Image of a homeless man sitting on a sidewalk.
Gilbert Mercier/ Flickr

There are many schools of thought on how to help the poor. Some believe that government should be at the center, while others believe the way out of poverty is self-reliance.

After being homeless and selling newspapers, my position on helping the poor has changed. Coming from a working-class family in New Jersey, my parents instilled in me that the best way to fight poverty was to go to school, get a job and be frugal with your money. I remember as a child driving through urban areas like Newark and East Orange seeing beggars asking for money and my dad snickering, “If you don’t change your ways, that’s where you will be.”

While I resented what he said, he was proven to be right. I take sole responsibility for my homelessness. I made some foolish choices with the worst being getting involved in drugs and gambling. I don’t blame the White Man or the Republicans for my fall. Ultimately I had to get help somewhere, and there were helping hands from both government and society.

As someone who always had a work ethic, applying for assistance brought me to the brink of suicide. I qualified for many programs that I refused out of pride, but I still have Medicaid and contemplate food stamps periodically because food is so expensive.

I am bipolar with a history of substance abuse issues. Since receiving government help, I have been on medication and have been able to take care of myself. However, if I get a low-income job, I lose my benefits. If you were in my shoes, what would you do?

Although I am grateful to all the social workers and people who have helped me, I still cannot help but become frustrated by the system. From personal experience while staying in shelters, I have seen what appeared to be in my opinion physically and mentally capable males who refused to get off the sofa because they were on the waiting list for government housing.

Sometimes it’s hard to empathize with those whom I saw four years ago whom I still see today laying on the same benches at Franklin Park waiting for bread lines when there are resources like Labor Ready and Street Sense that allowed me to find a place to reside.

This makes me question what is the best way to help the poor. We need to ask the question, does public assistance alleviate poverty or create generational dependency?

I feel if we continue to ask our taxpayers to pay for the ills of others, we need to streamline the system to make sure that assistance is temporary, not permanent. While I believe that there are basic rights that government should ensure such as healthcare and housing, I also believe it’s a moral obligation that we take care of our poor.

Street papers are one solution because they give the poor a chance to help themselves. They teach people who may never understand entrepreneurship how to be self-sufficient without relying on others. It’s empowering to be able to buy daily essentials rather than go to a social worker who may or may not award you assistance. I can testify how my life has not only changed but became transformed by street papers. Is it the solution? Probably not. But it can be a blueprint for other cities as a guide to help those who are able to help themselves.