June 19, 2018 10:22 PM   Subscribe

The last few days, there's been an apparently homeless young man sleeping in my Adirondack chair on the patio.

I was pretty startled when I looked out the kitchen window and saw him there, and my first thought was that he should leave. But then I reflected that he wasn't hurting me or anybody else, and my patio does have an outlet where he could charge his phone, which I've heard is a constant unmet need many homeless have. I only ever sit out on the patio in the evenings, so he wasn't keeping me from using it either. So I let him be. Well, he's been back a few times, and he was there this morning when I left for work, and he was there this evening when I got home. I don't know how I feel about this.

I live in an old four-unit apartment building, with the driveway on one side of the building, this long, narrow patio on the other, and the common parking area in the back. I'm on the ground floor next to the patio, so I put some plants and chairs out there, and it's generally regarded by the other tenants in the building as mine. A person doesn't have to open a gate to get there -- just walk up the driveway, across the parking lot, and there you are.

The other tenants in the building are as follows: (1) a young woman who lives alone, (2) a large, extended family, about 12 people, (3) two young guys, and (4) my adult son and me. There's another guy, a close friend of one of the adult kids of the big family, who sleeps in the single car garage on the property that family rents.

Possibly related, or not, stuff has been stolen off the patio over the years -- the outdoor speakers, the front wheel of a locked-up bike, etc. Not that this has anything to do with this particular guy, but it does show that people sometimes come through there.

So now I have this guest. I just don't know how I feel about this. I don't feel violated exactly, as the patio isn't really a private space. I wish he would go away, but doesn't everybody who is lucky enough to have a home tend to wish the homelessness problem would just go away? My patio is a pretty good place to sleep, as there's an umbrella for shade, the aforementioned power outlet, and a very low risk of being hassled by the cops or anyone else -- assuming, that is, I don't hassle him myself. Because I'm a renter, I don't have to worry about liability if he gets hurt on the property (I think), and as long as I don't actually give him permission to sleep there, if my landlord or one of the other tenants has an issue with him being there, I can just say I didn't know (I think) -- though they may not believe me, as he's sleeping about four feet from my kitchen windows. I'm quite sure my adult son has seen him, as my son parks in the back, but he hasn't said anything -- maybe in hopes that I haven't seen the guy, and thus won't roust him.

It seems like the compassionate thing to do is just to let the guy sleep (as long as he doesn't make noise, make a mess, or invite his friends) but there may be issues I'm not considering. What do you think?
posted by pH Indicating Socks to Human Relations (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I live in a townhouse complex. We have a number of binners that come through and most of us residents leave our bottles out to be collected. We have also had people sleeping in the bushes here. We call the police, mostly because there are many children here.

I can be pretty friendly with panners on the street here, asking them how they're doing. But after a variety of conversations I've come to the conclusion that unstructured interactions can be pretty risky. Some people are "normal", but there are others living with significant mental health issues that I can do nothing about. I still will interact with people but I'm more cautious.

What I do now is volunteer with a large umbrella group devoted to housing the homeless, and advocating to provide more services -- I have a lot of experience with grant writing and policy development, and can help in that way. I also speak up in support of the homeless online, and also to local council.

So I try to help and make a difference in relevant ways. But I am careful to set appropriate boundaries.

I would not allow someone to take up residence where I live.
posted by JamesBay at 10:32 PM on June 19, 2018 [10 favorites]

Well, you face no real trouble from the landlord, yes you can safely tell them you didn't know about the guy and sure, it'll be fine.

If the guy isn't hurting anyone or anything, then it really just is a matter of you balancing how much you don't want him there, how much you don't want to risk him potentially behaving badly with your conscience and what you believe to be right. If you feel unsafe, of course nobody would fault you for asserting that he has no business on the property, that is the case even if the result might result in a person hard on their luck getting hassled and sent away because they found a safe, more comfortable place to sleep. Obviously you can have him out of there whenever you want.
posted by floam at 10:57 PM on June 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I bet the young woman who lives alone is uncomfortable about this. Especially if she parks in the back and has to walk past him at night. He may be leaving you alone, but she may be feeling very threatened by a stranger hanging around the building. It's a really crappy thing to not feel safe in your own living space. Help him out with some food or money if you want, but do ask him to leave.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:28 PM on June 19, 2018 [53 favorites]

I think you need to give yourself permission to set some rules / boundaries.
An obvious one would be „hey, most days it‘s fine by me if you want to hang out on our patio during the day, but I need it during the evenings.“

I mean, you can be generous with your patio, if you want to, but it‘s only generosity if you feel you actually have a choice about it. And it seems you feel awkward about saying „no“ and it‘s this lack of choice that makes you feel bad.

So I give you permission to tell the guy „don‘t use our patio“ or give his use some boundaries.

