Austin Texas Team Real Estate Blog

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What Does a "Homeless" Person Look Like These Days? Food for Thought

As a kid growing up in Dallas, I remember having a pretty distinct mental picture of what homeless people looked like, although I'm sure that some of what formed this image came from movies and TV. Included in my own perception were the following traits:

  • Dirty clothes and hair
  • Unkempt appearance
  • Sunbaked skin
  • Possibly alcoholic

As a grown man, I know that there are many homeless people who don't even meet ONE of the criteria above. As a result of a weak economy, the Robo-signing scandal of the late 2000's (which resulted in tons of erroneous and/or fraudulent foreclosures), and other variables that are too numerous to detail here, many of the "homeless" population in our country look just like you and me.  This scandal caused many thousands of honest, hardworking people to lose their homes unjustly.  In fact, you may have a co-worker or someone sitting next to you at church who is technically homeless. 

Take a minute to consider the term by itself, without any preconceived baggage attached: homeless. In essence, this just means "without a home". Depending on where you live, you may know someone who is living with family or friends to try to get back on their feet. This, too, is homelessness, although they are in better shape than those who are living on the streets or under bridges, of course.

As winter approaches and the Christmas spirit begins to bring to mind the faith, family, and friends that we cherish, give some thought to how you can make a difference. As a real estate broker, I see many, many vacant homes through the course of an average month. Sometimes, these are the result of foreclosure proceedings. Other times, people were forced to leave to pursue work elsewhere. With the bank-owned properties, I wish there were a way to use some of these places to house homeless families temporarily. But I digress...

My wife and I assist a number of needy and homeless families in the Austin area. One tragic flaw we've noticed is the fact that the system (at least locally) isn't set up to provide housing for intact homeless families. If you are a single woman with children, or a single man, you can probably find a shelter, but if you want to stay together, it's much tougher.  The system separates men from women and children, so homeless families must choose between staying together or staying off the streets.

Give some thought to these "invisible" people who are all around us. Yes, there are chronic homeless individuals, some of whom may actually prefer living on the street. However, having worked with several homeless families, one of whom lives with us currently (yes, really), this is not as prevalent as you probably think. In fact, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, fewer than 16% are chronically homeless, while 239,403 people in families are homeless on any given night. 

If you've read this far, you're probably wondering how you can help (or why I am rambling). Here are some things to consider:

  • Rather than simply assuming that every person on the street corner with a sign is a lazy bum or planning to use the money for drugs or alcohol, consider talking to them for 5 minutes to hear their story. You may be surprised at what you hear. I have done this several times, including twice this year. My wife did this back in late July and you can read the story here along with what we're trying to accomplish for our friends: http://actvra.in/MTQ

 

  • Consider volunteering/serving at a homeless shelter or local food kitchen, even if it's only during the holidays. This can seem daunting if you are unaccustomed to being around true poverty, but it will also put your own life in perspective very quickly. When I was first faced with real need, I realized that I didn't have anything to complain about with my own finances, health, etc. There are typically opportunities every week to do good in your local community.

 

  • Give when you can, using your discernment.

 

In my own experience, few things are more rewarding than helping others who need it. Often, it's just a matter of noticing when someone needs help and not ignoring the opportunity.

If you're interested in hearing more about my own experiences with needy families, I would be happy to share with you. I promise that helping those who are considered "the least of us" can be hugely rewarding.

Thanks for reading!

Image source: Flickr Creative Commons via FOTFUser

 

If you're looking for a home in the Austin area, you can also visit my primary website at www.austintexashomes.com.  Thanks!

Comment balloon 49 commentsJason Crouch • December 13 2012 12:38PM

Comments

I made the mistake a few weeks ago of rolling down my window with a bill in hand.  The man positioned on the corner came to my vehicle and as I was handing him the money I asked, as I always do, "Are you going to be using this for drugs or alcohol?"  I've asked that before and people have said, "No ma'am, I just need to pay for my room," or "I haven't eaten," or they tell me about trying to get enough money to buy a bus ticket to get back home . . . wherever home may be.  On this occasion, the man became very agitated, cussed me out telling me I had no idea what being homeless was all about (true statement) and then said a bunch of "f' you's and your money", and tossed the bill back at me.  I will no longer contribute that way, i.e., to someone soliciting on a street corner.  I will donate to the local Salvation Army or other local shelters. 

