her and they're in bad health. She's in desperate need of help looking for a place to live. She's currently unemployed but just recently went for job training to work full time. She don't have any money to rent herself a room or anything. She is very neat and keeps everything tidy while her boyfriend is a complete mess. They want her out by the end of the week and they mean it. Her mom lives in Virginia and tells her that she doesn't want her back as she wants her to be independent. Even though she calls her, she doesn't understand the situation she's in. She's the kind of mom who would leave her child on the streets as I've heard from her and other mutual friends.

I don't know what to do about this. I've tried asking around and she went to see a friend of mine who works for New York State Housing Authority. It got to the point where my friend said she would call different Jewish communities to see what can be done. She's scared that she could end up in a place where she has to wear a skirt and do a head-on religious conversion.

She's really not the troublemaker type of girl. She's very intelligent and doesn't cause problems with anyone. I just really feel bad for her because I had a situation similar to this girl in the past and all of her other friends are giving reasons why she can't stay with them. I live in a very small room and it would just be an extreme burden on me as I'm trying to get my stuff together.

Are there any other resources at the moment that could be used to help her?
posted by antgly to Work & Money (42 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would start by calling 311 and seeing what info they can provide on homeless shelters. Check out the NYCCAH for food assistance info.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:44 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


She should also apply for SNAP food stamp benefits.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:46 AM on April 4, 2013


How is it that in 7-8 months this person hasn't managed to find a job? Also, you know that being with someone in prison is sending up all sorts of red flags about poor decision-making and coping skills.

For now, she may want to go to state agencies and start looking for Welfare, Food Stamps and emergency housing.

Your friend needed a kick in the ass 8 months ago. If you want, you can offer her a place on your floor for 2 weeks, but don't be surprised if she continues to be paralyzed with dithering.

Her mother is right, she's not responsible for her 22 year-old child (especially one in a relationship with someone in prison. (I'm kind of stuck on that.)

As for what you should do, it's not your problem. Not really. What's your friend doing? Is SHE calling agencies? Is SHE going down to apply for Welfare and Housing?

Also, she has an issue with a group who MIGHT take her in? I mean, seriously?

This girl sounds like she's waiting for others to solve her problems. Perhaps it's time to do some work for herself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:48 AM on April 4, 2013 [27 favorites]


The YWCA of Brooklyn appears to offer housing.
posted by bunderful at 10:48 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


She's scared that she could end up in a place where she has to wear a skirt and do a head-on religious conversion.

For her to be accepted into that sort of a Jewish community, she's going to have to prove to them she spiritually yearns to convert. It's a long and hard process, even when you consider the groups that actively proselytize to lapsed Jews.
posted by griphus at 10:49 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


More thoughts: I've been the distressed friend trying to help a loved one avoid homelessness three times now. If New York is anything like Oregon, you'll probably be shocked at just how flimsy the social safety net has become, and at how few resources exist for homeless women, in particular. Most of the shelters in Oregon are male-only and there's a huge waiting list for beds for women. As you clearly care for this friend a great deal, please don't forget to also take care of yourself. Try to think about what you are willing to do, what you aren't willing to do, what you can afford, what you can't afford, and stick with your guns, even in a moment of crisis.

That said:
1- There are probably ways to help your friend avoid landing on the street, even if those methods do involve difficult decisions.
2- If she does find herself homeless, please remember that this is probably temporary and that it sounds a lot scarier than it has to be. It is not the end.

Some questions:
- How long does she have before she needs to move?
- Does she have ANY cash or bank savings at all (even $50 is more than zero dollars)?
- Does she have physical limitations that would prevent her from trying certain kinds of work?
- Can you give us insight into her decision making and background? For example, mental illness (even low-level depression or anxiety) can make a person more likely to end up homeless and add obstacles to finding a path out of homelessness. So can substance abuse. So can coming from an abusive home life.
- Are you and she members of any kind of large social network that might help?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:54 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


How is it that in 7-8 months this person hasn't managed to find a job?

I was in this exactly position last year-- no fast food, no retail, no restaurants. Nada. Nothing. I respect that NYC is a big place, but I don't know what kind of income you need to survive there. If she's depressed (and I mean, jesus, her boyfriend went to prison, she doesn't have a job, and she's nearly homeless), then she probably is having a hell of a time getting back on her feet.

I can't help much with resources, and I agree that she needs to feel empowered to take care of herself, but as people looking in from the outside it's easy to be unduly harsh, punish her for her boyfriend's mistakes, and pretend like a 22-year-old has all the life skills to cope on her own when the carpet has been pulled from under her, with no support network. It sounds like she really needs some family or some friends who feel like family. Does she have any extended family she can go to, even outside of the city? If I were her I'd consider getting back on my feet in some place less difficult to survive. (This is just judging from my friends' horror stories about trying to make it on very little in NYC.)

