Comments: 263 • Responses: 54  • Date: 

ImAStupidCollegeKid65 karma

I live in Los Angeles and get haggled by homeless people multiple times a day asking for money or food. Do you believe that most of this money actually helps them get back on their feet? Or goes to drugs and actually worsens their situation?

chwk9163 karma

This is a tough situation. I struggle with it myself so i'm not going to say i have a concrete opinion or knowledge but I don't think it worsens the situation. The thing about being addicted to drugs is that an addict will do ANYTHING to get a fix. You not giving them the 0.13 in your pocket potentially keeps them 0.13 short of some chik-fil-a, but ultimately if they're are going to do drugs then it's not because you gave them some change.

Something i did when I was in college and short on cash myself is rather than giving change I would give my time. So often we walk by without even acknowledging the existence of someone asking for change. So I think it does make a huge difference actually treating them like people. Responding with a no is way better than ignoring. Or even just stopping to ask how they're doing goes a long way to humanizing someone that has been treated like garbage.

F-Izzy44 karma


chwk974 karma


Beanz4ever7 karma

Do you end up turning more away during winter? I would assume that more people can physically, if not legally, sleep outside in the warmer months, and choose to do so. I always notice more "camps" in Portland in the summer months.

chwk96 karma

Interestingly, our numbers go down in the winter because in our city a number of churches run a program that opens up more "low barrier" beds (where it's night by night, first come first serve, sobriety not required)

HaiKarate4 karma

I would think that the winter months would be the worst for turning people away.

chwk92 karma

Yeah it is tough in the winter when we can't find any where. But as i mentioned to someone else:

Interestingly, our numbers go down in the winter because in our city a number of churches run a program that opens up more "low barrier" beds (where it's night by night, first come first serve, sobriety not required)

sandwich_artista083 karma

That's extremely low, I used to be homeless in Portland Oregon and would be turned down almost every day along with 50 plus others, and that's just at one shelter.

chwk93 karma

Yeah, I live in a relatively smaller city ~130,000. I know that in the larger urban areas it is sometimes a really problem especially when the weather becomes unbearable to live outside. No matter what people think, there is always a need for more shelter beds.

iBMeh42 karma

While working at the homeless shelter, have you met any homeless people that have had a serious impact on your life?

chwk965 karma

Without a doubt. This job has had an impact on my life way more then i think I have had on anyone else. Our shelter has a huge focus on community so it is not rare for past residents to stay in our community as guests and volunteers well after they have gotten back on their feet. There are a bunch of us (residents, guests, staff) that regularly hang out because we're now more friends than anything.

cascadewallflower29 karma

Have you witnessed some "success stories" among the people you've served? What was the most dramatic turnaround you've seen in someone's life?

chwk953 karma


Wikiwnt13 karma

So when you say that someone "comes in and out", what does that mean? Where does he go in between?

chwk917 karma

Sometimes a resident will move out to a place that doesn't last. They sometimes get evicted or the place turns out to be a pretty bad situation (Destructive roommates, terrible landlords, or unsafe environments.)

Dogg_0423 karma

What is the layout of the shelter? Are there individual rooms or is it dormitory style with many beds in one room?

chwk933 karma

We're a dormitory style shelter. We have basically 3 dorms. Two men's dorms with 24 beds total and an overflow area with an extra 4. One women's dorm with 5 beds and an overflow area with an extra 3.

There is a common room with couches and a big screen tv mounted on the wall. This acts as both the hang out area and at meal times there are tables for dining. He have two industrial sized washer dryers so residents can do any laundry they need to. We also have a gymnasium for basketball and floor hockey.

Dogg_0418 karma

Thanks. Also, how long do residents typically stay there?

chwk927 karma


Dogg_0417 karma

What do you recommend our society do to prevent homelessness?

chwk929 karma

Well to sum up a really complex solution to a really complex problem: I think that the more connections and places to turn a person has in a crisis the less severe the fall is when a crisis happens. Most of the people we see are here because they have no where to turn and no way to deal with the situation they are in. If we give people help with dealing with their crises we can make it a bit less crushing.

