Homeless Donations

For the Homeless Experiment I ended up leaching off some public services for a few days to see what homeless life was like. In all honesty I don’t feel like giving much back (I was much more enthused to donate a computer to the library than I am to give to the homeless shelters), but something tells me I should at least replace what I took.

Therefore I think there’s three places I should donate back to:

The ARCH of Austin:
I stayed here for a night in “The Penthouse”, got to take a shower and was fed a meal. I don’t like how they’ve put a homeless shelter right in the heart of the Downtown Entertainment District, but I do like the services provided. If someone were to actually want to get out of homelessness, the ARCH provides everything you need to live for a while at no costs….thus giving you valuable time to get back on your feet.

The ARCH has an online donation page, so I just pledged $30 as a donation through PayPal.

Caritas of Austin:
I ate here several times through this experiment and also took extra food to survive on. They let me in, no questions asked, allowed me to take as much food as wanted and were very kind to everyone. I also crashed one of their fundraiser events a while ago, so I suppose some small donation is well deserved for this organization.

Their basic function to serve meals to the needy is fulfilled, however their success at consistently serving good meals to anyone in need almost makes some people feel entitled to this service. However I’m guessing those feeling entitled are a small majority…it was mainly some of the obvious drug addicts. Almost everyone else there very much appreciated the valuable community service they provide.

Caritas has a donation page where you can donate online and select a particular service to send the money to. I donated $30 to the Community Kitchen which I ate meals from.

Black Mike:
This is the guy I met under the bridge my first day out and my last day out. Mike is actually quite intelligent, able bodied and yet still homeless. He is the kind of guy who makes you want to say, “WHY DON’T YOU GET A JOB YOU BUM!?”

I spent the most time with Black Mike and was amazed by how much he read. He loves reading fantasy novels…big, giant 500+ page fantasy novels that have over 10 series of books in them. He enthusiastically told me elaborate stories about blue dragon eggs, faraway fantasy lands and a bunch of other crap I didn’t care about….but he really loved that stuff.

I asked him, “Well you’re smart, imaginative and have a lot of free time, why don’t you write your own fantasy novel?”

He was almost floored by the question.

I quickly realized in his world people rarely highlight his better qualities or give him motivation to move beyond his current state. The people he begs from don’t, the other bums on Riverside don’t. I started hounding him on this line of questioning because I think it could actually help him.

Imagine this: A homeless guy whose been to the penitentiary and ended up living under a bridge for years becomes a fantasy novel author….now THAT’S a success story to tell! He could milk that story for all it’s worth to gain notoriety and therefore gain exposure for any books he writes.

I actually do not support him living under a bridge and begging for money to buy beer with day after day. Therefore I will not give him money and I will not give him beer (although that’d be a great gift to almost any bum on the street).

So here’s what I’m going to donate to Black Mike:

  • Before I went home I left him my sleeping bag, jeans, extra socks, poncho and sweater hoodie.
  • A plastic storage container to store/organize his stuff. All his stuff is collectively dumped into a cardboard box with no top. Raccoons and cats routinely get into it. This should help curb that.
  • A book on how to write science fiction. The book is actually called, “How To Become A Famous Writer Before You’re Dead” and has a lot of information that he could use to at least ATTEMPT becoming some sort of writer.
  • A composition journal (the kind I almost always carry with me).
  • Two Zebra pens (my favorite pens).

So monetarily-wise I’m not giving him much back, my total bill for all this stuff (sans the old stuff I left him) was around $35 (book was most expensive), but I think if he takes some advice and tries to get a novel off the ground it could have some long-lasting impact on him….much more than a couple of bucks would. Perhaps he won’t become a best selling author (although you never know), but at least if he takes on writing as a serious hobby it could somehow lead to a better and more fulfilling life.

I can’t say I’d be willing to help walk him through all the steps, but I’ll have given him the encouragement and tools to make it happen. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

So tomorrow afternoon I’m going to swing by the ole bridge and give him this stuff:

This should even out what I’ve taken from the world for this experience.