If she has health insurance through the state or her family, I'd encourage her to see a counselor, stat. She has immediate needs, but she also sounds like she has longer-term life-management and stress-management needs that a therapist or counselor will be able to help her with. A counselor will know about resources, too.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:55 AM on April 4, 2013 [27 favorites]


Can you give us insight into her decision making and background? For example, mental illness (even low-level depression or anxiety) can make a person more likely to end up homeless and add obstacles to finding a path out of homelessness. So can substance abuse. So can coming from an abusive home life.

Yes, exactly. If she's really looking for a job, I'd tell her to walk the neighborhoods and apply at every. single. location she sees, especially restaurants, who are often willing to hire just about anyone on the spot.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:57 AM on April 4, 2013


As an emergency stopgap she might be able to find a place on couchsurfing.org. It's not ideal by any means but if she is truly out of options it may be a big help to her.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:59 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sorry, hit post, but usually when I see people in these kinds of impossible situations who seem like they should just be able to pull themselves out of it, they have some kind of depression or anxiety which is probably not being treated, and they desperately need their mental health needs met. When I had untreated depression and anxiety I constantly fell through the bottom-- when I thought it couldn't get worse, it would, and it was all my fault because I couldn't make myself do things that normal people could do. I hated myself, but I didn't have the power within me to change things without help. It's very likely that a 22-year-old who can't get on her feet at this point in her life needs to be seen by someone-- it doesn't seem as urgent as finding a roof over her head, but it's essential.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:00 AM on April 4, 2013 [26 favorites]


I'd also advise your friend to dial 211 for the United Way. They should be able to put her in touch with any homeless shelters in the area, along with helping her navigate the rough waters of government assistance.
posted by youandiandaflame at 11:01 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I live in a very small room and it would just be an extreme burden on me as I'm trying to get my stuff together.

There's some cognitive dissonance here. You're asking a question about "extreme danger of homelessness" and repeatedly saying "I don't know what to do," which comes across as if you see this as an emergency situation—yet the reason you can't take her in is cramp and clutter. I get the concern; I don't like small spaces either. But if I'm comparing the burden of cramped quarters with the burden of sleeping on the sidewalk...well.

I have friends I wouldn't let this happen to. I would horse-collar them into sharing my single bed in a studio apartment before I let them sleep in a subway station or on the street. Then I have other friends, where the relationship is different. I would help them, I'd call shelters with them, I'd comb Craigslist, I'd loan them a security deposit. But if they really couldn't figure out a roof over their heads, then ultimately I'd resign myself to the fact that they're adults, they dug their own hole, and if their next step needs to be homelessless, that's their decision. (Sometimes the result of your decisions is equally your decision.)

If this friend really is your BFF, then maybe suck up the tight quarters for a week or two. On the other hand, if that isn't a sacrifice that makes sense to you, then maybe the truth is that for you emotionally, this isn't quite so much of an "I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do!" situation. It's okay for that to be true.
posted by cribcage at 11:03 AM on April 4, 2013 [31 favorites]


Even if she finds a job today, she likely won't have a paycheck for awhile, so calling 211 or New York's equivalent would still be in order.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:03 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


She's really not the troublemaker type of girl. She's very intelligent and doesn't cause problems with anyone. I just really feel bad for her because I had a situation similar to this girl in the past and all of her other friends are giving reasons why she can't stay with them. I live in a very small room and it would just be an extreme burden on me as I'm trying to get my stuff together.

This statement makes me think that this woman may be a little more trouble than you're indicating. If any of my friends was about to become homeless, I'd allow them to stay with me for a limited time until they could get enough funds together and/or find a safety net, but if nobody, including friends and family (both of which she has) are willing to offer a couch or a section of floor, there's something else going on.

I had a friend who I "saved" from homelessness for several months by consistently sending her money to stop eviction. All she did was wait for the next crisis, and eventually I (and the rest of her friends) had to let her go into a shelter before she realized that she had to take care of herself.
posted by xingcat at 11:05 AM on April 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


FYI, judaism is not an evangelical religion. They'll help her or they won't, but they won't try to convert her.
posted by Kololo at 11:09 AM on April 4, 2013


Are you homeless?

Transitional Housing for Women

HUD listings of women's shelters

This has some info on the intake process.

And yes, 311.

Does the job training program she is in help with placement when the training is complete?
posted by bunderful at 11:10 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Chabad Hasidim would not try to convert her if she weren't Jewish. But if she is, they will do everything to try to get her to become more religious (eat kosher food, light candles for the Sabbath, etc.).
posted by Melismata at 11:12 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


It just hit me - you say she is very tidy. If she is able to clean she could probably put up some ads and clean a few apartments. Assuming she would be paid with cash or check, this could help tide her over until she has a full-time job and paychecks start coming in.
posted by bunderful at 11:13 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