I don't know if this really answers your question but I think this is a larger conversation.

rLeJerk3 karma

Does your facility have showers?

chwk92 karma

Yes we do. Sorry I left that out in the tour. I even thought about it but wrongly assumed.

UndeadOsama19 karma

Are there ever homeless couples? like marriage or just dating? If so, how do you deal with them?

chwk923 karma

Yes there is. Unfortunately because of the set up of our shelter (dormitory style) we are unable to facilitate them staying together in the same bed/room.

athosbr9917 karma

Did you ever meet a homeless person that made you extremely mad and hate the person for any reason?

chwk945 karma


JoeManGee6 karma

Did they get to stay?

chwk93 karma


Scarlett_ptista16 karma

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about homelessness?

chwk95 karma

That people deserve it or aren't trying hard enough to get out of it. A lot of the time, i'll be doing an intake and realize that there is barely a difference between myself and the person across the table. Sometimes it's as simple as the consequences for this guys mistake were way heavier than me making the exact same mistake.

Wikiwnt15 karma

Why don't they hire some of the homeless people to do the work you do? (Sorry...)

chwk929 karma

Giving someone a job isn't always a magic fix to the problem. There needs to be a base, that most of our residents don't have. Alot of the work I do is deal with situations and crises, not just labour type tasks.

Idesofmarch1405 karma

I know it's about prisoners and not homeless people, but if you watch Ramsay behind bars (a show where Gordon Ramsay tries to give jobs to prisoners in and outside of prison) you really see the impact of just giving someone a job. It's not necessarily the most helpful or successful thing.

chwk93 karma

No, there needs to be life skills and stress management skills that unfortunately a lot of people in prisons or shelters don't have. Fixing homelessness isn't just an employment thing its a life thing.

galactica21614 karma

My 8 yr old like to make bags to give to the homeless. Besides food, water, toothbrush, and tooth paste what are other essentials they would need?

chwk97 karma

Socks, underwear, gift cards, and if you're comfortable a letter or a picture. That letter/picture would go along way to humanize people who have for so long been treated like they are garbage. A lot of our resident love getting a chance to get any interaction with kids for a couple reasons, kids are super nonjudgmental and secondly a lot have lost their kids either through burning bridges or all sorts of circumstances. Having a letter or a picture from a kids is a great way to make any bodies day let alone the homeless.

Edit: Also, well done as a parent. The greatest weapon we have against homelessness is caring about each other and I love to hear that you're 8 year old is already living a life where other people matter.

2OQuestions9 karma

I am near a big-city with lots of theme parks. The wages are really low, and most of the jobs are exempt from paying overtime to their employees.

Right now a lot of families are living in hotels (and have been for years) because they can't get far enough ahead for utilities and deposits. Hotel management is starting to get tired of having entire families (usually 6-8 people) 'scare' off regular hotel guests.

The hotel industry is trying to pass local laws limiting stays in a hotel (although what that will do to the snow-bird cash, I don't know). How do the families in your area survive?

Is there room in your shelter for families? At what age do the boys have to be separated from their mothers? Here it is age 12, which potentially means a 12 year old boy being asked to sleep in a room full of men, some of whom have addictions and violent tendencies.

How do you deal with the heartbreak and your limited budget/energy/ability to assist? How do you stay sane?

I am working on my MSW and this AMA is very helpful, thank you.

chwk97 karma

Our shelter, unfortunately, can't support families. There aren't any in our area that do really which is to bad because homelessness, as you know, is not limited to just individuals. My mom manages a shelter for women fleeing abuse which is able to house families but she isn't in my area.

Heart break/staying sane I have an incredible support system around me that understands working at a shelter. My mom managers a shelter, my sister works in a shelter. So they are alway a phone call away when ever I'm dealing with the inevitably breakdowns. I think one of the most important things in our staff is having good relationships between the people i work with. I take every new employee out for lunch to just build a base level relationship that lets them know that we're doing this together so I have a vested interest in how you are doing.

