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A homeless man who turned his life around by offering book reviews (one.org)
341 points by Tomte on June 19, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 181 comments

This is a great story. But...someone who has the intelligence and work ethic to do this probably wasn't going to be homeless for long.

Honestly, there are probably millions of people who pull themselves together like this - it's just they end up working regular jobs like maintenance work or burger flipping that aren't as inspirational.

The problem with stories like this is they conflate two problems: (1) being down on your luck (but hard-working and reasonably intelligent) (2) being stuck in a poverty loop due to mental illness, criminal record, or countless other complex factors.

Problem (1) is something a lot of HN readers can relate to, especially in their early twenties. Hence, the popularity of this article.

Problem (2) however is the much bigger problem. Unfortunately, what this guy did is only marginally useful in coming up with solutions to that problem.

All that said, I'm sure he's a pretty cool guy.

This is a critical point, thanks for making it. The mythology that all failure is a function of bad work ethic, etc., is a huge barrier to meaningful progress on poverty alleviation.

Anyone interested in reading more on this topic, I rec. this book. It's about people who are near-homeless, not fully homeless, but it's one of the best things I've read on the topic. The author lived with the subjects for several years & does a superlative job of telling their story in that sort of explanatory way (not judgmental or absolving) that HN readers seem to appreciate.


(excerpt of the book here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/08/forced-out)

I doubt anyone thinks all failure is a result of bad work ethic. Of course much is due to mental illness, disability, etc.

But a huge proportion of poverty stems from bad work ethic.

Some of the places in the USA with the highest underemployment are also places where employers are offering decent unskilled jobs and can't find enough workers. The worker gets hired, shows up for a few days, and then starts just not coming to work, randomly. Or he comes in later and later each day, arriving hours late. Or he takes breaks that extend to hours long.

Work ethic is a huge part of the problem, and the constant denial that many poor people (not all) do have everything they need to lift themselves up, and simply choose not to do so, is itself a denial of their human agency and ensures that the policy/cultural changes that could lead them out of poverty are not made. Ultimately, it's staggeringly harmful to them.

In the end the wealthy and the poor both have to make changes to end poverty. It's a team effort. It's not up to a rich savior class to come and fix the dirty people from the outside.

(I'm convinced that many wealthy people don't understand this because they really can't imagine what a true lack of worth ethic looks like; they've just never been at close range with it for an extended period of time and had to face up to the fact that it is a real thing and it is harmful. Ultimately that's a consequence of the closed social bubbles we live in now; we just don't know the other classes because we're so isolated from them.)

> But a huge proportion of poverty stems from bad work ethic.

Is there a morally relevant distinction between mental illness and bad work ethic? There is a lot of research to suggest that things we associate with "bad work ethic" (e.g. lack of impulse control) appear extremely early in childhood development and aren't things people necessarily have much control over.

We need to stop moralizing things that people have no control over. We've realized this in a limited way--it is no longer acceptable to make fun of people with intellectual disabilities (IQ < 70). But there is still a weird doughnut hole were it is perfectly acceptable to make fun of people with 70 < IQ < 90. Your mental abilities are mostly an accident of birth, like having rich parents. There is no moral dimension to it.

There is a kernel of something I agree with in your post, though: social structures can add a lot of value in helping people who might not be that bright or might have problems with impulse control to lead productive lives. That's a major shortcoming of our current approaches to fighting poverty, which emphasize individualism.

Lead poisoning and 'bad work ethic/poor impulse control' can look very similar.

However, poor work ethic as a mental shortcut plays into the just world viewpoint. Where lead poisoning contradicts it which is IMO why so many people think in terms of work ethic.

>Lead poisoning and 'bad work ethic/poor impulse control' can look very similar.

As can the effects of traumatic brain injury and chronic abuse or neglect.

The correlation between intelligence (IQ) and conscientiousness (work ethic) is not at all clear btw. Some studies have actually found a negative correlation.

The most intelligent people I've know have tended to be quite lazy. The most successful were often smart, but more commonly passionate and hard working.

Most highly intelligent people spend the majority of their K-12 schooling taking classes designed for average-intelligence people who match their chronological age. They can achieve at a given level in class with much less effort than those around them, and they generally aren't given a strong incentive to achieve more. If they develop the habit of working hard to achieve at their limits, it's probably because they have a strong interest that they pursue outside of school.

I'm not saying that IQ and work ethic are linked, but rather that both are things that are to various degrees outside your control: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/to-predict-succes.... Whether it's biological factors (e.g. there are measurable differences in the brains of violent offenders), environmental factors (lead), or nurture, by the time someone has reached the age of moral culpability, I'm not sure how much control they have over what we call "work ethic" or "self discipline."

> But there is still a weird doughnut hole were it is perfectly acceptable to make fun of people with 70 < IQ < 90

I agree that what we call "bad work ethic" is just something that happens to people in that IQ range.

Now the problem is, what are we supposed to do with these people?

If I were to start a small business, I would probably like to avoid having such people work for me.

The only entities that can afford to hire these people are large corporations like Walmart and McDonalds, but because they are large and powerful, they also get to abuse these people.

Something like lack of impulse control can be learned to a certain degree. As can other things that are associated with bad work ethics.

A solution could be that the government offers help for people who struggle finding jobs. Training courses can help them finding (and most important, keeping) a job.

Some European countries already have courses like this and underemployment there seems lower than in the US. But crucially, free mental healthcare is an important part of this so that those who need help can get it.

> I agree that what we call "bad work ethic" is just something that happens to people in that IQ range.

I want to very clearly point out, that the fact that you agree doesn't in any remote way make the statement any more factual. This again is an unsubstantiated claim, presented with zero evidence.

Thank you for your disagreement. I would like to point out that your disagreement does not in any remote way make my statement any less (or any more) factual.

I don't know why you assume the claim is unsubstantiated. I think it makes a lot of sense that people with lower IQs will have a lot of trouble in life.

Maybe it's not due to bad work ethic but merely due to them not having the cognitive ability to function properly in society in such a way that allows for the positive exchange of value.

I maintain that people with low IQ have this problem that makes it incredibly difficult for them to climb out of poverty, and I think this claim is very much substantiated, but I am not a scientist so I cannot back this up, but I have heard it on multiple occasions from people who I consider authorities on the subject.

> perfectly acceptable to make fun of people with 70 < IQ < 90

I have pretty high IQ and a mediocre at best work ethic. I don't think these things are linked.

> But a huge proportion of poverty stems from bad work ethic.

Been burned by your underpaid workers' flakiness much? Citation, please.

> In the end the wealthy and the poor both have to make changes to end poverty. It's a team effort. It's not up to a rich savior class to come and fix the dirty people from the outside.

Is anyone saying this? My impression is that most poor people want jobs, and are begging political figures to come Bring Jobs! How do you interpret that as poor work ethic?

(Meanwhile, I'm eyerolling at the "the dirty people" comment. Are you trying to virtue signal your superiority over those people here?)

I apologize for citing something without citing something, but perhaps it will help someone else find it - there was a study or work program that found paying high poverty people every two weeks was too long a gap. Many workers wouldn't return to the jobs. When they went to a daily pay, the workers were much more likely to stay on the job long term.

Yes but that's not bad work ethics. If you don't have any money and not even a bank account, two weeks between paychecks can be too long. If any unforeseen expense turns up, most of us can just pay by credit card and push it to the next pay check. If you can't do that, you have to find another job if the one you have only pays you in 10 days.

In the UK payments are often made monthly. This is bad enough if you are short of cash but factor in a lot of jobs are now bogus self-employed gigs or agency work where you can also find yourself extending credit to a business that has less cash than you do. Resulting in underpayment or , sometimes, no payment at all.

A lot of folks in the UK have a view that if they lost their job they can just do 'any-job' until they find something else.

These 'any-jobs' either are not available in the way people think they are or they fall into the category outlined above.

As someone who worked in Kitchens/Hotels/Restaurants from about the age of 14 to my mid 20s - I have never not been able to find people hiring KPs etc in an area. Low skill low paid work always seemed to be available.

Note, I was usually in _relatively_ affluent parts (the south) of the country. However after that I've always felt that should things go tits up I could always go back to 50+ hours a week on min wage...

Worth noting, even if I could do that I sure as hell wouldn't have the motivation to job hunt in my downtime.

It's a shame this is getting downvoted because it's not really inflammatory or even untrue. I think it's fair to say that this topic is complex enough that both this comment and the parent comment are true (which is that poverty is a function of both factors that can be controlled and factors that cannot be controlled).

"A huge proportion of poverty stems from bad work ethic" is an extraordinary claim, requiring extraordinary evidence.

Yeah. Specifically, if someone is confident enough to attach a qualifier to a numeric descriptor (i.e. "proportion"), they should demonstrate that they also have the quantities to support that qualifier.

It doesn't help that the unsupported extraordinary assertion here casts aspersions on people in poverty. It's one of those things you really want to be sure you're right about before saying. Hence: downvotes.

Yeah, that too. Bad work ethic, or work ethic that isn't compatible with the system they're submerged in?

If you want to frame it in terms of choices, what is it about the modern work world that is so intolerable that a person would willingly choose poverty, homelessness, etc., over work?

If so many people are "bad," how can you say the system is good and it's the people...

And yet if it actually was due to a bad work ethic, not acknowledging it means the bad work ethic continues.

Sometimes these are good points to tick away when you are trying to identify what your problems are.

Regardless of whether I agree with the parent comment, I'm inclined to agree that it shouldn't be downvoted. Even if the opinion itself is inflammatory to some, it seems to be expressed in as conscientious a way as possible, and the reasoning (whether you agree with it or not) is explained. You could certainly argue that there are flaws in the logic, lack of evidence etc., but IMO it does at least add to the discussion. If unpopular opinions are regularly downvoted, people will stop expressing them, even in the cases where they might be right, or at least useful to the discussion.

I really like the metric that downvotes should be for comments that are uncivil and/or don't add anything of value to the discussion.