IT IS OK NOT TO TAKE A FRIEND INTO YOUR HOME, EVEN YOUR BFF, EVEN YOUR BFF ON THE VERGE OF HOMELESSNESS. Sorry for the all caps, but I am really disturbed by suggestions above that you should automatically solve your friend's problems by taking her in. You can still love a person and be close to them and protect yourself at the same time, especially when you already have limited resources as well.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:14 AM on April 4, 2013 [18 favorites]


I think a concern on the "just let her stay with you" front is that you are essentially signing up to host someone on your floor in your small room indefinitely - the problems that have brought your friend where she is are not going to clear up overnight even if miracles happen and she gets a job right away. That is a legitimate concern - sharing one small room with another person for months would be very stressful (and it would be months) and that itself affects your ability to work and study. This would be particularly true if your friend is fully in crisis, so that every day with you is likely to bring new problems with food, medications, access to care, seeing the boyfriend, etc. Because you'd be living with this person and you don't have a heart of stone, you'd end up dealing with those and their accompanying stress day after day after day.

(How do I know this? The much less stressful but still stressful business of hosting semi-homeless friends for weeks or months in a house where I had my own room and they stayed on, essentially, the couch. When you have your own room to retreat to, it's okay - but it isn't stress-free even then.)

If folks do say "take her in, don't let her become homeless", be thoughtful about how you operate. If you feel that she is going to be lurching from crisis to crisis and won't have the ability to address her own problems (by looking for work, getting food stamps, etc) then you have to think twice. It would be different if she wouldn't have to share your room.

As far as the 'boyfriend in prison' thing goes: look, a lot of people are in prison for, basically, poverty - they get homeless, broke, desperate and pulled into petty drug crime; they make a mistake that would mean counseling or probation for a middle class kid with a good lawyer; they get caught up in family cycles of violence and dysfunction that are exacerbated by the stresses of poverty, insecurity and loss of sense of self which comes with those things. Consider that something like 1/3 of black men will be involved in the prison system in some way over their lifetimes - yet we know that this is because of the racist legal system and entrenched inequality, not because everyone who is goes to prison is a bad person who you should not date.

If the guy is in prison for something out of the ordinarily bad or reckless, that's one thing, but if he's just some kid from a poor background who was, for example, a small time drug dealer and got caught....well, I knew a couple of middle class guys who were the campus drug dealers in college, and they were middle class so they didn't get caught and both went on to get rich in legitimate occupations. Bear that in mind.
posted by Frowner at 11:16 AM on April 4, 2013 [46 favorites]


Just came in to say what Frowner just said at the end there...

being with someone in prison is sending up all sorts of red flags about poor decision-making

is a pretty privileged perspective. Frowner broke it down well.
posted by eyesontheroad at 11:23 AM on April 4, 2013 [25 favorites]


the uja is one of the organizations supported by the NY Times neediest cases fund
posted by brujita at 11:28 AM on April 4, 2013


It sounds like she could be a live-in caregiver to her boyfriend's parents in exchange for room and board, if they are in poor health as you say. She could provide cooking, housekeeping, errand-running, etc. services for them. Could she negotiate something along those lines? Or did she burn that bridge for good?

But it seems like they want her out ASAP, and if all her other friends are saying she can't live with them, there is something else afoot that might preclude couch-surfing or a Sitter City type of pet-sitting or house-sitting job. People want their pet and house-sitters to be stable and sober.

You don't need to take her in and give her houseroom, especially if you have a studio apartment (and especially since she may have some serious issues that might make living with her intolerable). You can help her access social services that are available to her. Also, if she does have a condition that prevents her from working at all she might be eligible for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Disability (depending on whether she has enough work credits).

All this may involve not being able to live in New York City, but if that is what it takes to avoid homelessness, then that is what will have to happen. NYC is a tough and expensive place to live.

Good luck to your friend. I hope she makes it OK and gets the help she needs.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:36 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would horse-collar them into sharing my single bed in a studio apartment before I let them sleep in a subway station or on the street.

This is a noble thought, but unless OP can horse-collar them right back out of a studio apartment and onto the street "in a week or two" if it turns out living with this person is bad news, it's spectacularly bad advice.
posted by griphus at 11:40 AM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've been briefly homeless. What I did, was live out of my car for three weeks while scraping up enough retail-job hours to prove income at a crappy apartment complex and get my own studio.

At the time I was homeless, I was six months out of graduating college, summa cum laude, and studying for the LSAT. I had never used drugs, rarely drank alcohol, had two boyfriends in my entire life and was basically as straight-laced and vanilla as you can get. So why wouldn't anyone take me in? Because I had spent the last four years with an abusive partner whose religion/culture my parents didn't approve of, and who had effectively alienated me from everyone I used to know. Everyone did kind of the "yikes, drama, wow I feel sorry for you but I don't want to get my hands dirty" thing that people do, and thus when the shit really hit the fan, I was effectively SOL.