Good luck on your MSW. Never aim anywhere shorter than changing the world, even if it's for one person.

frantic_much8 karma


chwk919 karma

The type of person to work with the homeless: breathing. It takes a heart really, a heart that views the homeless as people. You don't need to worry about managing well. Just be open to living life with the people you interact with. Once you do that it changes from you serving the homeless to something completely different; something where you open yourself up to the reality that more likely than not, you will be the one being changed. I know it comes off as a bit hokey but its true. In the 3.5 years of working at the shelter, I have been the one that has been changed the most.

faroffland7 karma

I'd like to tack onto this question and ask if you think the job would be any different for a woman? I know it sounds like a stupid/loaded question but I am a young woman (early 20s) and would be interested in helping others at a shelter, but I am physically petite and would not be able to easily handle physical confrontation. I'm of course not assuming every resident would be violent but there is a high prevalence of mental illness in the homeless population, and was wondering if being 'strong' physically would be necessary in the job should a physical confrontation arise.

chwk96 karma

My perspective is obviously skewed being a pretty big male (6'5) but I have worked with a number of women and both my mother and sister work in a different shelter for women. The physical confrontation side of the job is very very minor. I can't remember the last time i had to break up a fight or anything or that sort. I might just have had a really lucky run so far but I think having some skills in deescalating situations goes a long way, way further than any physical presence.

DeafandMutePenguin6 karma

Have you ever been threatened? if so how many times?

chwk912 karma

In my 3.5 years I can only really remember really feeling threatened 4 times.

tsparks13074 karma

What kind of shelter model do you guys use? Is it a high barrier i.e. must be sober, looking for work, see a case manager, etc. Or, is it a low barrier, where it's night by night, first come first serve, sobriety not required?

chwk93 karma

We are a high barrier shelter. No drugs or alcohol for 24hr and you must stay clean and sober during your stay. You do see a coach (case manager) and they kinda help to figure out a "next steps" plan. When you stay with us you sign in as a resident and then you can stay with us until you move out or are suspended, with in reason of course.

tsparks13073 karma

Where I am, we have both models. We have two high barrier shelters, one can house up to 24, the other about 10. In the winter, we have a low barrier shelter at rotating sites. I've been homeless off and on since I was 19, I'm 30 now. I've done a lot of volunteer work with several agencies and groups. It's strange being a guest and a volunteer. I help out for a couple hours, checking people in, helping them get what they need, and then when the shift is over, I'm on the other side of it. There have been a few half-baked attempts at a low barrier summer shelter, but the people who are so adamant about having one, aren't willing to do the work to get one going. We also have serious issues with some of the social workers in the area becoming too personally involved with their clients as well. One of the more prominent members of this group has, unfortunately, done far more damage than good by doing this.

chwk92 karma

That's to bad. We have both models run in the winter as well. Being a guest and a volunteer is great though, It's awesome to see that you are invested in making things better, not just because it affects you but because you have a better understanding than I ever could. I would love to see a AMA from someone like you...

window53 karma

Do you ever get people who do not have an official identity? Obviously an American but no social security number? How can you get aid for such a person? How would you go about getting such a person identified as a citizen by the US government so that they could get assistance?

( Just hoping you can answer. There is an elderly woman I got to know while she was staying at a boarding house up stairs from where I work. When she ran out of money she was evicted and is now in the county mental institution because there is no other place to put her. She just went thru life doing odd jobs and never got a SSN. Now her memory if failing and she cannot tell people where she was born, etc. Without an SSN she is not eligible for government aid. )

chwk97 karma

That is tough. I'm working in Canada and the access to aid here isn't easy but in my observations seems to be a lot easier than in the States. We serve those without official identities. We used to require them to be Canadian citizens but no longer.

seraph773 karma

Do you guys have any type of rating system in place? I don't really know how to phrase that, but I just know that there are people going through bad times, that truly need and deserve help, and those that are perfectly content to leech off society for their entire life. During the winter months, there are people you have to turn away, do you get any say in who gets to stay and who doesn't?

