Poverty-The Worldwide Epidemic 

Since his teenage years, Dwaine Matts has been on his own.  He has depended on the kindness of strangers for the majority of his life.  Most of the 52 years he has lived was spent hitching rides all across the country on railways.  Out of four children, Dwaine is the second oldest and was born in Port Huron, Michigan.  When he was thirteen, he was taken from his parents by his grandparents.  He lived with them in Lake Charles, La. for two years.  Then a tragedy occurred-his grandparents died.  "There was nothing left (in Louisiana) for me, so I went to California," he said.  After hitching a few rides to California, he was picked up by the police who discovered that he was underage.  They sent him back to live with his parents in Michigan, where he stayed over the next two years.  Dwaine’s late grandfather had been a hobo who rode trains and Dwaine decided he was going to be a train-riding hobo as well.  He hitched a ride back to Louisiana.  He considers himself a painter by trade, and has also done some light carpentry work. He has been a school custodian, a cobbler, and has done flooring.  For some unknown reason, Dwaine just never stayed in one place for a long time.  "I can't find a place that satisfies me yet," he said. "The United States is so beautiful I can't stick in one place."  If he’s on the road, his sources of food are soup kitchens and garbage cans.  If he's short on money, he'll panhandle or get short-term jobs.  "I'll set myself up outside a Sherwin Williams or some other paint store with a sign that says I'm a hobo, and that I'm a painter and I need money," he said. "Nine times out of 10 I'll have work by the end of the day."  Despite wherever he ends up, Dwaine knows he'll be back sometime soon.  "I’ll come back next year," he said. "The Hobo Fest in Michigan is Sept. 21."

 What’s the difference between a hobo and a bum?

Believe it or not, the term “hobo” and “bum” are two words with different meanings.  Hobos are people who travel from place to place, often by catching rides on freight trains, looking for work.  Bums are stationary homeless people who do not work, and who begs or steals for a living.  There are other classifications of homeless people.  A “tramp” is a term used to describe a homeless person who travels from place to place, traditionally walking.  Schnorrers, a Yiddish term, are people who travel from city to city begging.

I’m Not Poor, Why Should I Care?

            Most people are aware of poverty but few of these people are actually concerned about this issue.  If it doesn’t affect us, there’s a more likely chance that we won’t be concerned.  Poverty affects us all since we bear its social and financial costs.  Crime, drug abuse, and educational failure are all related to poverty.  It also underlies the need for welfare programs like AFDC, food stamps, and Medicare. 

 The Cycle of Poverty            

Poverty is a never ending cycle that only few are lucky to get out of.  This occurs when poor people do not have the resources they need to get out of poverty, such as financial capital, education, or connections.  In other words, poverty-stricken individuals experience disadvantages as a result of their poverty, which in turn increases their poverty. This would mean that the poor remain poor throughout their lives.  Poverty usually begins from a lack of education.  When teenagers drop out of high school or college and don’t receive the education they need to get a stable well-paying job, they become poor.  This results in the loss of their home and leads to the spiral downfall that poverty causes.    

Panhandling-What is it?           

One fallacy about panhandlers is that they are homeless.  However, the vast majority of panhandlers are not homeless and the vast majority of the homeless don’t panhandle.  Panhandlers are usually strangers that approach you on the street for money which will most likely be spent on drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes.   Panhandling exists in cities of all sizes and is a challenging issue to overcome.  “Giving money to a panhandler is like giving a gun to someone who is suicidal”, says a former panhandler and addict.  Studies show that money given to panhandlers often allows self-destructive behaviors like alcoholism and drug addiction.  Studies show that giving money to panhandlers does not help them because.  Cash given to panhandlers will most likely be used to buy drugs or alcohol, most panhandlers are not homeless.  And for some, panhandling is a profession and at times, a profitable one.  The problem for truly needy panhandlers is not the fact that they don’t have a home, but rather a sign of underlying problems which can be solved with help, not money.  Under the U.S. constitution’s First Amendment, panhandling is legal but people panhandling are required to have a permit issued by the city and must follow the conditions of the permit.     Panhandling is illegal even with a permit if:

  • People panhandle after sunset or before sunrise
  • People panhandle any bus, train, or trolley stop
  • It occurs in any public transportation vehicle or facility including loading and unloading areas
  • It occurs any vehicle on the street
  • On private property unless the owner or occupant has granted permission
  • By using blasphemous or abusive language, during the solicitation or following a refusal
  • In a group of two or more people
  • In a way in which it could be perceived as a threat
  • By intimidating or obstructing pedestrian or vehicular traffic
  • By assaulting or aggressively begging, including any physical touching
  • When using false or misleading solicitations

 What Can Be Done 

Despite age, size, interests, or personality, anyone can help pave the way to a solution of homelessness.  Although the causes and solutions of homelessness are complex, there are small measures and steps that people can take towards solving homelessness.   Donate-The lack of shoes, clean clothes, and education are all factors in the causes of poverty.  A homeless person going to a job interview in dirty clothes and no shoes has a very low percentage of getting the job when someone in better fitting clothes like a suit and tie is applying for the same job.  Donating clothes, shoes, hats, scarves, socks, or books to homeless shelters or organizations for the homeless is one step people can take towards working for a solution to poverty.  Volunteer at a homeless shelter-Homeless shelters welcome all volunteers.  If volunteering at a homeless shelter, volunteers might prepare or distribute food, deliver s “brown bag” lunch directly to the homeless, prepare beds for the homeless to sleep on, or wash the dirty dishes.