My point is that the fact that her family & friends aren't taking her in could be a red flag as to her personality; OR it could be a red flag only to the kind of people she unfortunately has (or doesn't have) in her life to support her. I think the OP probably knows better than we do which of these is true.
posted by celtalitha at 11:42 AM on April 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


I've been in this exact situation, and some of the posts getting a lot of favorites in here are really grinding my gears so to speak. It's especially sad that some of you are people who's comments I usually love, but the way you're approaching being "tough love" here is pretty shitty and privileged.

First of all, I feel like everyone saying "7 months and she can't find a job?" Really needs to stuff it. This is not completely unreasonable. I really doubt she's being a "diva" and refusing to work at the Big Chain Grocery Store or something. I was unemployed for something like 16 months applying to seriously every place within a reasonable distance of where I was living(right in the middle of town, so a lot of places) that I could walk(it's kinda hard to commute when you have no money).

Second, frowner and croutonsupafreak nailed it. It is COMPLETELY unreasonable to expect her to take her friend in in a situation like this. I've both been the friend, who ended up overstaying my welcome back to being in the same position again with my only leg up being a shitty part time job that couldn't get me a place anywhere, and I let friends stay with me with the logic that "well someone was there when I needed it". I've actually let 4 or so friends do this.

It was a disaster 3 times. And a HUGE disaster one of those.

In the end, I think the best thing you or her boyfriends parents could do is buy her a ticket to her moms house. Is her mom really going to turn her away if she shows up at her front door? I completely disagree with the people saying her mom isn't out of line with the statement she made, and id almost want to believe it wasn't true and your friend just desperately wanted to stay in NYC if it wasn't for the fact that I've known many parents that shitty.

At the end of my situation like this, I ended up crashing at my moms tiny studio apartment with a shared bathroom. She probably would have preferred I didn't, but she wasn't going to turn her homeless son away.

I mean, really? Would her mom actually tell her to get stuffed?

I think the best thing here would be a break from the city and some cool down time. Maybe even a greyhound ticket would do. If you really want to help, contact her boyfriends parents and offer to split the ticket with them. And hell, call her mom and explain the actual grimness of the situation and just state you're sending her back. See what she says.

I genuinely think this answer is best for everyone involved. You don't have to screw up your life letting her stay in your tiny place, her boyfriends parents don't have to deal with the awkwardness of her being there when they can't really afford/deal with it, and she gets a break from the city and the drama.

And this is coming from someone who's been there. That was really what I needed, and it sounds like she does too.

Oh, and as a closing note I'd like to say that I had lots of friends. All of them had reasons I couldn't crash at their place. I'm a pretty normal guy who's generally well liked. That shouldn't be some place to pass a judgement of her being of horrible character or something.
posted by emptythought at 11:58 AM on April 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


First off, some possible solutions if your friend really must stay in BK:
* #1 #1 #1 must-do, as stated above: Call 311. Today! ASAP!
* 311 Social Services
* NYC DHS Homebase - Homelessness Prevention Network
* 311 homeless shelter intake information
* house sitting/domestic work?
* pet sitting? (also)
* AirBNB for a spell?
* room for rent $125/week in East Flatbush (I know, but it's SOMETHING)?
* Personal admin job - Are you really organized, always on time, laid-back, fun and easy-to-get-along with? Private business in NYC is looking for someone like yourself for immediate help. Pay/hours will be great.
* Homeless shelters in Brooklyn
* Bowery Mission
* Women's shelters in New York

Real talk:
Her boyfriend's parents are not and should not feel even remotely obligated to "take care of" your friend, whether or not they are experiencing health woes -- she can't pay rent, she is not their child or relative, she is simply their son's girlfriend, and their son just arrived home to them straight out of prison. She is also an intelligent, presumably able-bodied adult. It is not a personal slight for his parents to point this out in stark contrast to her lack of employment, and ask her to leave their home due to the fact that she cannot be anything except a direct financial burden to them right now, even if she is tidy and smart and wonderful in all other ways. Harsh, but true.
At 22, she has had ample time to procure enough experience in the real world to be able to survive without direct, daily support from her boyfriend's (or her own) parents -- yet she has still never lived on her own, even teenage-style, in a shitty dive of an apartment with a gaggle of weirdo roommates. It's like a rite of passage! Finding out why that hasn't happened yet, as well as figuring out how she can gain the life skills required to live independently as an adult (budgeting/bill-paying/resume writing/interviewing/etc.), will be absolutely key to her eventually learning how to slow or stop the cycle of suffering she experiences through these humiliating mini-disasters and crises.

If she has truly been busting her ass every minute of every day to get work but has still remained entirely unable to nail down any type of employment whatsoever for nearly a year, she NEEDS to leave Brooklyn, like, yesterday. Can you/her other friends get her a one-way bus ticket back to Hometown, Virginia? At least she might be able to get her bearings there, in a familiar place, even if mom won't take her back in (also, I have a mother who would not ever take me back in even if I were actively homeless, parents like this DO exist); possible employment routes, social services, and homeless shelters will be easier for her to access in VA than NYC, plus she will be in a much less expensive location. Could you guys all band up and front her a month or two of rent/security in a shared house in Virginia that you could help her find on Craigslist/Padmapper/whatever?