I volunteered at a shelter for a couple months, but had to quit after it made me sick having to turn away people in need, while there were chronic abusers/leeches of the system sleeping in a bed because they got there first.

chwk93 karma

We don't use a rating system or anything. I think that would be really hard to deal with. I don't like the idea of me being the one determining if someone is in need. Who am I to say?

Black_Gay_Man3 karma

I have real interest in volunteering for something like this. What made you want to work there in the first place? Does working there fill you with a sense of gratitude for the things you have?

chwk92 karma

Finally, someone asked what got me into this job! I love this story. The ground work had been laid leading up to me every wanting to work in this field because both my mother and sister both work in shelters and homelessness was alway an issue close to the heart of our family. However, my chance came one night when I really wanted to watch a hockey game. I had very few friends in the city because i had just moved in and also did not have cable to watch the game. I contacted a guy i knew just seeing what he was doing for the game and he said he was at work but i could come watch it at his work. I pulled up having no idea it was a shelter until i got inside. Spent the next couple hours just hanging out and watching hockey with this guy and all the residents. It was great. At the end of the night the guy said that I did really great at just having a natural interaction in there and said he was going to tell his boss to talk to me about working there. Coincidently, my hours at my other job had just been cut down to a level that really wasn't sustainable for me and the timing was perfect. 3.5 years later I'm still here all because of a hockey game.

Gratitude wise: Yes, it has changed the way i view my things. I see them more as a means to help other people rather than just make my life better because if it is just for me then what is really the point.

stlfreak3 karma

What is the most ungrateful thing you've witnessed/heard come from one of the shelter's clients, in regards to the services the shelter provides for them?

chwk93 karma

Not a lot actually, a lot of the time we need to be reminded that this is the worst, most stressful time in a lot of our resident's lives. So often it isn't them being ungrateful, its them struggle to cope with what is going on.

However, i once had a group of 18 year olds who obviously struggled to understand that they were coming to me to help them. They did nothing but insult the homeless (kinda ironic) and really gave me a hard time. This was quickly remedied when I reminded them that they could either be more respectful or sleep outside in the snow.

Sepalous3 karma

Have you ever met anyone at the shelter you were surprised were homeless?

chwk92 karma

All the time. A lot of the time, i'll be doing an intake and realize that there is barely a difference between myself and the person across the table. Sometimes it's as simple as the consequences for this guys mistake were way heavier than me making the exact same mistake.

There are a couple intakes that really rattle me. People my dad's age and people my age.

not_yet_named3 karma

What do you imagine we need to do as a society to address the problems of homelessness? What changes should we make to our laws and/or social norms?

chwk93 karma

I think a lot of it comes to the social norms side. As a society it is completely acceptable for us to not care about someone. We easily walk down the street and some how can see someone suffering and be alright with looking straight ahead. Im not trying to stand on a soapbox and say I'm perfect because I'm not, I've done this and still feel the urge to do this sometimes. The sooner we as a society start seeing suffering in other people as a problem that affects us to, the sooner we start really fighting homelessness.

Thanks for the question!

Knight113 karma

What is your opinion on the anti-homeless spikes?

chwk92 karma

That comes down to our societies amazing ability to not care about people. Those spikes scream "You're not our problem, go somewhere else."

falseidentity1232 karma

How does your shelter deal with bedbugs? I know that bedbugs are a serious problem in many shelters in my city to the point where some will avoid going to shelters because of it.

chwk92 karma

Here's the answer i gave someone else, thanks for the question!

Yeah, we are pretty efficient at dealing with it though. Resident comes in from a place known to have bedbug, we wash EVERYTHING. That usually does the trick and if we discover it in our dorms we get it right away.

torgis302 karma

In my city the news hype recently has been all about the resurgence of bedbugs, especially in the inner city, seedy motels, and homeless shelters.