Reasons to say no would be
- you don‘t know the guy. He could be a good or a bad person, observant of social rules and courtesy or oblivious to them. You simply don‘t know. This is unrelated to his being homeless. He is an unknown quantity.
- He is an unknown quantity who is in a very good position to observe the comings and goings in your house. And there is a vulnerable person living there (young woman alone)
- as you say, it might get you into trouble with the tenants/landlord
- People tend to take things for granted once they get used to them. Letting the guy settle in and then telling him to leave if it doesn‘t work out might become problematic.

At the very least, if he‘s going to become a regular, you should talk to him and set up some ground rules. If it were me, as a woman, I would feel uncomfortable with the situation.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:43 PM on June 19, 2018 [12 favorites]

but doesn't everybody who is lucky enough to have a home tend to wish the homelessness problem would just go away?

Well, to be honest, not everyone thinks this way, no. I knew a couple who, when they found out a homeless person was sleeping in their car every night, instead of getting the car door lock fixed, they started leaving sandwiches and blankets in their car. No, this was not some small town - it was Boston.

So you absolutely get to decide how you handle this situation, and you don’t need to approach it as universal that everyone would do a similar thing.

And similarly...

I bet the young woman who lives alone is uncomfortable about this.

You don’t actually know this, and I would hesitate to make decisions based on what I speculate others might want. Maybe ask your nieghbors what they think?

Good luck!
posted by greermahoney at 12:53 AM on June 20, 2018 [30 favorites]

Nthing this: If the guy isn't hurting anyone or anything, then it really just is a matter of you balancing how much you don't want him there, how much you don't want to risk him potentially behaving badly with your conscience and what you believe to be right.

I would talk with the single woman neighbor first to see how she feels/what she's experienced. If all has been OK with her, then it would depend on what I know of the other neighbors – I tend to err on the side of idealism (re: people in difficult situations), so if it's pretty certain that other neighbors don't see him and he hasn't bothered the single woman, I would not take the risk of advertising his presence to the other neighbors. If indeed the single woman is OK with the guy, then I'd talk with the guy himself.
posted by fraula at 1:23 AM on June 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is a really compassionate ask! It may be helpful to break it down a bit.

If you are uncomfortable you can ask him to leave. If your neighbours are uncomfortable they are likely to mention it to you, at which point you can decide together how to act.

If you aren’t sure what the best approach to either him staying or you asking him to leave it might be useful to call a homelessness support group for advice.

sidebar: The single woman may be perfectly capable of looking after herself - I am bristling a bit at all the projection going on here.
posted by freya_lamb at 1:43 AM on June 20, 2018 [17 favorites]

See what resources are available in your area. You might be able to point him to an organization that can help him find permanent housing. Or your city might have an agency which visits homeless people to try to hook them up with social services.
posted by bunderful at 5:12 AM on June 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you don’t want to talk to him face to face you could leave a note, and explain what you want
a) sorry but you have to leave
b) I don’t mind you sleeping here occasionally but if you do it often or are around in daylight someone may call cops
c)here’s some phone numbers for places you can call for help
d) etc
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:54 AM on June 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

That's really kind of you, but it's definitely a complicated situation. If you want to let him stay, I think it would be best to talk to him and to your neighbors rather than pretending you don't know he's there. You mention that technically it's a shared space, even though it's seen as yours. Your neighbors might assume that you know him when they see him there; if anything were to happen to one of them (not saying this is likely), how would you feel? I think it's a little unusual that he's there- I live somewhere with a really high population of people who are homeless, but I see them in public spaces, and I've never seen someone sleeping in my backyard or anyone else's yard. It makes me wonder a little about his mental state. Does he leave when he realizes that you're home?
posted by pinochiette at 6:16 AM on June 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

Have you completely ruled out that this is a guest of one of your neighbors? Weird for him to be sleeping out there if he’s visiting one of them but stranger things have happened. At any rate I would talk to the neighbors to see if anyone else has knowledge of who he is/what he’s doing there.
posted by little mouth at 6:36 AM on June 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is he asleep every time you see him? If not, as you're walking by, "Good morning! I don't think we've met...?" You'll quickly learn if he's a friend/guest of a neighbour, and, depending on his behaviours/responses, get a better gauge of his wellness.

In your shoes, with him causing no issues, I'd let him use the space and, honestly, I'd probably leave him the occasional bottle of water or snack. It can be so hard to find a peaceful, quiet, and safe place to just exist by yourself when you're experiencing homelessness. It sounds like he's not intending to move in there - no tent, no belongings left behind.

If, however, you determine that having him there is going to be an issue - for you or your neighbours, or as a result of his behaviours - it's okay to let him know. Unless you absolutely find yourself in a bad situation, please don't call police to move him along. If you're comfortable telling him directly, great, but if not, leave him a note. Save police involvement for the last resort.
posted by VioletU at 7:00 AM on June 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

You don't have enough information to know if letting him stay is a good idea, or a bad idea.

Maybe he's just down on his luck. Allowing him to charge his phone and get some rest might be helpful for him on the path of improving his life, and he'll never bother you and will eventually move on.