And while I certainly don't wish to cast aspersions on a complete stranger, the fact that her other friends are making excuses as to why they simply cannot allow her to stay with them means that there may be a pre-existing issue that is slightly more serious to wrangle with than offering a perfectly well-adjusted young woman a place to crash for an unspecified period of time that may stretch from days to weeks to months, 100% free of charge.
I only say so because while I would happily give my friends the clothes off of my back, let them crash with me rent-free for MONTHS, offer them the food from my plate -- really ANYTHING, if they needed it, all without hesitation -- I would only do so for those friends who have not already repeatedly proven themselves to be untrustworthy, unreliable, and/or willing to take my otherwise wholly unhindered generosity for a ride. If your friend has a history of doing any of that -- flaking out, quitting jobs, taking advantage, etc. -- particularly given that she cannot pay any type of rent whatsoever and will not be able to for the indefinite future, it may help to explain why everyone (including you) is so hesitant to take her in when she will presumably otherwise become homeless, um, tomorrow.

Will be thinking of her, with fingers crossed. Good luck.
posted by divined by radio at 12:04 PM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


She may have had a job and lost it, you know. Nowhere does the OP say that she's been unemployed 7-8 months. She just says "currently unemployed". RTFP, people!
posted by whatdidyouforgettoday at 12:14 PM on April 4, 2013


At 22, she has had ample time to procure enough experience in the real world to be able to survive without direct, daily support from her boyfriend's (or her own) parents -- yet she has still never lived on her own, even teenage-style, in a shitty dive of an apartment with a gaggle of weirdo roommates. It's like a rite of passage! Finding out why that hasn't happened yet, as well as figuring out how she can gain the life skills required to live independently as an adult (budgeting/bill-paying/resume writing/interviewing/etc.), will be absolutely key to her eventually learning how to slow or stop the cycle of suffering she experiences through these humiliating mini-disasters and crises.

This is crazy to me. I DID live college-style with a gaggle of roommates, I paid my own rent, bills, taxes, I managed my finances all on my own without any parental support, I went through college and graduated with one or two steady, good jobs, scholarships and internships-- but when I lost my job after graduation and couldn't find a job for 8 months, I was SOL. My worst mistake was not applying for public assistance sooner. It happens, folks. It's happened to friends of mine. And when the only job you get for months is a small-business minimum wage job ($5.90/hr) at a pizza parlor, you're still fucked.

This isn't to say the OP's friend doesn't have mental health or life management issues. But if she does, then SHE NEEDS A THERAPIST, stat. Not tough love. It doesn't work. It makes people with legitimate problesm homeless and massively derails their lives. You know who that usually doesn't happen to? 22-year-olds with money in the family and class privilege and parents who will take them to the therapist and act like parents.

I agree that she needs to get out of the city. I also think that shortly thereafter she needs a therapist-- this in itself will help her start taking responsibility for her own life.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:14 PM on April 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


yet she has still never lived on her own, even teenage-style, in a shitty dive of an apartment with a gaggle of weirdo roommates

"they took her in after her past roommates were violent to her."

Maybe a bus ticket to a place with a more reasonable cost of living (if my understanding of US "welfare" is correct it won't make rent, at least not for a person with zero resources and without subsidized housing, in NYC), with space available in a shelter so there's actually somewhere to go at the end of the bus ride, would be an option to contemplate.

I agree that the cluster of issues here is hinting at a mess that would make it a dubious idea for OP to give up floor space (or otherwise take on a lot of responsibility). It's not some sort of grossly overprivileged thing to say "Hey, it sounds like this person might have some struggles that could drag you down with her, so be careful and don't feel bad about maintaining boundaries." It is a privileged thing to chafe at that, because one has to have a decent amount of capital to not be at risk of being de-stabilized oneself.

I personally am still WTFing over: she thought there was a chance of free room and board but was horrified at the idea of wearing a skirt, etc. And then if her mind was turning to thoughts of staying there for long enough for a religious conversion of some stripe I don't know what to think. The problems here sound pretty complex.
posted by kmennie at 12:19 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


[Folks, stop hollering, please. Your personal opinion about what or who are "crazy" are not helping the OP with his question.]
posted by jessamyn at 12:21 PM on April 4, 2013


I was going to say pretty much exactly what stoneandstar did. The OP explicitly says that this girl is intelligent, not a troublemaker, and in fact in job training (RTFP, indeed). But people are still jumping in to say that she's obviously a troublemaker, because she's in trouble. And also, she's obviously lazy and has no life experience. WTF? Where did it say any of that? This all smacks of so much victim-blaming that, I don't even know. *deep breaths.*

If it were me, and she was truly a close friend, and she really wasn't a troublemaker, I'd take her in. No matter how little space I have. Absolutely.

