Asking how to ask for help
January 5, 2012 9:52 PM   Subscribe

What are some demands that can be made of a city (pop 250,000) that would immediately find benefit for 13 homeless people? Extra credit: Consider half these people probably need some mental help but would be pretty likely to refuse it.

Our city's Occupy is being told to leave, and we're thinking we'll hold down the park until the city finds some housing for these people. Realizing we can't expect or demand the city builds houses for everyone, I thought I'd query the hive mind on other possible avenues of assistance.
posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh to Law & Government (6 answers total)
I don't know about demands, but Las Cruces, NM, recently started a city-authorized homeless camp for the winter.

posted by maurreen at 10:44 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

(The homeless face so many issues. When you say "find benefit", "mental help" and "avenues of assistance", that is pretty broad and could include a whole host of items that would take days to detail. I will just stick with a basic issue.)

The first thing is to look at what services are already available. The city will most likely use that as a counter to your any argument you put forth. Knowing how good or bad things are for these 13 will give you more footing. Have a reason why the city's services are not adequate in real, concrete terms. Have your arguments ready. The more detail the better.

You also need to know exactly what these 13 really want and their level of commitment to do the work to make it happen. It is quite possible that a few of them talk about wanting assistance, but are not prepared to go through the motions to get or keep it. It could be due to being stubborn or mental illness or whatever, but the actual individual and their wishes will in large part affect the success of your demands in the end. I have known many, many homeless people over the years who while first talking about wanting to get off the street, changed their tune when it came to actually making the commitment to do so. Put simply, they valued the freedoms they perceived that were good and came along with the lifestyle more than the rigors of leading a life that required them to take action to stay out of that life.

I am not saying you should not try to do what you have suggested, just know that there is more to it than just demanding the city do more than it already is doing. It takes effort on both sides to not only make it happen initially, but to have it continue. Both sides have to play ball and it is really important to know the person you are trying to help wants the help and will follow though if it is offered. Otherwise, it just becomes fodder for those people who love to find reasons to cut funding and thereby making the entire situation worse in the future.

Good luck!
posted by lampshade at 10:56 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

From the city side of things, look for resources that are sitting idle that might be helping these people. There was an answer or comment the other day (I whis I wish I could find) where someone told about a situation where derelict houses that the city was having to maintain were being lived in by people who would have no where else to go and was a win for everyone since the city no longer had to maintain these houses with all the problems that vacant houses can attract. In the comment, the city basically punted when the recession hit, BUT IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY!

Wait - here!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:27 AM on January 6, 2012

It may be helpful to recognize that sitting in a public park or other venue formulating a list of "demands" will probably not get you very far toward actually accomplishing something. Coming up with a concrete proposal and presenting it to the city council or commission, with support from key community actors, can be more effective.
posted by megatherium at 4:45 AM on January 6, 2012

Where I live, most of the direct services for homeless people are provided by non-profit and religious organizations, or from the state and county. The city pretty much has no role, aside from the police (who actually mostly cooperate with the service agencies and try to prevent people from freezing to death in the middle of the winter). So in my case, making demands of the city government wouldn't go very far, simply because they are not key players in the issue. (Perhaps they should be, but right now they aren't, and they don't have much in the way of useful resources that could be put towards the problem.)

All of that to say, you need to start with a pretty fine-grained knowledge of the current services available for the homeless, and who is providing those. Then you have to look at your homeless group and see where the barriers are between their situation and those services. For example, in many places there are very few housing options for "wet" alcoholics and active drug users (there have been a couple of FPPs about places that have created that kind of housing), and for people with untreated mental issues. Again, that's not the way it should be, but changing that in a city will take a lot more than a simple demand on the city government.
posted by Forktine at 6:24 AM on January 6, 2012

So many great answers, thank you all!
posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh at 7:10 AM on January 6, 2012

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