Blog posted on: June 10, 2009

18 comments on “Homeless Donations

  1. John

    Good work.
    You should put your phone number in the front of the book. This way he can contact you in a years time if he writes it. :)
    I doubt he will know what to do with his scribblings.

    If he does write it, you could even scan the pages, posting them on-line so readers of your blog could help type it up. Then submit it to an independent publisher. One of those publish your own book type places :P

  2. nethy

    Hi Nev,

    I don't mean to sound harsh, but something I always wonder about.

    Why do Americans always seem so antagonistic towards the homeless? I'm not naive (I hope). I know that the story of a perfectly capable homeless person that just isn't motivated to get their life together is not just made up. Sort of a beefed up version of a teenager that just won't go to school.

    There are other stories. Hard life. Hard circumstances. Mental illness. People with trauma in their background are a lot more likely to end up homeless, for example. Almost by definition they don't have (or have exhausted) their family safety net without which many more would be homeless.

    Basically, you have a choice of some sort. Which story rings true when you don't have all the facts? Americans seem much more inclined to believe the first one. I'm just wondering why.

  3. Oke


    I really love the experiment you have done and how it has opened your eyes to something you thought about. I can' wait to do this experiment my self. I should just get it over with like you have and see what I learn. For now I am taking pictures around Houston of homeless people.

    It is cool that you are giving back in your own unique, specific way.

    Keep it up. Thanks for the motivation

  4. Neville

    I'd actually rather not get too involved. If Mike hasn't uplifted himself off the streets yet, I don't know how serious he is about it.

    It's hard to classify what "All Americans" think (just look at our split elections)!

    I personally don't like the idea of an able-bodied homeless person because they leech off the productivity of the greater society . It's like the person in a group project who isn't doing any of the work…no one likes that person. My opinion.

    I grew up in Houston, and it definitely has MUCH rougher areas than Austin does.

    Black Mike told me stories about him being homeless in Houston, and HE LOVED IT! He says he might visit again. Austin was easier to live in, but Houston had tons of stuff going on (he told me stories of an H.E.B. grocery he used to hang out where all sorts of shenanigans were constantly going on).

    As for one of the posts on your blog where you gave the homeless guy some burgers, I doubt he needed them. Homeless people want MONEY not FOOD (yea, you'd think it was the opposite). I was very successful holding my "JUST NEED FOOD" sign, but the asking for money signs don't work as well.

  5. Anonymous


    I'm so pleased to see you decided to make some small donations.

    Do remember that just because someone is highly intelligent doesn't mean he isn't mentally ill and an alcoholic who so far has not been able to get his life together exactly because of those untreated issues (and vice versa). Not everyone mentally ill hears voices or speaks in jibberish.

    I happen to be an author as well, and as difficult as submitting a novel for publication has been for me from my middle-class home office, the chances of Mike being able to do so without any help are zero. But it must feel good to him to know that you think he has talent and potential, and I think that could mean a great deal to him. So thanks for your kindness to him.

    To nethy's comment, I think people want to be antagonistic toward the homeless in America because seeing people who, except for a few bad breaks, could be us puts the lie to the notion that America is a fair system where "anybody can make it on their own if they work hard enough." That can be true only if American communities are willing to embrace everyone within them as neighbors and offer a little help to those who struggle or lack resources. In my case, my willingness to do that comes out of my personal religious faith (helping the unfortunate is a central tenet of all world religious) and of a strong sense that more than doing anything to "deserve" the plenty I enjoy, I hit the lotto by being born into the right family, having the chance to go to good schools, having family and friends with resources I could depend on during rough times in my life and building on all those advantages ever since.

    Bryan Gilmer
    President, Genesis Home, Durham, N.C.

  6. L.Marie Joseph

    "A friendly black guy
    I met who is staying under this same bridge." LOL

    Why must you give hime the title "black Mike"

    Just say you met a guy….

  7. nethy

    I definitely don't mean to characterise all Americans. It's a pluralistic place. I just note a higher level of hostility. Also a higher willingness to assign blame. Less willingness to assign empathy.

    I actually think it's a bit misleading to try & bring up mental illness as a binary (yes or no), with a yes being a complete excuse & a no being an on-your-bike.