I just had a thought that much of the difficulty lies in the murky zone between the following views:

1) "This person is struggling, and part of the problem is their work ethic and poor executive functioning."


2) "This is a moral failing and thus we can't help them too much, as they will take advantage of it."

I think some people automatically associate the second idea with people who express the first, when in reality they don't have to be tightly coupled. I personally think that (1) is a legitimate dynamic in some cases (I have no idea the exact extent).

On the other hand, (2), while touching on a worthwhile consideration (any help given should be effective, etc), frames things in an inflammatory and unproductive way, and on the net implies an inaccurate and harmful overly pessimistic sentiment.

Another huge reason for the trickiness is that the concept of "work ethic" is fairly nebulous and complex. For example, sometimes people can have a huge change in work ethic with a small change in perspective (of course, perspective changes are difficult in and of themselves) or environment.

You know, the spectrum you lay out is probably correct regarding people's claimed viewpoints... but somehow the results of (1) in particular never seem to line up with the claims it makes.

(1) and (2) form the sort of classical belief spectrum on the value of social-welfare programs. (2) just doesn't support these programs, for the reasons stated above. But (1), although supporting such programs generally, doesn't seem to support the kind of programs that would properly line up with their professed beliefs.

If the problem with a lot of homeless people is that they have "poor work ethic"... well, we've medicalized that, it's called ADHD and you can throw medications at it. But there are no social-welfare programs to get homeless people into psychiatrist's offices where they can be given free Vyvanse samples.

Instead, such programs seemingly only ever consist of 1. paying the homeless person's basic living costs—through free housing, or free meals; or 2. giving the homeless the opportunity to work and job skills training to potentially begin earn money for themselves.

Programs in the first category might indeed help people who are stuck in a temporary rut, and just need the details of "where food will come from" and "where they will sleep at night" handled for them until they escape it. People who are homeless because they are in the depths of a major depressive episode might find value in these, for example.

But the programs in the second category seem to serve nobody effectively. If you don't have any work ethic, teaching you how to do some particular job isn't going to make you start doing it; nor is lining up interviews; nor is even shoving you forcibly into employment.

The people who have some level of work-ethic escape homelessness eventually whether they receive any social assistance or not. The people who have a persistent lack of work-ethic will not escape homelessness no matter how many "free things"-style and "work opportunity"-style solutions you throw at them.

Those claims sound oddly more like what people on the (1) side of the argument claim, doesn't it? But this is the "steel-manned" version of (2): that people who fail to attempt to gain employment do not do so because they're irredeemably flawed; but rather because they need solutions to a work-ethic problem they're having, before any solutions to their poverty problem would have any potential to stick.

Eh, more like:

3) "This person is struggling, we can't help them in ways that are too paternalistic or agency-denying, because that will ultimately just end up harming them".

E.g. You wouldn't tell your child that his economic outcomes are completely unconnected to his own choices or work ethic.

If a kid has trouble at a task, we don't just tell them that the task is stacked against them and that they can do nothing to alleviate their failure. Telling a kid that over and over would border on child abuse.

Yet some people seem to think that telling the poor this overall - that they have no control, that their choices mean nothing, that the locus of control is 100% external to them - is somehow good. It's bizarre.

Actually, it would be more like telling your child with ADHD "You just need to study harder at school and the beatings will continue until morale improves. No, we won't give you ADHD meds nor hire you a tutor. Buck up and grow a spine, you whiner."

See also my other comment here:


Your remarks are incredibly ignorant and are being downvoted because it is the sort of attitude that allows privileged peoples to wash their hands of dealing with very real systemic problems that are an excess burden for the people whose lives come so unraveled that they wind up homeless.

So you think of every poor person as having a fundamental disability comparable to a medically-diagnosed case of ADHD.

This is flatly, verifiably wrong, as well as reprehensibly paternalistic and self-indulgent.

And all this after I specifically talked about mental illness in my original post.

We were specifically talking about homeless people, not poor people. I am currently homeless and have had a class on Homelessness and Public Policy. I know whereof I speak here.

I don't disagree with some of your assertions that we should treat such people as if they have agency and can make choices. But your framing is incredibly hostile and in the vein of "We don't need to do anything for such people because they made these choices and did this to themselves."

No one makes choices in a vacuum and, currently, an awful lot of people have no good choices available to them. Blaming them so you can wash your hands of responsibility is rather ugly behavior. You don't personally have to do anything for someone like me, but posting comments on a forum where you are basically publically advocating that no one should do anything for them -- well, I feel pretty well entitled to rebut that. Feel free to do nothing and feel that my problems are all my fault and I am just not trying hard enough. But if you post that to HN, I can rebut it, and likely will if I see it.

You wouldn't tell your child that, but nor would you toss them out on the street if they were having difficulty absorbing the lessons because as a parent you're responsible for their well-being and you have a duty (social/cultural rather than legal, but still) to create the conditions within which they can thrive.

Correct, but it's an unhelpful distraction from the more difficult structural problem. It's like having some hippie come along with a lecture about aligning your chakras and so on - there's a worthwhile spiritual philosophy underneath all the buzzwords, and a sincere intention to be helpful and motivating, but if you're not already in that meditative frame of mind then it's both unhelpful and annoying.

Talking about work ethic is valuable after other existential and economic anxieties have been alleviated and a person is in a position to make choices - not just select from expiring alternatives - about what sort of life style and goals they wish to pursue. Offered without regard to the situations that marginalized people find themselves in, it's mere pablum.

Off topic: this is UX problem with HN. Up-arrow means "I agree", while down-arrow means "this post is inappropriate". Most people simply want a button "I respectfully disagree" which is absent. As a consequence this also means that difference in opinion is discouraged because downvotes affect karma. </off-topic>

Its inflammatory and untrue. Its an emotional appeal to the just world fallacy that frankly detracts from actually useful conversation.

> It's a shame this is getting downvoted because it's not really inflammatory or even untrue.

Actually it's both inflammatory and untrue; spoken by someone who's obviously never been poor or known many poor people. Being poor is not a choice nor due to people simply being lazy, regardless of any anecdotes you might come up with. Anecdotes have no place in such conversations about systemic issues.

Never? Not ever? Not even 1% of the poor? Not even one person?

The absolutism of your statements makes it clear that you are convinced morally of your arguments, not factually. You believe intensively in what you're saying because you think it's good, not because you've got an airtight case that it's universally factually correct.

Don't let your moral convictions bleed into your understanding of the world; it makes you an ideological zombie who can't handle statistical nuances or proportionality arguments.

The claim was "a huge proportion of poverty stems from bad work ethic". Not 1%. Not one person. Please stop moving the goalposts.

It's not the first disagreement on this site I've seen boil down to people's varying levels of belief of how much influence people have over their environment and vice versa. (I think reality is somewhere in between).

I haven't found the right word for it, but it seems to be loosely related to a personality attribute:


Which if true, would mean nobody's changing their mind. It would be like an argument between a staunch introvert and extravert arguing over whether or not socializing is exhilarating or draining.

> It would be like an argument between a staunch introvert and extravert arguing over whether or not socializing is exhilarating or draining

Except unlike that case, there can be studies to measure impact of environment on people's success outcomes. And there have been. It's a valuable topic to discuss, with accurate date - not repeating the same bootstrap fallacies that simplify the world for people's comfort.

I acknowledge the fact that social institutions have measurable affect on individual outcomes. Yet you can also find studies showing that individuals can have altered outcomes based on their own beliefs. For instance this classic study on stereotype threat:

> We found that Asian-American women performed better on a mathematics test when their ethnic identity was activated, but worse when their gender identity was activated, compared with a control group who had neither identity activated


Could it be that given the right priming, people can improve their lives? What's the effect size of society vs individual? And even if it's 90% environment and 10% the person, it's often easier to change ourselves than our environment, so shouldn't we encourage people to work on themselves?

Of course care must be taken not to make it seem like a moral failing for not "trying hard enough", I think that's where people find the "pull yourself up" crowd distasteful. But there must be some way to give people the confidence to try to work on themselves without discouraging them by making it seem like it's their fault. Does that make sense?

> Never? Not ever? Not even 1% of the poor? Not even one person?

When you stop reasoning by anecdote, you'll look back and see how absurd your views actually are and how not based in reality they are. It is you who is making the moral argument, not I, and you've done it based on your anecdotal impression of lazy poor people, and you do so because you suffer from the just world fallacy which is again because your reasoning is based on your morality rather than on the facts. You've quite literally projected your own deficiencies onto me, you're suffering from exactly what you just told me not to do.

Poverty isn't caused by laziness or lack of work ethic, your assertion that it is so is not grounded in reality and not backed up by any evidence, it's merely a moral position you've taken because it makes you feel better somehow.

It would be interesting if social research looked in to /why/ that was the case. Is there some ongoing problem disrupting these people's lives? Other family or social obligations that interfere with the hours the employer desires? Maybe a different shift (working hours during the day/night) would be better aligned with their biorhythms; it might require placement in a different job.

I for one, know that I don't function at all well in the mornings.

There is substantial research. Years ago, I had a class on Homelessness and Public Policy through SFSU. In a nutshell:

1. Most homeless people have one or more intractable personal problems, such as a medical problem, mental health issue or learning disability.

2. They end up homeless when their intractable personal problems finally cause them to run out of all resources and options and causes their social safety net to fray and come undone. When no one will let you sleep on their couch one more time while job hunting again, etc.

3. There is a huge and deepening affordable housing shortage in the U.S. This goes back decades. Homelessness is a growing trend nationwide because a growing percentage of the population simply cannot afford housing. It is too expensive. Addressing this piece would go a long way towards easing the burden on people with other unsolvable problems. But there is no real will to do so.

I don't think it's reasonable to blame homelessness on housing costs. The people that can afford a 500 dollar a month rent are not the ones on the street because it went up to 600 dollars a month. It's the people that can't afford a 100 dollar a month rent that are homeless.

Most homeless people had a home at some point. They were scraping by for a while. But if there is nothing left after paying rent+food, then you incredibly vulnerable. Something will happen that you need some buffer cash for. An spare 100 a month can make all the difference in such situations.