But on the other hand, maybe he's the kind of guy who will push boundaries. Maybe he has a drug habit. Maybe he'll start stashing his stuff on your patio, or leaving litter all over the place. Maybe someday he'll need to figure out a way to get money, and robbing you might seem like a good idea. You don't know.

Talk to your neighbors about him, so that they are aware of the situation. Then, talk to him so that you can get a read on the situation. If possible, don't talk to him alone. You don't know who you're dealing with.

When you do talk to him, figure out what you're going to say. If it were me in your situation, I'd want to gain two things from a conversation with him:
1. I'd want to know what his story is, and generally get a read on his physical and mental health. Does he have a mental health problem? Drinking or drug problem? Is there an organization in your community that could help him?
2. I'd want to set clear boundaries for him, so that he knows what's okay and what isn't.

In order to set clear boundaries, I'd need to know what those boundaries are. So if you take this path, figure out what your limits are before talking to him.
posted by cleverevans at 9:05 AM on June 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would first talk to the neighbors about how they feel and what they feel should be done. If they feel he should go away, I think maybe a couple people from the building should approach him and ask him nicely to move on. Please don't call the police as a first option unless this person leaves you no choice, especially if they are black or mentally ill.
posted by cnc at 9:29 AM on June 20, 2018

It is a tricky situation. I tend to feel however though that is a person is pushing social boundaries it makes me unsure at what line will they stop testing. And you can't really relax because the person may stay at one boundary for a while and then suddenly cross a boundary you hadn't thought of. The fact you said it was (I think) a one-time overnight when no one was using the patio, then expanded to the morning as well, and now an evening (which you explicitly said is the one time you would like to use the patio) makes me think he is testing to see how much he can get away with.

It is good to have compassion, but at the same time, is sleeping on your porch 24/7 really a sustainable long-term solution? I would talk to him, (being careful about not revealing personal information about yourself because again, all you know about him right now is he does not have the same social boundaries as most people) and ask how he proposes resolving the situation (one more night and then he moves on, asks for a list of homeless shelters, etc)

With him there, he is privy to an awful lot of information about the residents of the house such as what they own and what their normal daily routine is. If there was any type of robbery he would of course be the first suspect, even if he was innocent. I just don't see any way for this this work out well for anyone. Homelessness is definitely a society-wide problem, but expecting you to solve it seems rather above and beyond any normal social duty. Let us know how you choose to resolve it!
posted by saucysault at 9:41 AM on June 20, 2018 [13 favorites]

Maybe just do nothing and then if he exhibits some bad behavior (leaving the place a mess, urinating there, disturbing conversation, etc) then ask him to leave. I would NOT leave water or snacks because you could be opening yourself up to other less stable homeless people if word gets out about a spot with water and snacks.

Also, please don't go outside barefoot. In case they are an injection drug user, you do not want to get stuck by a dirty needle.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:04 AM on June 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Many years ago I had a homeless guy living in my carport. The first time I pulled in and he was there, he ran away and I was glad. Over time, he stopped running away and I stopped being nervous that he was there. Then we started saying hello. Then I started leaving him my empty cans to trade in for money. Then he started washing my car. Then I left him a blanket on an extra cold night. Over time I began to consider him a friend. He and I both got lucky in this regard. But he was also a crack addict and had worn out his welcome elsewhere many times before. By the time he got to my carport, he had decided that he wouldn't use where he was sleeping and wouldn't stay there when he was high. From time to time I would see him high out in the neighborhood aggressively panhandling and otherwise acting in unstable ways. But he was never like this in my carport. I trusted him in a guarded way. I moved away a year or so after I first saw him, he helped me at my moving sale.

Say hello to the dude and trust your gut.
posted by Pineapplicious at 11:53 AM on June 20, 2018 [18 favorites]


The guy did not leave trash or belongings on the patio, was asleep every time I saw him, and my neighbors didn't say anything about it. My upstairs neighbors (the large family) are, one or another of them, nearly always outside at any time of the day or night - working on their cars, hanging out in the garage with the door open, coming and going or whatever. They are Latinx, like the dude on my patio, and I realized that (a) they would certainly be aware the guy was there, (b) maybe knew the guy, and (c) if they did not know him, would make their own threat assessment, probably more accurately than I could do. This family is the best set of neighbors a person could have; nothing I do bothers them, and they are constantly apologizing for the noise they don't make and the inconvenience they don't cause me. So if I mentioned the guy to them, and they did know him, they would decide I was uncomfortable no matter what I said, and the guy would be gone. But I was not really uncomfortable -- not yet.

So I said nothing, and did nothing. I haven't seen the guy the last few days.

I would like to feel that I helped somebody -- in providing the electricity to charge his phone, and temporary use of a pretty darn comfortable Adirondack chair -- things negligible to me, but potentially very much needed by him. Win-win.

Thanks everybody for your perspectives!
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 12:39 PM on June 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

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