BUT. If she's a less-close friend, or someone I think is an overall decent person but have enough misgivings about to draw a clear boundary around my space, I would (1) make sure the mom thing is definitely a dead-end (as it may be; yes, plenty of parents are into the "tough love" thing too); (2) if her current job-training thing has a defined end-point and she will be getting a job after that, help her find a short-term dirt cheap place to stay (the above posters have provided some good links and resources) and tell her to bust her ass finding a way to get some cash until then - whether that mean housecleaning, selling crap on craigslist, whatever it takes. This is going to involve compromise, and she is going to have to work with it. Like, if you can find a friend who will give her a room or a couch for $X a month, for two months, write up a contract and she can work some crap jobs/sell some shit/etc and pay that, and stay there for two months, finish her job training, and find a better room. But if she balks at that, then she does have some problems and it's probably something you will have to let her deal with on her own.
posted by celtalitha at 12:31 PM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


One thing you can do, mentally, is this: decide for yourself the point at which you will fling caution to the winds and invite her to stay with you. For example, you might say "I would be willing to take her in if she were literally reduced to sleeping on the street after every other resource is exhausted" or "I would be willing to take her in if it were winter and she were sleeping on the street", etc etc. This feels incredibly, insanely ruthless - if you're willing to take her in under those circumstances, then why not now? - but it does help a bit.

Another thing: if she is really reliable and neat, can you talk to all her/your friends together and put together a rota where she would stay with you for X days, then with another friend for X days and so on? That is stressful for her, of course, but it does mean that each of you knows the boundaries and that the end is in sight. Like, she spends a week at your house and tries to find work, then spends a week at someone else's place, etc. Even if it takes her a couple of months to get herself together, no one person hosts her more than a couple of times. This would work only if you feel that you can set up a process that she will stick with rather than try to stay in one place once she's there.

Also, if she does actually become homeless/living in a shelter, you can do a couple of things for her - let her use your shower and (if your building has them) washer/dryer (shelters have these, but they are not real great, may not be clean or may feel unsafe) and let her store a suitcase or something with you. One of the real challenges of being homeless is that you have nowhere secure and accessible to keep anything you can't carry with you - and it's extra emotionally wrenching if you have to lose all your possessions on top of losing your place to live. If she becomes homeless, you can also invite her to meals at your place. Again, this will all feel on beyond shitty - if she can use your shower, why can't she crash on your floor? - but it will be very, very helpful to her. And you can keep tabs on her - if it's pouring or freezing or dangerously hot, check on her via text, check in with her every couple of days if she's in a dodgy situation, etc. These things will help her to feel that even if she is struggling with housing, she isn't totally alone. And tell her (assuming that she is reliable enough that she won't take advantage) that if she is in physical danger or seriously ill, she can come to your place to regroup.

How do I know this stuff? Being friends with someone who is homeless and having to draw some of these boundaries myself.
posted by Frowner at 12:32 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I mean, really? Would her mom actually tell her to get stuffed?

Yes. I have known parents who's only help to their homeless children is to disown them/drive them to the nearest shelter. Some parents really do not offer shelter in the storm to their own children.
posted by saucysault at 12:44 PM on April 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Crazy times call for crazy measures. I think that a lot of people have small errands/chores that need to be done but that they would easily pay someone else maybe $20 to do and your friend could be that someone else.

For example, I shop online frequently and often need to return stuff but I hate the post office. If a friend or a friend of a friend was in a jam and would take $20 (plus expenses) to take a bunch of this stuff to the post office and mail it, I would consider that money well spent. Other things that I would possibly pay someone $20 to do so I didn't have to: put a dresser I'm not using on Craigslist (hell, keep the money if you sell it), buy me some groceries (yes, I have access to PeaPod but they picked out lousy vegetables), take a list of names I have and attempt to turn it in to a list of email addresses (yes, I could be more detailed than that), take a pile of clothes to and from the dry cleaner for me because they are never open when I am home, take a different pile of clothes to be donated, etc. If I really trusted someone, I would consider paying them more money to deal with more personal stuff related to my finances.

I think this thing already exists in a formal-ish way in NYC but if I saw a post on Facebook saying, yo, times are tough, need help hardcore, will run errands for you, email me for more deets, I'd definitely be interested.

I also think that if I was facing a situation similar to your friend's, I would be having a personal liquidation sale and put anything fancy or nice that I own and do not absolutely need on Craigslist or eBay.

Has your friend worked in the last year? Has she filed her tax return yet? I wouldn't do that unless I knew I was eligible for a refund but she might be?
posted by kat518 at 1:10 PM on April 4, 2013


Yes, it's clear that OP's friend could have had a job and lost it only very recently; I just discounted that possibility since the boyfriend's parents would likely not give her the boot quite so urgently (by the end of the week!?) if she'd been employed and/or paying rent for even a portion of the past 7-8 months. However, she still has "no money," which means that if she was employed at one time, she was not saving up to move out of their house. Sorry to say, but simply continuing job training as per usual is no longer a viable option if you are literally a day or two away from homelessness. Actual income is required, whether it's SNAP/TANF or a temp gig or a handout from a bunch of generous friends.