#1 Shame on you for turning this into a political rant.  The problem has been around for decades.  The point of Jason's post was to encourage volunteering, of which he and his wife has done. 

Posted by Carla Muss-Jacobs, RETIRED (RETIRED / State License is Inactive) almost 6 years ago

Carla - I'm sorry that happened to you. If you're interested in giving toward a very worthy cause that we're working on here, please check this out: http://actvra.in/MTQ

Posted by Jason Crouch, Broker - Austin Texas Real Estate (512-796-7653) (Austin Texas Homes, LLC) almost 6 years ago

My parents were political refugees and temporarily homeless.  We squatted in a cabin in Canada in the dead of winter, with no electricity...at the time, I never understood why my sister and I had to stay in bed all day under the covers fully dressed while my dad hitchhiked to work.

Later on, my mother had a small business in a large market next to a bus station where all kinds of transients came through.  People would yell obscenities at the homeless, who everyone called "BUMS"...as a child, I worked alongside of my mother who always made me show them respect and fix anyone that was hungry and had no money, free sandwiches to eat. 

My mother lived a very long and fulfilled life, no doubt to her generous spirit for those less fortunate.

I am grateful for the lesson.

Eve

Posted by Mike & Eve Alexander, Exclusively Representing ONLY Orlando Home Buyers (Buyers Broker of Florida ) almost 6 years ago

The world of the homeless seems very far from yours -- but in some ways it is very near. For any of us, the loss of a job, the death of a spouse or a child or a severe physical disability could be the route to total despair. These are the very tragedies that have happened to many homeless people. Yet, I agree with Carla, for some of them : it is a convenient way to live, they don't want to change a thing.....I had experience: you help them, the very next day they are back to the same spot...

Posted by Inna Ivchenko, Realtor® • Green • GRI • HAFA • PSC Calabasas CA (Barcode Properties) almost 6 years ago
Jason, Homeless people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds, gender, ages, etc. It is not up to us to judge it is up to us to help and offer direction and assistance to get those that want to improve the situation into a better situation.
Posted by Debbie Reynolds, Your Dedicated Clarksville TN Real Estate Agent (Platinum Properties) almost 6 years ago

It would scare most "normal" Americans to contemplate how close most of us are to being homeless. We should help and be thankful for our fortune.

Posted by Doug Rogers, Your Alexandria Louisiana Agent (Bayou Properties) almost 6 years ago

Bravo, Mr. Crouch.  Bravo!

And I concur with Doug in comment #7.  Back in the day, I was very close to that term myself.  I'll NEVER forget that.

 

Posted by Jason Sardi, Your Agent for Life (Auto & Home & Life Insurance throughout North Carolina) almost 6 years ago

Jason,

Appreciate your heart for the homeless.  The profile is definitely changing amongst this group, as seen at the Marion House in Colorado Springs... g

Posted by Cherise Selley, Colorado Springs Realtor (Selley Group Real Estate, LLC) almost 6 years ago

I wish I had of seen what #1 wrote...SMH...this time of year is really hard for a lot of folks. Just trying to keep up with expectations.  It's not so cherry for many and being homeless could knock on anyone's door so be careful what you put out in the universe...cause it always comes back at you.

Posted by Cheryl Thomson REALTOR Army Ret, Associate Broker in Northern Virginia ( United Real Estate (703.216.5635) cheryltee47@gmail.com) almost 6 years ago

These times, like no other in my memory, have produced new images of what homelessness is.  The traditional images still exist, but they coexist with images of those, who lost a job, took a new job with less pay, and didn't do anything wrong.  Yet, they lost their homes, and their credit-worthiness has degraded their ability to do what they were once able to do.  I personally know of 2 instances where folks are living in vacation homes on the property of their families. 