With my student loan paid off, I could afford about $400 a month in rent for me and my two adult sons. Good luck finding decent housing (not a trailer) anywhere in the U.S. for that amount. And not because it can't be done, but because houses have grown to more than twice their average size compared to the 1950s and then the low end is basically just trailers. There is almost no middle class housing left. It is all either slum housing (I count trailers as slum housing) or housing for rich people.

Many people on the street do have an income. They just don't have enough income to afford a middle class lifestyle. I have actually studied this space in school and everything.

Honest Question: What are your sons doing to help you?

Helping their mother to get well when the world says it cannot be done.

They also have their own project with their own Patreon that hopefully will go somewhere:


Psychological research indicates that "stressors" associated with poverty impair executive decision function such as ability to prioritise medium term goals (get to work on time) versus short term desires (stay in bed). Stressors include not only practical items such as not having food for breakfast or not having clean clothes, but also "low social economic status" itself.

I'm sure there are extenuating circumstances in many cases, yes.

Why is it so unacceptable to think that they are simply humans, like you and me, with agency and power over their own choices, with responsibility for the outcomes of their choices, who are simply choosing to do a thing that you and I believe to be a really bad choices?

A pattern of such choices is labeled "bad work ethic" but at the end of the day, bad work ethic is just a long series of individual choices to do something besides working.

I think you need to gain a better understanding about how different perspectives and mindsets can change what a person does, and what a person thinks, and how the the two can be in direct competition.

A depressed person is simply not "choosing" to feel the way they do. Every single thought in their head could be marshaling their instinctual brain to resist the downward spiral but they could still lie in bed all day.

Not to say they don't have agency, but some do have a LOT less than others. Some people can go their entire lives without having a crisis of agency or wresting power over their own choices, and some can be battling to do what they intend to do on a daily basis.

People have "responsibility" for the outcomes that happen for them. We still lock up people who murder, or steal from others, even though it can easily be argued that people don't do those things if not in a bad mental state (desperation, mental anguish, etc). But don't conflate that responsibility with full healthy agency and bad morals.

We should instead focus on the outcome we desire - which in my opinion should be to reduce the amount of suffering people go through, and to have a society that takes care of its most vulnerable. If you disagree and think that everyone should fend for themselves and might makes right, I'd say the person with "bad work ethic" has better morals.

I'm sure for some small percentage of homeless/poor people, you're right in that they've made bad choices and that's how they've ended up there.

But if you're suggesting that this phenomenon is somehow common, then you need to back that up, since it flies in the face of prevailing research on the subject.

Its a bit like arguing causality and determinism, but how does a person come to make bad choices, if the path before them, their past experience, and their current environment does not precipitate them to make that choice? One would have to go deep into philosophy, but still will find competing answers - when does the decision become "morally" wrong, or become the fault of the person?

I feel this is irrelevant for this discussion, because none of what I or anyone else is arguing is that "it's their fault they're poor so screw them" as so many people here seem to want to conclude.

All I said was: Some people have bad work ethic. This means people they decide to not work when they should work, which causes them to end up in poverty. Therefore, to reduce poverty, part of our strategy should be doing things that improve work ethic (in addition to doing other things to solve mental illness, etc).

Nothing about that implies or requires any conclusion about whose absolute fault it is that some people are poor.

And it can't anyway, because as you've noted there is no objective answer to such a moral question.

It's incredible that for someone stressing work-ethic and the implicit "responsibility" associated with them, you won't even take responsibility for your own words.

In multiple child comments you've now claimed things like what you say here:

> All I said was: Some people have bad work ethic

No, that's not "All you said". The proof is right there in your original comment. You actually said

> a huge proportion of poverty stems from bad work ethic.


> Work ethic is a huge part of the problem,

And the point people keep making to you is that this is false. And I can't speak for others, but the reason why it bothers me so much to see people repeating it is because so frequently the people I've seen who are the loudest at saying it and repeat it the most, often have just as bad and often worse "moral failings".

I don't know you, and I won't judge you from what you've posted here - however I do have to say that the fact you keep attempting to shirk from and minimize away from your own comments isn't exactly breaking that trend to my eyes.

Society is complex - and the claim that the reason the poor are poor is mainly/mostly/primarily due to moral failings is flat out false.

>"a huge proportion of poverty stems from bad work ethic." restated as >"Some people have bad work ethic"

And to you that restatement constitutes "attempting to shirk from and minimize away from your own comments". Seriously? It's the same thing with a difference in degree. The degree word "some" overlaps with "huge amount".

So my great crime is replacing "huge amount" with "some", and connecting it to poverty?

Meanwhile, you go ahead and restate what I said as "the reason the poor are poor is mainly/mostly/primarily due to moral failings."

Which is an utterly different, wild, moralistic, absolutist statement that I obviously never made and don't believe. And hypocritical, given how sensitive you seem to be about accurately re-stating what someone has said.

Let me disabuse you of the anti-charitable notion that you've invented in your head implicitly attributed to me: Just because someone has bad work ethic, doesn't mean it's their fault. I've specifically said in this thread that work ethic is changeable by policy and cultural factors. And, I think bad work ethic often isn't the fault of the person with it, but is rather the fault of people you who gaslight the poor into believing that all they can do is wait to be saved by Wise Rich White Leftist Social Engineers.

A huge proportion of poverty stems from bad work ethic. A huge proportion of that bad work ethic stems from the cultural effects of messages like yours.

Neither of the previous statements present any moral attribution - they are simple statements of objective, measurable cause-and-effect. (Yes, work ethic is measurable; the effect that your messages have on it could in principle be estimated via survey or experiment).

Honestly, you really seem to want this to be about morality. You want to see evil in people with whom you disagree because it makes you feel more secure in your own beliefs - a world where good people question your morals with powerful arguments is just too uncomfortable. You continue to apply the exact opposite of the principle of charity. It's unfair to others, and unproductive.

bad work ethic is just a long series of individual choices to do something besides working.



Calling something a "choice" really does not capture the complexity of what it means to be human. "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." Romans 7:15.

Yet if you make a decision, its for all practical purposes a 'choice'.

There is generally a misalignment between your value system and the output your are expecting. In simple terms its called 'Hypocrisy'.

It's not unacceptable, it's just incorrect and frankly vile.

> a huge proportion of poverty stems from bad work ethic

Even if you had proof (you don't) that bad work ethic makes up a "huge" (not clearly defined) proportion of poverty (it doesn't), the symptom is not the stem.

Poverty stems from poverty, and a lack of a support structure to help impoverished people become "upwardly mobile". This is easy to see, and easy to prove, as most people in poverty simply do not have access to enough resources to overcome poverty. Work ethic often doesn't even factor into it because simply being able to work is a big problem, not a lack of will.

> the wealthy and the poor both have to make changes to end poverty. [..] It's not up to a rich savior class to come and fix the dirty people from the outside.

It's up to the whole society. In the US, the issue is systemic. If the people willed it, their elected representatives could simply pass laws to put the support structures in place to end poverty as we know it in 10 years.

Over half of our national budget is spent on a military that loses nonsense wars in broken countries. We imprison more people than the two other biggest imprisoning countries combined. We don't care for our poor. We don't care for our veterans. We don't care for our mentally ill or drug addicts. We don't care for black people, trans people, women, etc. We just don't care.

We don't need a wealthy elite to fix our problems. We need to join the rest of the developed world in giving a shit about our people at all.

This assumes that wealthy people have a better work ethic than the poor, to the extent that they might not even be able to imagine what a bad work ethic looks like. In my experience, that doesn't match reality at all.

Manual labor jobs are generally unforgiving of slack. Workers are punished quite severely for minor offenses that are not even noticed in a techie or white-collar environment. Showing up five minutes late? A minor uniform violation? Not performing well for one day? Calling in sick a few too may times?

In support of what you said: yesterday I took a couple of hours off to visit an art gallery with my mother, visiting from interstate. The permission I had was "hey folks, I'm going to do this", knowing that they could say "actually we need you here" if it wasn't okay. I've worked in retail, in warehouses, as a medical scientist, in call centres, in various forms of support, and in none of these lower-level jobs could I even dream of doing such a thing.

I get my stuff done and have the same work ethic I always have, but I have a lot more flexibility as a white-collar worker.

A problem has three types of cause:

- The event that precipitated the problem

- The best place to intervene to correct or prevent the problem

- The moralistic cause; the person to whom responsibility may be assigned

Always be aware of which one you're using. If your goal is to actually solve the problem, make sure that it's the second.

People with the work ethic you describe are very very shortly found in tents on sleeping bags on the side of the road with signs that say "anything helps".

While there is certainly a small minority of such folks around half a percent of the US population in fact the threadmill between not bothering to come to work and homelessness is so short that not many people are en route at any given time. On the other hand around 14% live in poverty in contrast. Looking at the houeshold income anyone in the bottom quarter is barely scraping by given the cost of health insurance and house costs.

Your perception is an elaborate fiction informed by no actual data. Most of the people in poverty are working hard to stay in one place.

>>But a huge proportion of poverty stems from bad work ethic.

What proportion exactly? How do you know it's "huge"?

I mean, what you describe definitely happens to some extent, but I'm curious as to how you reached the conclusion that it's really common.

Because I have counter-anecdotes. The most common scenario I personally witness is that an unemployed person finally lands a job, and they work their asses off to make sure they don't lose it. They arrive early, leave late and generally jump at every opportunity to prove their worth.

So I'm very skeptical that poor work ethic is a significant root cause of poverty. Of course, if you have actual numbers, I would be interested to read more.

There's a good statistical analysis of the declining work ethic in some classes of white Americans in Charles Murray's book Coming Apart.

I recommend the book. It's not directly about this mainly, but the work ethic decline is statistically identifiable and localizable to a specific class of white American (who are also a class that people like you and I have essentially zero personal contact with).