    My own view is that homeless is like anything in a society. Shake the box & some fall out. Fault is something you can assign at the individual level. But no matter how easy & straightforward the opportunities are in a society, some fallout of the box. We can probably guess the number that will fall out tomorrow.

    Consistent failure to achieve basic goals & function within a society will do as a definition of 'mental illness' Call it something else if mental illness is taken. But you get my meaning.


    Let me ask you something. If homelessness meant hungry, would you empathise more?

  8. Oke


    I think you are right about the food situation, I saw the same homeless guy the other day and he was smoking a cigarette. He looked like he was fine for the most part. Before I do my experiment I'm going to see if I can talk to a couple of them. I know they will probably, for the most part, push me away. But I will see.

    So are you still thinking of being homeless or have you gotten that thought out of your head? We never know what we will think about the situation once we are removed and living our same lives again.

  9. linda

    I'm VERY proud of you. I was miffed at your reply to my question before and am quite please and proud of you after reading this entry. KUDOS.

  10. Kdas


    I'm proud of you for FINALLY going through with this, and I like what you learned from the experirment, and that you gave back in your own, particular, calculated way! Keep up the adventures. Following you from the big apple…


  11. Anonymous

    Nev, more than saying whether mental illness is or isn't a "legitimate excuse" for Mike or others to be homeless, I'm asking you to re-examine whether you're in the station in life you occupy because of merit or because of fortunate circumstances (some of each, I'm sure, but if you are honest, maybe more of B) and whether Mike is in his situation mostly because he screwed up and made poor decisions or because of unfortunate circumstances (some of each, I'm sure, but maybe more of B). Because of his background, he may not even KNOW to do the things that seem obvious to you that he should do. He probably doesn't have the self-esteem to ask for many of the things he needs. So all I'm asking you to do is not to be so quick to judge and look on him with compassion.


  12. drake

    Idea for a new homeless experiment/donation:

    This post about Nev encouraging Mike to become a writer gave me an idea. How about giving out a pen, few sheets of paper, self-addressed and stamped envelope and asking a homeless person to write down how he/she ended up homeless. Perhaps include 5 or 10 bucks to encourage them to follow through and write and mail it back. Do this for dozens of homeless people and compile the responses on a website for better understanding of the homeless.

  13. sigflup

    oh yeah- try it for six-months then tell me about it. Five days isn’t a proper study. Five days and limited exposure to homeless people and assuming stuff like all homeless people drink isn’t a proper study.

  14. sigflup

    “Mike is actually quite intelligent, able bodied and yet still homeless”

    Well maybe he has a severe distrust of authority. That’s fairly common.

  15. Rob Greves

    We always give to our Church, or many times just to the guys sitting peacefully along the walkway at Pikes Place Market. Unbeknownst to me, a long time friend since grade school suffered a stroke and became homeless. When our high school reunion came in the summer months of 08 he was noticeably missing. I kept looking for him for months afterwards and finally found him as we came into a record freezing December. The details of my friendship and encounter are on both the gofundme site as well as my dowknowhow site; it’s a good read if you have a moment.
    My primary concern is to make sure Brian is okay during our harsh winters. I will also donate 10% of the proceeds from my site as it gains momentum to make sure Brian as well as others are cared for around Seattle during the winter months if possible.
    It started with Brian and will always be called Brian’s Fund but after this winter I’m hoping it will grow to help others less fortunate around Seattle. If continues to prosper I will keep the focus of help one to one and personal, and in the form of direct aid and comfort to those who have suddenly found themselves without. And if I’m able I’ll keep helping in more cities and who knows… maybe some day Brian’s Fund will grow to State wide, National or even worldwide eventually. I think that would be very cool for the people who remember it as a single attempt to help a single person in the beginning.

    And soon to come… Simply “Brian’s Fund” A fund to help make sure anyone homeless stays warmer in the winter.

    For fifty years I’ve asked the Lord for a focus in my life. Little did I know he gave it to me when I was just 12 years old on the day he introduced me to Brian back in 1972.

    It just took me 48 years to listen. But I’m listening now…

    Rob Greves


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