Posted by Myrl Jeffcoat, Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent (GreatWest Realty) almost 6 years ago

What a great post - you have quite a heart. . . thank you for sharing.  Homeless. . . alcholoics. . . drug addicts. . . there is always a story and often they just need a listending ear.

Posted by Joy Daniels (Joy Daniels Real Estate Group, Ltd.) almost 6 years ago

I don't know who number 1 was, but whoever would turn this lovely post into a political rant ought to be (but never will) be ashamed of themselves. 

Thank you, Jason, for bringing this to the community. I write about our military and their families frequently, and oftentimes, it is the military and their families who suffer because of the idiocy of the banking system.  I know several military families who have lost homes because of the service that is or was done.  And, the Viet Nam vets were likely the hardest hit of all recent military persons. 

Please, before you judge, talk to the person, and see if you could walk a mile in THEIR shoes.

Posted by Suzanne McLaughlin, Sabinske & Associates, Realtor (Sabinske & Associates, Inc. (Albertville, St. Michael)) almost 6 years ago

Jason- what is it they say "There but for the Grace of God go I?"   My very good friend's son was seriously injured in a wreck when his care was hit by a drunk driver.  It left him with some neurological problems.  I remember her saying that he could be one of the homeless persons we saw on the street were it not for her ability to pay for very expensive care for him.

I applaud and admire you for you and your wife's devotion to helping others. 

Posted by Kathy Streib, Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224 (Room Service Home Staging) almost 6 years ago

Thanks for all of your terrific comments.

Please take a minute to read this related post of mine - we're trying to raise money to help a local homeless family get into sustainable housing:

http://actvra.in/MTQ

Posted by Jason Crouch, Broker - Austin Texas Real Estate (512-796-7653) (Austin Texas Homes, LLC) almost 6 years ago

What an inspirational post.  You're right ... few things are more rewarding than helping those in need.  Personally, I've been actively involved in volunteer work most of my life -- even as a young girl.  Not long ago, I served meals at the local Salvation Army.  Talk about putting your life in perspective.  I'll never forget serving dinner to a homeless man -- and as I set the meal down in front of him, he said "thank you for feeding me."  I still get teary eyed about it.

Posted by Carie Shapiro (North Shore Suburbs & Chicago Real Estate) almost 6 years ago

Jason, you and your wife are bearing much fruit for the Kingdom. Our County is trying to buy/build a facility where families can stay together as they try to get back on their feet financially after losing everything.

Sharon

Posted by Sharon Alters, Realtor - Homes for Sale Fleming Island FL (Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty - 904-673-2308) almost 6 years ago

This economy has hurt many people.  Some have lost their job, and their home through some bad luck, with the social safety net not being able to save them.  It is sad.

Posted by Gary Frimann, REALTOR and Broker (Eagle Ridge Realty / Signature Homes & Estates) almost 6 years ago

Hey, I serve the homeless every day!  When I do a home inspection for someone buying a house, which isn't going to settlement for some days yet, they are homeless and I am offering to help!

But they pay me...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 6 years ago

Jason, my problem with helping the people on the corners is what you ran into earlier this year when they guy flat out lied to you, but you went out of your way to collect donations for him and then had to return the money to those people. You never know if the story you hear is going to be true or not...

Posted by Donna Harris, Realtor,Mediator,Ombudsman,Property Tax Arbitrator (Donna Homes, powered by JPAR - TexasRealEstateMediationServices.com) almost 6 years ago

Nice work getting this out. As you know I have spent more than 12 years as a volunteer with Mobile Loaves and Fishes by donating funds and actually feeding the homeless on a regular basis. The face of the homeless is complex and covers a wide range of people experiencing hard time. The families with children, the working poor, often living in their cars and yes the drunks and junkies. It does not matter, we live in a country so rich and powerful that No One should ever go hungry...for any reason.

For those willing to try and move out of these unfortunate circumstances, it's admirable that people like you and others are able to help make that happen. I applaud you my friend!