So, there is an entire class of people identifiable by their poor work ethic? Your fourth paragraph makes a stab at Randian logic, but without her grammatical clarity.

>I doubt anyone thinks all failure is a result of bad work ethic. Of course much is due to mental illness, disability, etc.

I'd be interested in more quantified data in this point, as I know many people who hold this as a foundational principle in their life.

If we accept your "unreliable worker" theory, have you considered that there are outside factors besides a lack of "work ethic" (which is some real quality bs to begin with) that would make a person unreliable? If you have, what were they and why were they ruled out?

I find that people that make the work ethic argument are the ones that don't want to acknowledge that they didn't exactly earn their place. They think they rose to their position purely by their own work ethic and that makes them intrinsically special and possessing traits that others are deficient in.

> But a huge proportion of poverty stems from bad work ethic.

Such thinking is the problem, it's juvenile, simplistic, and wrong.

[citation needed]


HN Guidelines:

> Please resist commenting about being downvoted. It never does any good, and it makes boring reading.


someone who has the intelligence and work ethic to do this probably wasn't going to be homeless for long.

And capacity. Many people on the street have serious health problems or other obstacles to productivity. I lack neither intelligence nor a work ethic, but I do have health problems. I have been homeless 5.5 years, though I blog, do freelance work, etc.

Edit: You also need opportunity. Being homeless can be a huge barrier to opportunity, both in practical terms and due to stigma. People don't want to hire homeless people.

>I have been homeless 5.5 years

This is a huge personal revelation. I have happened to be in touch with the parent poster via HN and they are simply an intelligent, thoughtful, person with important and good opinions on whatever topics they write about.

I hope you resolve your issues with housing soon. As you write, you have a lot of capacity for high-level work.

FYI, Mz has been here sharing her perspective on homelessness for several years:


Thanks, though that doesn't change my impression of mz from our interaction, which I listed.

Since we're on HN: I don't see how it's fundamentally different from people who fail for years to raise money, until they finally do. My interaction with GP is from not that long ago. They're a smart, clear writer and I hope they resolve their housing situation soon. Then, if they ever want to do a startup they'll be better at it than most people, based on my interaction. They've also studied GIS, though I'm not sure if they want to work with it or in a different field. I am confident they can resolve their housing issue and I believe in them. By the way Elon Musk lived in an office and took showers at a YMCA.[1] That meets the definition of homeless.

If you want a chance to back the next elon musk, invest in whatever mz does whenever they're ready to take money (though I'm not sure if they have any such intentions - but surely there's a reason they're on this site).

mz, I hope this reply is not out of place and again, I hope you resolve your housing issue soon. I am basing my opinion of you based on an interaction with you and based your writing, which is all anyone gets if someone sends a pitch deck, emails, or business plan. you might have huge difficulty and perhaps its stretched for years but I believe you will go through it based on your talent and abilities. you can do it. go.

[1] https://www.google.com/search?q=elon+musk+showers+ymca

Yes, I do have a Certificate in GIS. In theory, I hope to develop this site into a more serious income stream than I have so far managed to create:


It was at least conceived of as a business idea. Most of my other sites were conceived of as "well, people clearly need this information, so I will give it to them...and, oh, I guess I should have ads or something because it would be reasonable to expect to be compensated for my time and effort."

Because of my compromised immune system, I basically need to figure out some means to make money online. There are plenty of people here who have managed that. But I have trouble accessing their expertise or getting taken seriously, much to my personal frustration.

Note: please take the rest of this comment as one input, you'll have to combine it with everything else you know and your interests. it's just my suggestion.

Do you already code? it may help your goals if you learn to code. It might allow you to make some sort of more featureful web app than just blog posts. Then, your talent for clear writing and communication would combine with the functionality of whatever you wanted to code. I'm sure you've felt the frustration of only having whatever options your blogging platform gave you. with code, it does whatever you want.

plus you might get some freelance coding work which should pay well. but above all your clear communication with the ability to make features you want would be pretty killer, I think. don't feel boxed into the idea that you have to only just write and English should be your main or only output. you can output code. you can create features that do something. (from a standing start, from 0.) it doesn't matter how bad it is because if it brings some money then later you can hire coders to redo it. (people call this 'technical debt' but it's a stupid term. it's just a free option to pay only if you find something that makes money, where you can throw it away if it doesn't. if you code 99 different things that nobody uses and the 100th is what takes off, you can just pay someone to rewrite the 100th. you can ignore the first 99th projects. which proves that it isn't technical debt because you can't just ignore debt whenever you don't care anymore. you can ignore technical debt, indefinitely, because it's just a free option to try something.)

So try some small web app. AWS has a free tier. Ignore everyone who gives you a lot of bullshit. in the article I linked from elon musk talking about when he was (my term) homeless, he was coding all day. so you could try it and see if you can find something.

this is just based on my impression of your style of communication, thinking, logic, and also you have shown an ability to collect a pretty large audience. maybe the tiniest amount of code would be all it takes. you say you'd like to work all online so this would fit that criterion. it sounds like you might already have some exposure to the google ads network which is a killer way to bootstrap promoting anything: the first time your users spend $90 on your web app, you can try spending $85 of it on an advertisement (don't know about adwords actual minimums this is an illustrative example) and if it brings in just $89 in revenue for every $85 you spend, in theory you can keep turning that process around until you are at $500, $1000, etc. Facebook ads can likewise be bootstrapped like this.

all this depends on making something that has some kind of functionality you can promote, describe, and code. try setting an AWS free tier and go from there. you write that you're not taken seriously but just ignore it - do it underground. nobody took elon musk seriously when he was taking showers at the Y, and nobody took him seriously when he produced a written paper proposing hyperloop.

ignore all that noise. just do something. You will have to adapt all this to your goals, interests, conditions, I don't know the details. you also have to be very careful because (in my opinion) programmers love to waste each other's time, so stick with popular tools where you can just google what you're trying to do and someone has posted the solution. programmers hate that you don't have to waste weeks to years of your life reading manuals, and getting rid of manuals or making things work is simply not a design constraint for them. I'll give you an example:

This is how long it should take from deciding to make a Rails app (a popular web app framework) on a new AWS instance, to having one up: 47 seconds. I should click "I want a new instance with some super-common stack" and then I should click "Rails 5 with" (whatever is most common.) And I should have it.

Here's how long it actually takes: https://hackernoon.com/how-to-setup-and-deploy-a-rails-5-app...

In 47 seconds you can barely read through the introduction (which starts with "Deploying a Rails app can be a somewhat daunting task to get set up right on new applications, even for seasoned Rails developers.")

Remember that (in my opinion) everything you read about programming is meant to waste horrendous amounts of your time and be a huge sink. These people cannot communicate. Which is why you will have such a huge advantage over them if you deploy any app to do anything, because your version can be clear and precise and your experience with audiences would help you promote it. just ignore the noise. Be super careful of your time and only pick the most common tools and languages.

Note: I didn't adapt this advice to the specifics of your situation, or your interests, so really you're the only one who knows how to use it, if at all. As I said at the top of the comment, just think of it like a point of input.

I do actually want to learn to code. This is my very first post on HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=713015

So far, I have not learned to program, though I do know a little HTML and CSS from running my blogs, basically. This failure to learn to code is due to a combination of having been very ill, which makes it hard to learn anything new, and much of my time being taken up with struggling to survive and solving my health problems that are not supposed to be solvable. (And probably other factors.)

The other thing is I am good at solving things, but I am not good at figuring out "business ideas." I know how to get well when that is not supposed to be possible. But I don't know how one turns that into money.

I don't think this is just me being neurotic. I think there are some inherent problems in monetizing such a product. I feel strongly that the way modern medicine is monetized is part of the reason people are failing to get well. Modern medicine makes money for treating you, not for getting you well. Ongoing need for treatment is a means to keep making money and I think that is an inherent conflict of interest. I haven't yet figured out how you set your sights on actually getting people well and somehow get money out of that. Because that is not the financial model for modern medicine.

I would like to create simulations for smaller health problems and eventually create a simulation to teach other people with CF how to do what I do. Blogging is wholly insufficient to convey the density of info required. My thought was that I would start with a small simulation for how you cure sunburn rapidly by eating the right things and then build on that for larger, more complicated problems.

But I used to get really ugly pushback for talking about getting myself well. This was far beyond not getting taken seriously. It was incredibly threatening and worrisome, so I have also spent some years working on figuring out how to approach the problem space without inspiring lynch mobs, basically.

I do have a private blog with some of my ideas written out intended as a design doc. But it hasn't gotten a lot of development. I have been mostly overwhelmed by events.

Thank you for your long comment.

I don't know how much time you have to spare for learning to code, but even if it's just 10 minutes each day, that time stacks up. Even if it takes you a week to get to "hello, world!", there are 52 weeks in a year.

The most important thing is to build a habit and stick to it. If you reserve some specific 10 minutes of the day for learning to code, like just before going to sleep, it will soon become so ingrained that you wouldn't even think of stopping.

It may seem like a daunting task before you start, so much to learn, but if you take it step by little step, 10 minutes at a time, you can do it.

Thanks. That's a good thought and I might be in a position to start setting aside time for that every morning at this point, or very soon. But I still feel like I need a thread to pull to start unraveling all of this. I haven't yet found a good place to start, basically. Ideally, I would like a thing to mod and ...I guess I need to work on finding a thing to mod. It's something to work on.

This is getting off-topic and deeply nested, so I've emailed you. I agreed with everything you just wrote and encourage you to pursue any of your ideas.

Thank you.

Honest question: why don't you charge enough for your freelance work so you wouldn't be homeless?

When I work, I often make more than $20/hour. Not always, but often. But I am not always able to put in the hours, due in part to my health problems and in part to logistical issues from being homeless. I also have trouble promoting myself, in part because I am homeless so people online don't take me seriously, but in part because I am a woman, so a lot of people didn't want to take me seriously even when I had an apartment.

Plus, my student loan is being paid off this week. With that paid off, the odds of me getting off the street start going up. There are plenty of articles on how much of a burden student loans can be in the US. So google it if you can't fathom how that matters.

