Makin' Money

The "faces of homelessness"

Chris Farrell Feb 18, 2011

For more insight into money and homelessness following Tess’ interview with Patrice Nelson, executive director of the Urban Ministries of Durham, we turned to Joel John Roberts. He’s the CEO of PATH (People Assisting The Homeless), the publisher of, the author of How To Increase Homelessness, and a blogger on Huffington Post:

Roberts: Jason was an executive for a local bank who was an active volunteer at one of our homeless programs. He was a generous donor and even helped chair a fundraising initiative. Michael came to us with experience in IT, while George walked through our doors having been a manager at DreamWorks.

What do Jason, Michael, and George all have in common?

They all ended up homeless, and became residents in our homeless transitional housing programs last year.

I know that the images of homelessness typically reflect some disheveled man, with a jacket coated with dirt and drenched in an alcohol stench. But that stereotype is so 1980s.

Today, in the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, the faces of homelessness look like my family and friends. Homelessness is becoming a money issue, not just some fall off of an alcoholic wagon.

That personal home budget seems to be tighter and tighter. It really doesn’t matter if you are using Quicken home financial software, if you are furloughed two days per week, or worse, laid off. No fancy software can prevent you from going broke.

What happens when your monthly salary goes from $5,000 per month to $1,000? What do you cut? Definitely Netflix, cable TV, the local paper and daily runs to Starbucks. Those are easy. But they don’t add up to much.

Okay, no more dinners at Cheesecake Factory. That will help my diminishing wallet as well as my expanding waist. New clothes and shoes can wait until I get back on my feet.

But that’s still easy. Now it’s time for the hard decisions. Cut my health insurance premium in hopes I don’t get sick? Stop going to the grocery store, and start shopping at the local Food Bank instead? Cut the phone line?

I’ve got to keep enough money to pay my rent. So do I cut the electricity, and use candles? Instead of heat, buy a few jackets at the local thrift store? Selling furniture will help cover rent, at least for a month or so.

Sometimes buying a one dollar lottery ticket sounds more and more tempting, despite the fact that the odds are greater that I would die in an airplane crash than win the multi-million dollar lottery.

For many Americans today, the last resort is cutting rent payments and ending up sleeping in their car. The layered jackets keep you warm. Hiding in the back seat may keep you safe. But a car is for your daily commute to work, not your personal domicile.

Money certainly makes the world go round, and certainly keeps most Americans off the streets.

It is so much more difficult to help homeless Americans when they look like my family and friends.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.