Posted by Russell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI (Realty Austin, Austin Texas Real Estate) almost 6 years ago

Jason - thank you for the thougthful article and reminder.  As a person who has spent her entire career in the building and real estate industries, I have seen many friends and acquaintances loose their buinesses, homes, & all they own due to the economy.  Many used retirement funds just to get by, and now worry about the future.  These were VERY hard working individuals who had built themselves a good life. 

It's interesting to me the different attitudes regarding homelessness.  Some are negative regarding a person who does not work.  And to be fair, some people expect to be given a perfect solution out of their problem.  That doesn't exist.  Yes, some have drug/alcohol problems and are unlikely to change. 

It would be best to rememeber that everyone struggling during these times has their own story.  Most would give anything to get back on their feet with a decent job and adequate housing, and most importantly, a bit of hope for the future.   

Homelessness, to an extent, will always be with us.  Perhaps not only the system should change, but our attitudes as well. 

 

 

Posted by Rita Phillips almost 6 years ago

I applaud you for your work Jason. There are many ways one can help the needy if you only look. Our Church opens our kitchen twice a week for various groups in our city to come in and prepare a meal at noon. I volunteer a couple of times a month to drive our bus in order to get the people there who need it. It only takes a couple of hours each time and no out of pocket expense on my part. It is truly eye opening at the different people that come thru those bus doors on any given day. Yes, I have my regulars that know how to work the system, but I also have new ones young and old from time to time that are truly appreciative. For those that thought the only way to give was with your bank account just look around and there are many opportunities available to help in other ways as well.

Posted by Tony Hager, Broker (United Realty Texas) almost 6 years ago

I recently volunteered at Shepherd's Table in Raleigh NC which is set up in a church downtown. They have a great program that gives a huge warm meal every day at noon to anyone who walks in, no questions asked. What a wonderful and eye opening experience that was.  All kinds of people came in. Some may have been alcoholics or on drugs, but most were just hungry. Having a nutrious meal once a day can help anyone be a more productive human being. There were 2 gentleman who started playing the piano after they ate. I thought I was in a concert hall, they were magnificent! Anyone can loose their home or need help. 

Posted by Linda Jandura, Realtor, North Carolina Buyer & Seller Specialist (Raleigh Cary Realty) almost 6 years ago

Last night I volunteered for the Christmas party at the Women's Shelter.  The lady said that abuse crosses all socio economic lines and that they have had Mercedes in the parking lot.  We never know where that other person is coming from.  Growing up in a "bit less than stable" home, I could have been the kid on the street corner.  Much to my daughter's dismay, I usually give money to the street people.  There but for the Grace of God go I.

Posted by Jeanne Gregory (RE/MAX Southwest) almost 6 years ago
Having worked with over 1000 people facing foreclosure I can tell you that virtually nobody ever lost their home due to a wrongful foreclosure, unless they did not make their mortgage obligations. Saying "robo-signing" allowed banks to wrongly foreclose is an urban legend. It was just a lazy way out of doing a lot of paperwork. One's chances of being wrongfully foreclosed on we're about the same as your chances getting hit by lightning. Regarding people that do face foreclosure - I have found that about half are good people that bad things happen to, while the other half are people that acted irresponsibly, and got the consequences. I learned that you can't always tell which bucket people fall into, so you should probably not judge.
Posted by Phill Grove almost 6 years ago

It is truly sad how many people are homeless.  Numerous people are sleeping in tents, cars and even worse, under bridges or on park benches.  Any assistance any of us can give them makes such a difference in their lives and as a friend of mine says "it warms the givers heart".

Posted by Terry McCarley, REALTOR, SRES, CDPE - Cape Coral, FL (REMAX Realty Team - Cape Coral FL) almost 6 years ago

Jason, once a month I volunteer at a soup kitchen and I can tell you for sure that there are lots of people that do not fit your list.  I myself have been down to the good graces of the people around me.  As they say, "shite happens" and we are all in this great boat together---denial will not help.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 6 years ago

Great food for thought here.  None of us can ever know a person's true situation.  Yesterday while in Starbucks, there was a man with his computer and earphones on yet he was sound asleep.  Had a big duffle bag and it made me wonder if he didn't have a place to sleep at night.