An important reminder for anyone not in the US.

Student loans are one of the (the only?) forms of debt in the US that cannot be discharged via bankruptcy. I believe that too is a major factor in the rising cost of college and other secondary educations; there's no market pressure to price the services at a rate based on the student's success.

Congratz on paying down your student loan!

Have you considered coming up with a resource for those paying off student loans? Not so much a pity-party community, but more of financial resources + legal contacts + "life hacks" + community / forum. I'd imagine the potential audience is quite large in the US and the emotional appeal of getting debt collectors off your back is pretty enticing.

I imagine the next generation of resource websites like this will use "brain hacks" (concepts in BJ Fogg's persuasion techniques -- similar to gamification) and may even be able to charge a subscription if it can change habits and encourage positive progress on paying down loan debt.

I paid down A LOT on a family member [A]'s student loan to take the pressure off another family member [B]. I would gladly pay a subscription fee for [A] to learn to take control of their own finances and figure out how to save money on their own.

I recently started this site because I think most money problems are really life problems, but it isn't exactly taking off:


I would welcome feedback on it. That would help me figure out where to go with it.

Most of my financial advice stuff ends up here:


I don't really plan to create anything with a subscription because the kinds of problems I talk about tend to leave people with too little money to survive. My hope is that as my writing helps people start solving their problems, they will leave a tip when they can better afford it. But I do have a Patreon:


I don't know if I have any useful feedback for the linked sites.


I tend to be turned off of traditional blog layouts because of navigational structure. As a reader, I don't care about when an article is written, I care about matching my reading interests quickly with what is available on your site (perusing the titles / tags / categories). If there is a config to toggle away the year-month navigation style, I would prefer that. YMMV


The site seems niche and, as you have mentioned in other posts, there is a stigma against homelessness. Non-homeless (awkward description, I know) readers might feel immediately turned off before reading anything. You might be able to convey the same type of message by describing it as "scraping by", although this may be counterproductive.

I would suggest you might try to review your previously-written articles and see if you can make them more reader-friendly. Currently, they seem a little writer-friendly and not very optimized for the reader. Having a TL;DR at the top might keep interest. Eg. the "gift card" article #2 was interesting because it mentions the CA state law that gives consumers the right to cash out sub-$10 balances. That is very useful for me, as a California consumer and I probably would not have thought I would find a nugget on a site and wouldn't have found it if I wasn't trying to review your site. Having the nugget of wisdom in the article title (eg. "Gift cards can be cashed by state law") rather than a less-specific "Cash for Gift Cards -- Addendum"

Small bug: The link from the /p/money.html page to "Starbuck's and Domino's Rewards and Gift Cards" is broken (there is a stray "http:/" at the beginning).

If you can, try to get an Amazon Affiliate account and add Amazon affiliate links when you describe / review books like "Book recommendation: How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt and Live Prosperously". It might not be useful short-term as they won't cut checks for amounts smaller than ~$25, but they pay 4+% on lots of products.

Thank you for the feedback. I have fixed the bug.

I will look at the navigational options.

There is actually an amazon affiliate link for that book on the site. I have not done well with amazon affiliate links. But maybe I will figure it out someday. (Though, I have updated it to make it text on the assumption that you have an ad blocker and that's why you didn't see it.)

I am not planning to abandon the homeless survival guide, but the TLDR is that I am more interested in promoting solutions that reduce homelessness than in helping people after their lives fall apart.

Gender and home situation are two things not conveyed over the internet; I don't think this stigma is legitimately a risk. The fact is you're propagating that information, which is a choice.

Given that I am the highest ranked woman on Hacker News, I think you are clearly in error. Historically, women have not been warmly welcomed here and not taken as seriously as the men. And if you can't admit your gender for fear of discrimination, that closes doors in terms of business. The men are never advised to hide their gender. Yet people seem to think that's an actual solution for a woman. I can't fathom how on earth anyone can say that and not realize they are just reinforcing sexism in an extreme and horrible manner.

Also, it seriously doesn't work to tell me "there is no stigma -- all you have to do is hide those facts about yourself." If there is no stigma, why on earth would I need to hide them? Or to blame me for admitting that I am female and homeless. Hiding information about yourself is another burden to communicating and can complicate the hell out of attempts to accomplish anything when you need to work around certain things but are compelled to not mention them for fear of stigma.

Your response has given me greater perspective to your situation, bless your heart.

> bless your heart

Did you mean this in good faith? Where I was raised throwing that in is fairly insulting.

Not the poster, but I didn't notice this until you replied.

Being from the South, I've heard this in both the straight version and the condescending version. As you point out, without sufficient context, it's bodylanguage-ambiguous.

Thanks for clarifying and congratulations on paying off your student loan!

If I may offer one piece of advice that worked well for me when I was starting out in freelancing: "On the internet nobody knows you're a dog". You don't have to tell people that you're homeless, if you think that diminishes your chances of getting a freelance gig.

In my experience, for a lot of things that would harm my chances at getting gigs, people never asked. So I didn't say anything myself either. They often come up in the course of normal conversation later once you already have a relationship with the client, but by then they no longer care.


I don't think you should have been downvoted because you appear to be trying to find out why this person doesn't have a home. I am not the poster, but here's an example of a plausible answer. (Apologies for the lengthy post)

You have $50K in collections debt, no insurance, no credit, no bank. Any money you have, you carry with you.

Getting paid is a pain in the ass, because even though you could conceivably receive money through an online service that does not require a credit card or bank acct, actually extracting the money as cash is quite difficult. Nobody wants to Paypal a client, anyway, and nobody wants to learn how Bitcoin works, much less figure out potential tax issues. You apologize profusely for making the client send you your fee via Western Union.

You pay for a prepaid cellphone. You need internet with a sizeable data cap, which isn't very affordable or reliable via mobile, so your first stop for internet is probably libraries or cafes, which you can only work at for a certain period of time before you're not-so-politely asked to move on. Just getting your work done or having a regular video call can be troublesome.

You carry your possessions with you, and the more you carry, the more homeless you look, and the more homeless you look, the more people have a kind of ick-response to your presence and want you gone. If you ever have to put your stuff down for a moment you risk your only valuable possessions disappearing.

You don't have enough yet to cover first, last, and security on an apartment, but that doesn't matter anyway because nobody will rent you an apartment without proof of income. You have no permanent address, so getting billed (among many other things) is an issue. Your options for housing are dangerous and filthy weekly or monthly rate rooms in the equivalent of a halfway house or crack motel. A shelter is sometimes a better option, when a bed is available.

Getting to your semi-housing is not easy, because it's invariably located on abandoned stretches of US-1 or a highway (and obviously you have no car). You are very lucky if there is public transit that goes from your shitty motel to a place where you can use wifi regularly. You may have to pick between paying for taxis (no, Uber doesn't run out there, but will charge you a pretty penny to take you there) with the little money you have, or walking a couple hours each way. If you have an in-person client, you obviously need to be presentable, so now you're spending as much as you can on a place with a shower, taxis to and from the job, and maybe an upgrade to a place with wifi.

All of this for basically one or two clients that occasionally hand you a small piece of work at a very-sub-standard rate. Because of your bad credit, lack of recent work experience, lack of a bank account, lack of transportation, etc etc, few people want to work with you. When they do, the work is infrequent, and done when you can actually get to doing it, due to the aforementioned impediments.

You pray your stuff doesn't get stolen, that you don't get mugged, that you will get another contract soon. You don't haggle over payment because you're lucky someone will deal with your awkward payments, and what if you lost that client and had to start over? Without some kind of miracle, there is no math that puts you in stable housing any time within the next year.

The answer "It's complicated" isn't satisfying, but it's often reality.

That's a decent picture of how complicated it can be, though not entirely accurate. For example, some homeless people do have cars and sleep in them. (I do not, but some do.) Being homeless does not necessarily mean being carless.

I actually spend several hours a day at a library with wonderful and supportive staff who do not hassle me. I do resume work online( http://micheleincalifornia.blogspot.com/) and I work for a writing service and I blog. In recent years, ad money has dropped across the board for websites, not just mine, due what I call The Adblocker Wars. Most of the traffic on my personal blog is from HN and the vast majority of it uses adblockers. People on HN tend to not want to tip. Remarks on HN over and over indicate that if you don't like starving, instead of writing, you should go get a real job (like programming, apparently). Meanwhile, they expect good quality content to be available. I have bitched about this on my blog:



So even with arranging my life where I have regular access to the internet, have no need to meet clients in person and so forth, I still have a lot of trouble turning my work into an adequate income stream. This is in spite of having six years of college and enough mojo to garner more than 19k karma on HN in spite of my gender. As far as I know, no other woman has karma in the 5 figures. They are all below 10k. (And before the hecklers tell me this is not evidence of anything: MEN on hacker news are routinely told they must be really smart, because they have a lot of karma on HN. I am the only person that says that about me and, inevitably, someone shoots it down instead of going "Holy Cow! Because you are a woman, your karma should be assumed to be worth like triple what it is for a man!")

But thank you for chiming in.

You're right, it's certainly not the same for everyone. I intentionally left out other obstacles like physical and mental health problems, drug/alcohol dependence, gender/ethnicity stereotype, communication barriers, legal status, being a parent, physical/sexual abuse, etc.

Having a car can be a huge benefit (after you pay for the mandatory registration and insurance and gas), until it gets stolen or robbed (which happened to my friend six months ago and she's still trying to work her way back to a replacement vehicle). And another friend, now that I think of it... And another, heh. Assuming it wasn't totaled, the fee to get the stolen car out of impound, plus a fee for every day it sits in the yard, on top of the repairs for bullet holes, smashed in windows, etc can make it more feasible to just save to buy another used car.

I think another thing that isn't stressed enough is how homelessness can drag on your mental health. You have constant stress, and dealing with obstacles and unfairness on a daily basis can feed depression, make you more irritable, lose energy, etc. Not being "chipper" enough can be a big burden in terms of getting clients (especially for women; thanks, male chauvinism). I am of course not trying to tell you this, but for other readers to consider.