When you "take someone in" due to an emergency situation -- like that person discovering they have violent roommates (mea maxima culpa, missed it!) -- it's likely implied that it will be for a rather short spell unless you've all agreed very clearly up front that the person will be allowed to stay for as long as they need to, gratis. So she has managed to live on her own before, but has since declined to pursue the opportunity to do so again -- that's actually a touch more worrisome than someone who's just never lived on their own. She can do it, OK, that's good! She just... isn't. The why behind that will be illuminatory and probably necessary if you're determined to help her get help. If she's afraid of reaching out and fumbling back toward independence because she's afraid of getting stuck with violent roommates again, she should definitely seek out a referral to some sort of DV/women's shelter that will help her heal (emotionally) while guaranteeing her safety (physically).

I have been younger than your friend with absolutely no family support, no safety net, no education, no savings, nowhere to live, nothing except crippling depression and a bone-deep sense of utter worthlessness. The only thing that got me out of bed was knowing that I would literally starve and have to live on the street if I didn't. When I was on the razor's edge of homelessness after unexpectedly losing a temp job, I started cashiering at Wal-Mart for $5.15/hr. and paid my rent and bills for my shitty new apartment with a cast of eight ever-changing roommates using cash advances from ill-begotten credit cards. It's obviously not for everyone, but it was a miracle for me (though I'm still paying it off, because high-risk debtors get cards with 29.99% APR); I've since maintained that desperate times will always call for, and frequently require, the most desperate measures you can think of. It is terrifying beyond measure to have to walk that tightrope and it sucks and is so damn scary every moment of the day but you just keep going and going and going because the only person who is responsible for you is you, and the only person you can depend on is you.

If a job comes up, on Craigslist or in the newspaper or at a fast food joint, no matter how degrading or beneath her or unbearable or low-paying it seems, she REALLY needs to take it -- just take it, grind your teeth and cuss and sweat it out, and remember this, too, shall pass. If a shelter or safe living situation appears, no matter where it is or what restrictions may be placed on her in order for her to stay, she REALLY needs to move there.
I have a great deal of experience with the desperate need to believe that you MUST be able to maintain control over SOMETHING when EVERYTHING feels like it's all helplessly slipping out of your grasp, but now is the time to pull out absolutely all of the stops. Wounded dignity and pride need to get tossed out the window. She can't be properly stitched up and sent on her on her way quite yet -- right now, she just needs to fashion a tourniquet and get the damn thing tied on. Anything to staunch the bleeding.
posted by divined by radio at 1:14 PM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sorry for getting shouty, but this:

One of the real challenges of being homeless is that you have nowhere secure and accessible to keep anything you can't carry with you - and it's extra emotionally wrenching if you have to lose all your possessions on top of losing your place to live. If she becomes homeless, you can also invite her to meals at your place. Again, this will all feel on beyond shitty - if she can use your shower, why can't she crash on your floor? - but it will be very, very helpful to her. And you can keep tabs on her - if it's pouring or freezing or dangerously hot, check on her via text, check in with her every couple of days if she's in a dodgy situation, etc. These things will help her to feel that even if she is struggling with housing, she isn't totally alone. And tell her (assuming that she is reliable enough that she won't take advantage) that if she is in physical danger or seriously ill, she can come to your place to regroup.

is so, soooooo true. I was *this* close to being homeless, and if absolutely anyone had offered their shower, or their washer/dryer, or a place to keep my suitcase, I would have been beyond grateful. It feels ruthless, but you'd be helping exponentially if she really needs those things. If she's reduced to homelessness, all she's going to be thinking is how incredibly grateful she is to be able to feel clean or wash her clothes or keep her things safe until she gets back up again. Those are the little things that make homelessness really vicious. I mean, how are you going to go to a job interview with a huge suitcase? How are you going to go to an interview stinking, or wearing dirty clothes? There are very practical measures you can take (getting her interview clothes/job outfit ready, or lending her some) to help that don't involve actually housing her.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:15 PM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also, I'd favorite every paragraph of divined by radio's last post a thousand times if I could, as someone who lived on the janky credit cards/working the shit-wage job/terrorized by past roommates carousel. I'm also still paying my debts from that time.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:38 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


If a job comes up, on Craigslist or in the newspaper or at a fast food joint, no matter how degrading or beneath her or unbearable or low-paying it seems, she REALLY needs to take it -- just take it, grind your teeth and cuss and sweat it out, and remember this, too, shall pass.

I think a nice anecdote to add here, is that everyone told me this. The only job i didn't take was one like this, and i got a ton of flak for it.