Posted by Paula McDonald, Magnolia Realty ~ Granbury, TX 936-203-0279 (Magnolia Realty ~ Granbury) almost 6 years ago

I commend you and your wife, Jason.  Not only do you recognize the problem, but you are actively involved in improving your little corner of the world.

Posted by Dana Wilkinson, Broker-Your TX agent for The Woodlands-Spring-Conr (Connect Realty, The Woodlands, TX) almost 6 years ago

You are right.  When you help others you feel just as good if not better than the person you are helping.  And while you hope the help you give is used in the right way, it is not in your control.  The only thing you control is your motivation and God sees that no matter what the outcome.  This is a great reminder for everyone at all times of the year but especially now during the holidays

Posted by Allana Taylor, Real Estate Taylored 2 U (Caliber Realty & Wealth Management) almost 6 years ago

What a great reminder of a situation that is happening all around us.  Whatever the reasons that led to their homelessness, bless those like yourself that show proactive compassion.  Life can change for the worse quickly so its not good to be judgemental about the circumstances of others.

Posted by Millie Lumpkin (EXIT Strategy Realty) almost 6 years ago

Jason, thank you for shedding light on this important topic.  You are so right about the families not having enough resources.  If we would take a minute to stop and talk to some of these folks, we would be surprised how many are U.S. Veterans who served our country.

Posted by Regina P. Brown, M.B.A., Broker, Instructor (MBA Broker Consultants) almost 6 years ago

Donna - Actually, out of the money we collected for the fraudulent guy I met, only $50 was refunded out of several thousand dollars. The remaining donors allowed me to use it to help a different homeless family (the same ones I discussed in this post: http://actvra.in/MTQ)

I know that some people lie. I'm not worried about helping people who are lying. I am concerned about NOT helping those who are telling the truth.

I don't want to punish those who really need help just because there are people taking advantage of my generosity.

Posted by Jason Crouch, Broker - Austin Texas Real Estate (512-796-7653) (Austin Texas Homes, LLC) almost 6 years ago

I'ts always better to give than to receiveI volunteer many hours a month in a food bank and help feed about 210,000 people a week astonishing numbers but at end I feel like am making a difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by George P. Cruz Sr., PSL FL CDPE, TRC, CIPS (DR Horton) almost 6 years ago

Thanks for the food for thought. In our community we see so many who have learned to "work the system" (ie: 3 food banks within 8 miles - and lying gets them in to all 3) that it's hard to stop and remember that some people really do need help.

I expect the ones who really need it are the ones who aren't getting the government assistance that we see all around us - they either don't fit the model or they have too much pride to ask.

 

Posted by Marte Cliff, your real estate writer (Marte Cliff Copywriting) almost 6 years ago

Hi Jason,

Great post and so much great information for everyone. I know an agent who lost his home and got behind on bills and has been living in his car. I think back and wonder how this could happen. People will go to the YMCA for baths and find food kitchens for meals. It makes me sad.

Last night while in a store, my spouse was sitting in the car and watched a young teen go into a store trash and pull out a plastic container and inside was half of a sandwich. As I walked out, he is sitting on the cement by the door eating this sandwich. He needs to be in a hope getting good food and going to school. There are so many homeless teens and not a lot of foster homes so they must fend for themselves. I am involved in an organization called Youth Hope where they get meals 5 days a week and help get them into school. Many of these kids end up graduating from High School and this is a great feat.

Great post Jason and a lot of great info for the readers.

Posted by Kristin Hamilton CA Realtor, (909) 557-6966- Specialize 55+ Communties Banning (Sun Lakes Realt) almost 6 years ago

My boyfriend have lunch with the homeless sometimes and their storys are soo touching. I always find myself crying. Not all of them are alcoholics or drug attics. Many are just skilled labored or once employees who just happened to lost their job and cannot find work. It's touching because there is a chance I can be in their situation. Thank you Jesus! Hopefully I can do more in the future, but a warm meal is a good starting point.