Thank you for telling your story, I hope your situation improves soon. Have you considered applying to a TED talk on bias or invisible burdens for people with lack of resource security?

I am in no position to do a TED talk. I do a lot of blogging (I have multiple blogs) and I participate on various forums and I started a Reddit a couple of months back called Housing Works because the shortage of affordable housing is such a huge part of this and getting worse. I run a blog called the San Diego Homeless Survival Guide. Because of that blog, I have been interviewed 3x times by various reporters and that has never resulted in media attention for the site, probably because the first two asked why I was homeless and I talked about my medical situation, which always gets me dismissed as a lunatic. The third incident was recent and not an interview per se. Perhaps it shall get mentioned in their article, but I am not holding my breathe.

> This is in spite of having six years of college and enough mojo to garner more than 19k karma on HN in spite of my gender. As far as I know, no other woman has karma in the 5 figures. They are all below 10k.

Having a high score on an Internet forum has zero value for someone who wants to purchase a service from you, I don't see how this is relevant.

Agreed. If anything, it shows that the poster spends an inordinate amount of time commenting on an internet forum.

There is a form of #2 (a poverty trap) that afflicts people in category #1.

This is probably the most easily "treatable" condition.

Basically, you can be smart and motivated, but not have the resources (family, friends, money) to pull yourself together. You may not even have a computer, a car, or a house. You can't shave, let alone get a clean set of clothes or transport to an interview. You can't put together a resume and so on.

This is sad because a few months of housing, internet, food, and basically time support could turn this person's life around.

Of course, people who have mental illness or have paid their due for a crime and so on also deserve help. I am not arguing they don't.

I just mean that it costs so little for so much good in the former case.

I agree completely. My sister is a bad drug addict and an alcoholic. She would be homeless if she didn't live with my dad.

We're also pretty sure now she also has a serious mental disorder as well. I doubt she'll ever hold down a job again in her life. Even if she gets clean.

Also this: "With some self-motivation and a lot of self-help books, I made the decision to stop taking drugs. ..."

That quote made it seem like no big deal for him to stop using drugs, but there are plenty of hard-working and reasonably intelligent people that are unable to do it.

He's definitely an outlier among the homeless population.

I would also add a third problem: scalability.

A story like this presents a way out of poverty and homelessness ... for a few people. Which is great, saving a single person is always a victory. But it doesn't scale.

> Problem (2) however is the much bigger problem. Unfortunately, what this guy did is only marginally useful in coming up with solutions to that problem.

What this guy did was "Anything but what was keeping him down."

And he's very fortunate that he was able to overcome his particular problem, addiction, on his own.

The key to problem 2 is to a) Intervene with yourself, or b) Get help to intervene with yourself, or c) Be fortunate that a kind soul or community intervenes on your behalf.

b) and especially c) are tough in today's developed, "don't look at them" world.

The clarity of these kinds of comments on HN makes me so happy. In the Trump-era, it warms my heart to see there are still plenty of intelligent people who understand complex problems.

I know this is a stupid, and almost patronizing comment from me, but seriously, at this point in our society, every shred of humanity is meaningful.

Problem (3) these stories don't scale.

> This is a great story. But...someone who has the intelligence and work ethic to do this probably wasn't going to be homeless for long.

He could have stayed on the street had he not kicked his drug habit. I am amazed that your comment doesn't mention his drug addiction at all - he wasn't just "down on his luck".

That he got over his addiction without support is amazing, but let us not pretend that smart, hard-working individuals can't get addicted to drugs. If you have an addiction, please don't be afraid to get help.

Agree. I think of group (1) as the "accidentally homeless." Group (2) is homeless secondary to some other insidious problem and they will remain homeless unless the primary problem is dealt with. Group (1) are a source of feel-good stories. But group (2) are the ones that really need help, and that help might be inconveniently expensive. It's easier and cheaper to pretend that group (2) doesn't exist.

The problem with the "but they have mental illness to deal with" answer is that while it may be true, it's very much the edge case, and not the rule.

I know this because I've been homeless. I'd say greater than 90% of the folks that I encountered in my homeless period were there because they were content to be there.

If they wanted to change their lot, there was more than ample opportunity to do so, between available services and working nearly ANY kind of job.

It took me about 4 months of working to get off the street.

> The problem with the "but they have mental illness to deal with" answer is that while it may be true, it's very much the edge case, and not the rule.

You provide no substantive justification for this claim.

> I know this because I've been homeless. I'd say greater than 90% of the folks that I encountered in my homeless period were there because they were content to be there.

Being homeless doesn't make you an especially qualified assessor of mental state, nor is there any reason to believe that the people you interacted with enough to form a judgement about their reasons for being on the street were representative even if your judgement were inassailable.

Doing badass things that don't scale got him attention that could be monetized to further bring himself and others up. Goodwill (the business value kind) is a vital component to rapidly scaling a venture. Things that scale come later.

>>The problem with stories like this is they conflate two problems: (1) being down on your luck (but hard-working and reasonably intelligent) (2) being stuck in a poverty loop due to mental illness, criminal record, or countless other complex factors.

Those two problem can be classified as:

1. Taking personal responsibility. 2. Not taking personal responsibility.

The moment you make up your mind that you are not responsible for your problem, you essentially remove any incentive to take action at your end. Essentially making it impossible for any real solution to work.

Im not saying people do not fail for reasons beyond their control. But if you do away the personal responsibility part, you permanently shut down the door for taking action from your end.

This is like complaining Ruby on Rails has a problem because you can't build iOS apps with it.

It's a good story, and it inspires tons of people who are in bad situations, as well as people who are in good situations but are doing nothing with it. What more do you want? Solve global warming?

Don't turn this into "you can't always win just because you work hard" trope. This is a beautiful story that inspires people and that itself is powerful.

I think that you and some of the others might be interested in my story, if it doesn't make you too uncomfortable. It's not a neat and tidy moral fable that illustrates how you can succeed if you do the right things and vice versa.

I'm currently homeless. I chose this about 7.5 months ago, even though for part of this time I was employed full-time at $18/hour. I wanted to help my ex-wife with her rent after I moved out, and to put the rest of my money toward dental work, health care, health food, and relocation. I graduated with Research Honors with a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from a top university in my field in 1995. As an embedded software engineer at a fast-growing wireless telecom company, 1995-2000, I earned extra stock options for my performance, such that in 2000, when I resigned, the current valuation of just the options I forfeited was around $500,000. But now, now I am homeless. And I am finding the stress of it is dragging me down, such that it may become a vicious cycle if it isn't already.

A story like this tends to make people uncomfortable; especially, people seem to scramble to tell themselves that they and their loved ones cannot possibly share such a downward trajectory. I must have done some really stupid things in order to deserve this, right?

In a nutshell, I think that I did make some less than wise choices, but possibly not any of the ones that you are imagining. I did not develop a drinking problem, gambling problem, or any of the other moral faults that most people imagine. I also did not have a bad work ethic. In fact, one reason I resigned was that due to the huge incongruity between my work ethic and others judgments of me as they tried to figure out what I had stopped accomplishing much. Frankly, it hurt my feelings, and I was tired of being insulted, although I understood where they were coming from: Unless a medical professional labelled me as sick, a smart guy who has ceased to perform well must be lazy, right?

I could make a case that my work ethic was too good: I refused to be paid more than I thought I was worth, and I also decided at some point to focus on doing whatever work the market was under-valuing. This could have been good for humanity had I succeeded (it was a mooonshot I was attempting) but it was bad for me personally.

What happened to me? I would say that gradually and in stages (starting with a dad with poor anger management and moving 12 times by age 12, across states and internationally), I developed some kind of trauma syndrome, in the direction of PTSD if not that per se. If you have read about trauma, you may know that the effects can come on cumulatively and gradually. A few head injuries along the way may have helped, though all of them happened before I entered university.

This is also a story about the failure of health care. When the actual care didn't fail, the marketing of it did, such that it took me forever to identify trauma as the central problem. Before that I thought it might be "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome," but this didn't quite fit; my fatigue wasn't constant but more mental and triggered by challenging mental tasks; eventually I learned that CFS and Fibromyalgia are highly correlated with trauma and can be caused by it.

I am working on writing something about this, telling the whole story, or as much of it as can helpful to readers. I also seek worthwhile venues in which to publish it. The tension I sense is between finding sufficiently thoughtful readers and finding readers who won't be so sensitive to my horror story that they put on their protective blinders. I need readers who are willing to read honestly.

Sometimes it seems to me that histories like this put the weight of leaving poverty in the individuals himselves rather than the government social services, enforcing the myth that poor people is people that chooses to.

I don't believe that people "choose" to be poor, and there is an overwhelming societal component at play. But I can't say that the individual and their choices don't matter.

He admits he had problems with drugs, and that his life spiraled out of control. Do I think we should have treatment programs so it doesn't get this bad? Yes, of course. But some people don't think there's a problem, or need help until they hit bottom. It's part of their problem. Many times you can't commit someone to treatment against their will, at least in the US.

In this complicated world, where we view everything through our own subjective lens (consciousness), we have to admit that the individual has a role to play. How do they frame their reality? Are they giving up? Do they just feel "down on their luck"? Do they have that will? Why do some people fail in the face of adversity and others succeed? Are they just having "a good time" (with drugs)? Is there a mental illness at play? Understanding the problem is key to solving it.

If someone has completely given up on making their life better, then they are basically choosing to be poor, because their mind has accepted there is no other choice (no matter how slim the chance of success). They may not have any other choice but to be poor, but to stop improving basically ensures it. Some people lose the will to live, while others do not. (This isn't just people in extreme poverty either, but poor people marginalized by society, or people that become poor after being rich)

Let me just run a parallel to another public health crisis - obesity. I'm fat. Always have been. But the big difference to me is consciously making the choice I'm going to do what it takes to get rid of it. We all know that exercising and eating are in our control, they are choices we make. They might be painful choices, but we have them. But when we convince ourselves it's not possible ("it's genetic", "i'll never be thin", "i lack the strength", etc), we do give up, and that's basically losing the battle before you start. Sure, we could blame everyone who's putting bad things in food, and selling us french fries, but we also know that they wouldn't be selling them if they weren't so good. And that we all have a choice of how many times we eat them. Even if we only made healthy food, some people would still eat too much. There's always personal choice at play. If anything, society is the culmination of people's personal choices on a macro scale.