Have you seen any evidence of this where you work?

chwk92 karma

Yeah, we are pretty efficient at dealing with it though. Resident comes in from a place known to have bedbug, we wash EVERYTHING. That usually does the trick and if we discover it in our dorms we get it right away.

SocksForBreakfast2 karma

If you don't mind answering - how much does a position like this pay?

chwk91 karma

Don't mind at all. I get paid $15/hr. It's not raking it in by any means but if i were to leave this job it would never be because I think i should be paid more.

FreedomGoal2 karma

Do you make them clean up after themselves? For example, put sheets into the wash, wash dishes, clean bathrooms, etc... Thanks!

chwk92 karma

We have a "chore list" that everyone signs up on everyday. It's usually just 10ish min tasks that just get everyone involved in making our community a better place to be in.

purplepooters2 karma

Do you notice a gang mentality among the homeless? Here they have different territory, begging spots etc and if you mess with that they will get extremely violent.

chwk91 karma

I haven't noticed that. I do know that they take care of their own. For example, if our residents see someone being an idiot and threatening staff, the guys in our community are the first to step to our defense.

polyphonic_plectrum2 karma

is there any sort of aid available for addicts suffering from withdrawal/looking to get clean? if not, what's it like encountering people very clearly experiencing drug withdrawal?

chwk92 karma

Yeah, in our area we have a detox house for people who are in withdrawal (drugs or alcohol). They are severely underfunded though so we do get people who should be either at the hospital or there. We do what we can but sometimes need to send them to the hospital. I've been told that withdrawal is like being sicker than you ever have in your life, you're entire body is fighting you.

Spencer5cent2 karma

I noticed in another post you mentioned there is a big screen tv in the shelter, how do you deal with security and theft if any problems like that arise?

chwk92 karma

Theft isn't a huge issue for us. Once and a while we have theft between residents in the dorms and stuff but that gets rooted out pretty quickly. When it comes to residents stealing from the shelter, its really rare. I think most of the people in our community really understand that the shelter is kinda "theirs" so to be stealing from us is kinda contrary to protecting what is yours.

inthemorning332 karma

I know from being around homeless people, a lot of them are happy to be in their situation. I couldn't take that life, but they are more free than most of us.

Have you come across these types, or do they not come to the shelter much?

chwk910 karma

I don't know if I would call it "happy to be in their situation." I would describe it as more of a new perspective on life or a happiness despite the situation. Once and while we get someone that is chronically homeless but they are more looking to get a bit of a respite from the really tough painful struggle homelessness is.

DoobiusPrime2 karma

What percentage of people would you say are seriously making an effort to not be homeless? I live in a place where there's hundreds of homeless and from what I see the majority are alcoholics with no desire to turn their lives around.

chwk914 karma

I would say easily 90% However at a certain point of living a life where it seems everything is against you it becomes very easy to lose that desire to turn your life around.

Dbecker78881 karma

Have you ever had a homeless girl that was actually really attractive?

chwk99 karma

I've never been attracted to any of our residents. It's not that there are no good looking homeless people, I primarily work the night shift and really who is good looking when they stumble outside for a smoke at 2:30am?

athosbr99-1 karma

Sometimes I get approached by some homeless person asking for cash. And sometimes they even tell a bullshit story to "I need to take a bus to place X can you help me". I don't give cash to them and I avoid long conversations, but I feel kind of sad inside.

I know persons that give cash to a homeless guy because they feel pity or just want to help and sleep better on the night. But it isn't nor my nor they moral obligation to give cash that I've worked for just because their lives had a bad twist. Something must be done to help those people, but in the end it isn't even the government job to make these peoples lives better.

What are your thoughts on this?

chwk913 karma

Without getting into a ideological debate on government or the role of government. I believe that one of the government's jobs is to prevent people from being homeless. Upon failing that, it is their job to help people out of poverty. When it comes to individuals I think that we are meant to make each others lives better. What is the point of morals if they don't positively affect the people around you?

[deleted]-5 karma


chwk98 karma