Posted by Gloria Walters, PA, REALTOR - Selling Homes in the Tampa Bay Area (Charles Rutenberg Realty) almost 6 years ago

You're absolutely right.  The same problem exists here in PHoenix as well.  I volunteer annually to feed the homeless at a shelter.  I see some of the same faces each year, but last year noticed some clean, polished freshly homeless folks.  Very sad that our economy has affected even more than before.  Kudos to you for your charity and God Bless!

Posted by Jan Green, HomeSmart Elite Group, REALTOR®, EcoBroker, GREEN (Value Added Service, 602-620-2699) almost 6 years ago

Although my perspective is different than yours, I applaud you for helping others, so God Bless you and your family. I believe compassion is in everybody, however, like Donna, #20 states, you never know the true circumstances of the homeless.

Being charitable to your church or other non profit whose mission is to help people in need is a better way, I think about helping homeless people or families. 

American Family Housing in California is an outstanding non profit organization, please go to their website: www.shelterforthehomeless.org. So, please donate to this very worthy charity if you're not already being compassionate and God Bless all who sacrifice with their resources. Thank you for your post. 

Posted by Kimo Jarrett, Pro Lifestyle Solutions (WikiWiki Realty) almost 6 years ago
There are a lot of tough stories out there for sure as the economy struggles along. Most of the people that are struggling that are not chronically homeless are typically people that have little to no education or had a bunch of kids that they could not afford. Very sad situation.
Posted by Rob Arnold, Metro Orlando Full Service - Investor Friendly & F (Sand Dollar Realty Group, Inc.) almost 6 years ago

GREAT blog post Jason!

It has always seemed to me that if every capable family would help to better the lives of another less fortunate family, we would not only be helping those less fortunate, we would also help to improve our nation as a whole.

Blessings to you!

Posted by Emily Lowe, Nashville TN Realtor (The Lipman Group | Sotheby's International Realty) almost 6 years ago

Jason, this is a thought provoking post. The post you linked to about the two homeless families you are currently helping is touching.  We are all in this world to help each other get through life.  You are a special man.  Thank you for sharing.

Posted by Sharon Parisi, Dallas Homes (United Real Estate Dallas ) almost 6 years ago

Jason,  this is really food for thought, in the past met  some homeless people, I did what I could for them at that time, but after I read your post I will get myself more involved with the community! Thanks for Sharing!

Posted by EMILIA B COOPER, REALTOR® SFR.NCHSE.AHWD, Short Sales, Foreclosure & Bank Owned Real Estate (LAROSA REALTY) almost 6 years ago

Hi Jason, excellent post and good point.  Today's homeless may have yesterdays successful business person.

Posted by Bob Miller, The Ocala Dream Team (Keller Williams Cornerstone Realty) almost 6 years ago

Jason there should be a Halo in heaven for you. I read your post and wish the best. As a brokerage we try to do many things for the homeless as well as community projects. I would mention a few but our braokerage contract says that we can't. But I think everyone can give a little.

Posted by Charles Stallions Real Estate Services, Buyers Agent 800-309-3414 Pace and Gulf Breeze,Fl. (Charles Stallions Real Estate Services Inc) almost 6 years ago

You've given a lot to think about. I have been meaning to start working with a local ministry that helps homeless people get back on their feet.  I'll be giving them a call. There's not much that's more important to me.

Posted by Joetta Fort, Independent Broker, Homes Denver to Boulder (The DiGiorgio Group) almost 6 years ago

Yes, I agree the face of the homeless has changed.  What I thought they were as changed as well.  Thanks for the great share.

Posted by Rob Renk, AE | Fast Fix/Flip Loans for Residential Investors (Center Street Lending) almost 6 years ago

Jason you are right the system is not set up to help intact families.  If anything the system is designed to attack intact families.  Thank you for your good work.

Posted by Gene Riemenschneider, Turning Houses into Homes (Home Point Real Estate) almost 6 years ago
Appreciating the dedication you put into your website and in depth information you offer. It’s great to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed information. Great read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.
Posted by Quinton over 5 years ago

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