Do I think we need to help the poor and provide services? Of course. But we also need to give them hope. A lot of people don't know the government services that could help them, because they aren't looking, or have given up. Just getting services to people is a challenge, and relies on people wanting to accept help, and being able to accept those services to help get them back on their feet, and giving them the tools to stay on the up and up.

And the flip side of the coin is that the government needs to be willing to provide services, presumably because the government sees a correlation between choosing to help yourself, subsequently finding a resource that can help, using that resource to get help, and finally being helped and back on your feet, where the cost to provide sufficient help is less than the opportunity cost of having another person on the skids.

Everywhere has homeless. But places that offer little help have a lot more.

>>I don't believe that people "choose" to be poor

But you can get conditioned to be in that state. And then that will be a choice you would have made subconsciously.

It's really odd to me that people read an article like this and jump to the assumption that the article is putting the responsibility for alleviating poverty solely on the poor. When you actually read the article, it doesn't imply anything of the sort (the closest I can come is the fact that the title has "instead of begging" at the end, but even that is stretching a bit). Particularly when the source is an organization whose About page says things like

"Helping secure legislation in the US, Canada and EU on transparency in the extractives sector to help fight corruption and ensure more money from oil and gas revenues in Africa is used to fight poverty."


"Successfully advocating for official development assistance, which has increased globally by $35.7 billion between 2005 and 2014."

It's pretty hard to draw the conclusion that they're some kind of bootstraps-only ideologues. Every time I see someone make a claim that an article about someone getting themselves out of poverty somehow implies that society doesn't owe the poor anything, I can't help but think it says more about the person making the complaint than it does about the article.

Probably it's me, because as you said there is nothing in the article that suggest a general idea like the one I exposed; probably I'm too pesimmistic.

It's always nice (and interesting) to see how different people interpret and feel histories differently.

You don't think personal change represents any elevation from poverty? I think we certainly agree it can play a major role into poverty descent.

Not really, no. In the US, it's mostly about your family, although there are exceptions of course:


> The correlation between parents' income and their children's income in the United States is estimated between .4 and .6.

> If a parent's income had no effect on a child's opportunity for future upward mobility, approximately 20% of poor children who started in the bottom quintile (in the bottom 20% of the US range of incomes) would remain there as poor adults. At the other end of income spectrum, if children were born into wealthy families in the top 20%, only 20% would stay in that top income category if their mobility opportunities were equal to every other child's in the country.

> But long-term income statistics show this isn't happening. Mobility opportunities are different for poor and wealthy children in the US. Parental incomes and parental choices of home locations while raising children appear to be major factors in that difference. According to a 2012 Pew Economic Mobility Project study 43% of children born into the bottom quintile (bottom 20%) remain in that bottom quintile as adults. Similarly, 40% of children raised in the top quintile (top 20%) will remain there as adults. Looking at larger moves, only 4% of those raised in the bottom quintile moved up to the top quintile as adults. Around twice as many (8%) of children born into the top quintile fell to the bottom. 37% of children born into the top quintile will fall below the middle. These findings have led researchers to conclude that "opportunity structures create and determine future generations' chances for success. Hence, our lot in life is at least partially determined by where we grow up, and this is partially determined by where our parents grew up, and so on."

That is a correlation, not causal. Maybe (just throwing something out there) poor parent's children continue to be poor because the poor parents can't teach their children the appropriate life skills to save and earn enough money?

But that would be a causal influence.

It's dangerous to cast blanket statements like that.

Some people end up in poverty by bad choices, sure. I don't think it's safe to assume that most "deserve" to be in poverty because of their choices. I think the more common scenario is mental illness develops > bad events happen due to mental illness and lack of treatment > job loss > more bad events/choices made out of desperation > repeat

And add in the fact, that until recently, insurance was available for only specific destitute or employees whom worked at jobs that provided insurance.

And we have a party that wants to dismantle everything, including Social Security.

As far as I'm concerned, both parties are mutually destructive. (Destructive competition.) Two peas in a pod since the 90s.

I agree, but after reading articles like this I always leave with the impression that the personal change doesn't need to be encouraged by the society, and must come solely from the individual. Like other commenter said in the post, some people like the mentally unstable can't change without a lot of outside help.

do you athleticism at the pro level is achieved by personal abilities alone? what if you grew up in a society that doesn't value basketball for example, you will never have opportunities and support to develop a physical ability to reach pro level status. Societal conditions play a critical role in my example

In 2014, "Vulnerable Populations" made up 80% of the poor in the USA. That essentially means children and the elderly.

On top of that, it's like another 7% of people that are in poverty that are fully employed!


You live in a class based society, poor people are poor because they were generally born into it and denied the privileged of the education necessary to escape it. Stop victim blaming.

Just because it correlates with family doesn't mean personal change mythology isn't central. Different families have different mythologies.

The family stat is worthwhile to indicate that individual differentiation isn't a good explanatory factor, which is important to note.

To me the takeaway is that personal and family level interventions will be inadequate and neighborhood-level coordination is a good place to start.

Neighborhood mythology around personal change could very well be an important tool, I don't know.

I like to tell this to all the billions of people starving on the street around the world.

Poverty is not structural. It's the individual's responsibility.

Poor people just need some change from within to elevate themselves out the favelas of Rio, the Dharavi in India, the west side of Chicago.

The cancer they get from drinking polluted water, the failure of their body after being exposed to the elements, their family member getting murdered, dismembered, and hung from a bridge by cartels....could have been prevented if they had only just elevated themselves.

Poverty is the individuals fault. </s>

Who's saying it's their fault? The only thing I'm saying is that both descent into poverty and ascension from it can be due to personal action. Why do we have to choose 100% one cause or the other?

Your argument highlights a sensational occurrence to disparage an large group of people.

It's like saying all Muslims are terrorists, or all people on food stamps are lazy...

It's not an overtly lie, but taken statistically... it's definitely a lie....and false and misleading.

Poverty is without a doubt structurally caused around the world.

There are obscure cases of people who cause themselves to be in poverty but most people do everything in their power not to be in poverty...and are in poverty because they don't have opportunities...

Absolutely. Financial success requires determination, natural ability, and luck. But the popular narrative discards the last two and says that anyone can escape poverty--or be the next Bill Gates--if they just put their mind to it. Ergo, anyone who isn't successful is just lazy and deserves no help.

Still, it is nice to see people escape bad circumstances on their own, as long as we don't turn it into justification for selfishness.

yes, seriously. happy for him, but fuck the whole "instead of begging" narrative :(

Um, no, let's not fuck that. The way to help people get off the street is to help them access paid work instead of begging and instead of charity. Charity does not buy one a middle class lifestyle. You get that by working for it.

Why is this so very hard for so many people to comprehend?

i believe the narrative that everyone has to work for a living, and that the way to help everyone obtain the basic necessities of life is to somehow create jobs for them, is an increasingly dangerous fallacy. there is simply less and less need for everyone to be working in order to produce enough to support everyone, and the ideal producer/consumer ratio is only falling with every increase in automation.

if we weren't trying to cling so desperately to this sort of capitalist setup, we'd all be better off. it's just that the incentives for it aren't yet aligned with the immediate interests of whoever has the power to make changes.

as someone working and leading a middle class lifestyle, i'd be even happier, and feel a lot more productive, if i thought my work was helping other people lead the same lifestyle sans working (or even better, by working on whatever they felt like, without having to care about whether someone valued it enough to pay for it).

I very, very strongly disagree with this. In the last Industrial Revolution, they introduced the 40 hour work week. We need the burden of work to be lighter for all people. But we all still need access to the option to work. Accepting that jobs will simply vanish and those who don't already have massive amounts of wealth will just get a UBI is a horrendous dystopian nightmare.

If we can all work 20 hours a week and adequately support ourselves, awesome. But the current position is that the 99 percent have no inherent right to access the means to create wealth. They are merely mouths to feed, consumers who can add nothing. This is incredibly problematic and I dearly hope we get a clue before natural consequences inform us catastrophically that this simply does not work.

> But we all still need access to the option to work.

UBI makes work more attractive and available, not less, compared to the things it is generally proposed to replace (means tested benefit programs and minimum wages)—by replacing means-tested benefit programs it means people don't lose money for finding work, and by replacing minimum wages it means work with a positive, but low, value per hour can still be offered that would otherwise be forbidden.

and by replacing minimum wages it means work with a positive, but low, value per hour can still be offered that would otherwise be forbidden.

So your utopian ideal for ending poverty is UBI plus slave wages for the 99 percent. I fail to see how this is in any way better than minimum wage jobs. At best, it is a new variation of minimum wage, only you don't make minimum wage by getting a minimum wage, you get it by having a UBI plus below minimum wage pay.

That proposition only makes me feel even more opposed to a UBI.

> So your utopian ideal

I've never mentioned a utopian ideal. I addressed the false implication that UBI was somehow opposed to the availability of work.

> for ending poverty

Poverty can be mitigated, but not ended.

> is UBI plus slave wages for the 99 percent.

No, "slave wages" makes even metaphorical sense only in the sense that unmitigated capitalism provides economic coercion to work; a system with UBI doesn't share that features of unmitigated capitalism.