Why? because it would have paid less than my (cheap!) rent i was being offered since you got so few hours, and even if i wasn't paying said cheap rent wouldn't have paid enough to save any amount of money for any kind of deposit to move in anywhere else, nor paid the rent on any of the places that i could find. and it required 100% of my time since you were on a rotating schedule that changed every single week and could be called in at any time, sometimes even to work at(or until) 5am, etc. There's plenty of jobs out there like this. Constantly on call, work one or two really short shifts a day at completely random times, etc.

A lot of people thought i was somehow trying to lawyer my way out of having to put cans on shelves in a grocery store, but i didn't give a crap about what i was doing. it was really a shit job that wouldn't have helped with anything and would have seriously impeded me at solving any of my other problems or getting another job.

Sometimes "anything is better than nothing" just isn't true. Unless she can find some place to crash in a walk in closet for $150 a month or something, a job like that would be worthless. And even then she would need a new job before she could move out of that situation.(Which, right down to the closet, a friend has been in. It was a pretty hard hole to jackhammer out of) I realize you could argue that this is better than where she is now, but the trick is even finding a living situation like this and more importantly not getting trapped or ending up in the same situation she's in now again when it stops working out.

I also, once again would be surprised if anyone would issue her a credit card. A couple years ago when i was fucked i considered that, not particularly caring about what my credit would look like afterwards... and even though i was(barely) employed no one would issue me one.

I like your message in general(Especially since it comes off as someone who has actually experienced something like this, not someone from their throne of superior logic going "oh this is so easy to solve!"), but some little parts of it just don't ring true to me.
posted by emptythought at 2:10 PM on April 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


What a tough one. I would:
a) Help her find a homeless shelter
b) Help her find low-cost mental health treatment. If she's not mentally ill, she can hook up perhaps with a social worker. Coney Island Hospital is where my deceased boyfriend got help for free.
c) Help her apply for public assistance.


This is just me, and by all means I wouldn't want to say that you would be at any fault at all for not letting her crash, but what I would do is say:
You will not be spending a night on the street because you will be in a homeless shelter. I will make sure that you are in a safe place. But you have to help by doing the following list (contacting people, letting go of the notion that she is in a position to turn down help because she doesn't like some religious angle).

Then you and her do the leg work. If there is is no option but the sidewalk and you have verified this independently? Let her crash, just know that if you decide to pull the plug and throw her stuff out, you are facing possible illegal eviction problems.

Good luck.
posted by angrycat at 2:16 PM on April 4, 2013


oh, since you mentioned NYCHA: nope. she would be on the waiting list for years. 3-1-1 is the way to go to get homeless shelter info. Also, your friend could check in with soup kitchens. I volunteered at one at St. Francis Xavier church -- the point is not for her to get soup, but to get a referral to a shelter.
posted by angrycat at 2:23 PM on April 4, 2013


"There's some cognitive dissonance here. You're asking a question about "extreme danger of homelessness" and repeatedly saying "I don't know what to do," which comes across as if you see this as an emergency situation—yet the reason you can't take her in is cramp and clutter."

No, it doesnt sound like that at all, not to me.

I live in a very small room and it would just be an extreme burden on me as I'm trying to get my stuff together.

Sounds like the OP feels close to the edge himself and, quite reasonably, thinks she has to look after herself because, well, she can't expect anyone else to, and that, as much as he wants to help his friend, he feels doing so might be more than he can manage.

I think the world would be a better place if we all spent more time doing what we can, and less worrying about what we should do, but really feel we can't.

In that spirit, one option is to try to help be knitting together a safety net from what you and her other friends can give. For example, rather than any one of you taking her in, what if all of you agree to give her a place for a night or two (whatever works) once a week (or less often, if there are enough people to chip in). And maybe there are a few people who aren't part of the regular cycle who could still help out every once in a while if one of the other hosts had guests, or a water leak, or whatever. People could also, if able, give her room for a box in a closet, or something, so she wouldn't have to haul around or give up infrequently used belongings. Other things that could be offered, shower privileges, computer/internet access, etc. Also, unused clothes, etc.

None of this would have to be for an indefinite period, but try to get people to agree to a good sized stretch, like 2-3 months, so she has some time to get a job, and, ideally, save a lottle money towards a deposit. Also, try and keep some safety margin in the network, don't take everything everyone is willing to give right off the bat. Keep some in reserve in case someone has their own change of situation, or has a falling out with your friend, or whatever.

Don't make her do this (all) herself. It is often easier to advocate for someone else than it is to advocate for one's self, paricularly if depression is an issue. As the advocate you can press people a little without seeming or feeling selfish, and if someone you ask still up rejecting your initial request, and all the other things you try to get them to agree to, it isn't as personal. In addition, it gives your friend space, emotionally, to deal with all the other stuff she has to deal with. Basically, the total emotional cost for you to do it is less than the emotional cost of her doing it herself. Plus, it removes the emotional burden on you of feeling helpless to help her, and gives her the positive feeling that you and others are helping her out.

Best of luck to all of you!
posted by Good Brain at 7:02 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


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