Further, while replacing the minimum wage with UBI reduces the minimum value of jobs that can be offered, it reduces the pressure to accept low wage jobs, so low wages jobs are likely to accepted for experience or other reasons, but not economic coercion,

a ubi needn't stop you from working. what it will stop, or at least sharply reduce, is low-paying jobs that are low-paying simply because everyone has to either work or starve, and because the job involves easily-replaceable skills. for example, being an amazon warehouse worker is, from all accounts, highly unpleasant, way more so than being an amazon developer. and yet the developers are paid a lot more. why? amazon absolutely needs warehouse workers; its business would collapse without them. but the price for the job is set by how easily they could replace those workers, and that in turn is set by the fact that there are more people who need jobs than there are jobs available.

also, look at it this way - there are lots of people who would find it satisfying and fulfilling to be painters, or gardeners, or heck, even nursery school teachers. the only problem is that those jobs don't pay as well as less fulfilling but more valuable to the "owner" class. why is your (and many other people's!) vision of basic income a bunch of zombies sitting around as "mouths to feed", when no one thinks that about people with inherited wealth?

No, what will stop people from working is that the people currently in charge of creating jobs will not bother to create jobs for everyone because "you have your UBI." That's the problem.


the idea that a job is something someone has to "bother to" create and hand to you already buys into the same sort of stratified inequality that you are complaining about with charity. if either way you have to depend on the people with capital and ownership to get money, how is being made to do something for it any better than being given it via the government taxing them and paying you a basic income?

also i'm afraid i had to stop reading that blog post at "poor women cranking out babies", because i seriously cannot engage with that sort of thinking right now. however, i will address your earlier point about ubhc being better than ubi - why are you framing it as an either/or thing? ubhc is absolutely the end goal of a civilised society, but it doesn't obviate the need for a basic income, nor does a basic income presuppose the rest of the existing setup continues unchanged.

I am a homeless woman right now. My alimony is roughly the amount of money being batted about as a figure for UBI. I have spent literally years on HN trying to network and figure out how one makes money in earnest on the internet because the only thing I need to make my life work adequately at this point is sufficient online income for supporting a middle class lifestyle.

I face enormous obstacles in trying to get taken seriously and trying to get traction for my writing and trying to find out how in the hell you make money online while surrounded by endless men who know how to do exactly that. So I feel pretty strongly that the people currently being left out will just be left out all the more if they have a UBI.

Maybe both of those problems can be solved. Maybe it doesn't have to be an either/or thing. But replies like yours in no way inspire me to believe that we can intentionally create a permanent underclass and still give them access to the means to create wealth. I have six years of college and I am finding it a huge uphill battle, in part because I am a woman.

And poor women would start cranking out babies if you posit that we give everyone in the nation a check from birth, a thing I have written about before:


what about all the people who work long, hard hours (often doing two or three jobs), who still don't attain a middle class lifestyle? do you think, given the option of a ubi and those jobs, they would still continue to do them? the lack of basic income adds a huge distortion to the equation of "the work you do is worth X to me, but i will pay you Y for it, and X can be way greater than Y because your side of the balance sheet is Y + not starving".

also, where do you get "permanent underclass" from? if you posit that there is some way to acquire skills that are so valuable people will pay you a middle-class salary for them, surely acquiring those skills is easier if you don't have to also do a laborious and crappy job at the same time. contrariwise, if you think that someone on pure ubi is doomed never to be able to transition from there to a job, what in that equation changes if you give that person a minimum-wage job instead of ubi?

You know, I am homeless right now and I don't know how I will eat for the rest of this month. I am finding your remarks insulting, depressing, frustrating and obnoxious.

Are you doing anything to help lift me up while trying to prove your point that I am wrong and you are right? In my eyes, you continuing to argue this while doing nothing to help me grow my online income just supports my point of view that UBI will be yet another source of class divide.

I have $10k a year unearned income and I have been on HN for several years. I am the top ranked woman here. I still can't make the business connections I need to figure out how the hell to make good money online. I don't know a stronger argument for what I am saying than my life and you can't be arsed to even finish reading things I have written.

I don't plan to continue to engage you. I don't feel your argument is remotely in good faith. I think if you were right and I was wrong, then I would have long ago established sufficient income to get my sorry ass off the fucking street. Having $10k in unearned income in no way gives you the business connections you need and if other people for any reason don't want to make those connections with you, then trying to figure it out your damn self tends to involve painfully slow progress that has little hope of ever leading to a middle class income.

okay, I apologise and will not argue any further.

I see it as somewhere in-between.

There's probably some kind of ideal form of government intervention that will take the most out of poverty; and then there's probably some form of minimalistic form of humane intervention for the hopeless.

>> the myth that poor people is people that chooses to [live in poverty]

Don't forget the myth that they could be mentally ill or just dumb having IQ below 70. Because bad things does not happen to good people.

What a negative way to view this. It's an incredible story, not a condemning of everyone who doesn't do something amazing.

A long time ago I lived in baltimore, and there was a man who was "homeless" (he lived in the church he sat behind so he had a bed) who did just this.

You would give him a book of yours and he would give one back that he though you would enjoy... It was like having a one on one book club, with the greatest recommendations ever.

When I moved from baltimore I gave him the dozen or so books I had to add to his collection, and I always wonder what ever happened to him. I miss having a commute (walk actually) that included the strange bright spot of his presence.

Quick fact check: 20-25% of homeless people in the United States suffer from "a severe mental illness." (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/27/mental...)

Props to this guy for turning his life around despite a lack of support from the society he lives in, but there are hundreds of thousands of people here in the United States alone who will never have a similar opportunity.

On a similar note, it's always nice to see the "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" stories involving homeless people, but we (meaning the U.S) need to place higher value on assisting those who can't assist themselves.

Mental illness is the root of the problem. From homelessness to suicide rates to general well being, we need a better mental health care system in place.

I've been reading "Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging" by Sebastian Junger and it draws a pretty clear connection between what we consider a "successful person" and unhappiness. In essence, people were happier when they lived simpler lives in tribes, and as society grew to place value on financial/personal independence and move away from the tribe system of survival - people became more unhappy and mental illness/suicide rates rose.

The more we segregated people by wealth/social status, the more isolated people feel and mental illness rates creep higher and higher.

This article just reinforces the idea that only lazy/dumb people are homeless, and only those who "put in the work" deserve recognition.

I always smile when I see that phrase, "pull yourself up by the bootstraps," because the phrase originally meant "do something impossible," back in the 1700s. As in, this thing you're trying to do is as easy/difficult as lifting yourself off the ground by your own bootstraps.

I'm not arguing the "lift yourself up through effort" meaning is wrong. That's been the most common meaning since the 1960s, with some examples dating to the 1930s. But still, I get a chuckle, because the new meaning is also nearly impossible for most people too, without a bit of luck or extraordinary circumstances. :)

I wonder how the people who are currently homeless would have ended up, if they were born in tribal times?

It's hard to say - I'd like to imagine the addiction and mental illness would be much less prevalent.

Also the book I mentioned talks about personal value and self worth in a Tribe setting - sharing and providing for others, keeping the tribe healthy as a whole, was the main driving factor versus personal wealth and possessions. The biggest Tribal infractions were failing to fight for the tribe (cowardice, not protecting the tribe), unwillingness to share food/resources, and killing another Tribe member.

I'm sure there would be Tribe members who were less effective/productive, but for the most part it seems like the slack would be picked up by the other tribe members.

That sounds like romanticism/nostalgia, and probably ignores a lot of bad stuff that happened.

If you want another take on more primitive cultures, read "The Better Angels of our Nature" by Steven Pinker. You probably won't want to return to that kind of lawlessness.

That being said, I think we probably have a lot to learn and may have made some wrong turns. For instance, people are probably happier having more close relationships with other people, but separate houses where we don't know our neighbors doesn't allow that.

"Tribes" doesn't gloss over the brutality that existed in tribal groups, but it does remind the reader that the same brutality and savageness exists in "civilized" societies (the Spanish Inquisition being one example).

Your house example is spot on. As society - specifically Western European and American - put an emphasis on private suburban living and personal wealth, people started feeling more disconnected and happiness levels dropped.

Of course tribal life was not perfect, or the world wouldn't have evolved past it for the most part. Violence towards other tribes and groups was profound and extreme, but this may have actually contributed to overall happiness levels instead of detracting. One last "Tribes" point - people who are living through a common goal in extreme circumstances (war, natural disaster, disease, etc) are better towards each other and experience lower suicide rates than in times of peace.

Thanks for the rec - will add to reading list.

I guess that the mentally ill would have suffered an extreme ostracism and violence from the population, but I also think that some of the conditions that lead to homelessness (drugs, alcohol, financial problems) are very recent.

Yeah, it depends on the type of mental illness, I think. Addiction is obviously harder without easy access to the chemical/activity.

But even for something like depression, many of the behaviors that are known to help would be more prevalent/mandatory in small, close-knit, more primitive societies. For example, you'd probably be getting tons of physical exercise, getting good sleep without artificial light, have frequent contact with a close family/social network, and probably have a pretty fixed routine that would be expected of all members of your cohort within the community. I'm not saying those activities cure depression, but speaking personally and for close friends, those activities make a huge difference.

I agree, absence of isolation in primitive societies can be a huge advantage.

It wasnt meant to be prescriptive, just hopeful. I'm glad to have read about how one man's ingenuity completely changed his situation.

The article never explicitly mentioned him finding a new place to live. I found this reference in a people.com article:

Eventually, Dladla was able to pay rent again and even earned extra income that he used to start a book club for kids in a local park


Flash poll; how many of you have been homeless? How many for an extended period (more than 6mo)?

I was homeless twice in my life, both times for more than 6mo. The entire time I was a “knowledge worker” employed in hardware and software.

I see he has a potential to be a net celebrity by doing a live streaming show focusing on book reviews with a $100 smart phone.

Jack Charles (Australian aboriginal actor) recently discussed his life. He is an avid reader, an actor, a drug addict, he slept in toilets at night, shared any money he earned or stole, was imprisoned 22 times, has been finally housed late in life. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Charles_(actor) Don't know if you can view his story if you are not in Australia: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/anhs-brush-with-fame/ (Series 2, Episode 9)

This is what I have been thinking lately. Homeless rarely add value.

I know that is some gimmicky terms ... but it feels true.

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