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A Field Guide to the Four Major Types of Homeless People

If you’ve ever spent time in a major metropolitan area, you’ve seen them. Maybe you’ve even interacted with one at some point, although certainly not by choice, unless you’ve got some kind of righteous Mother Theresa complex, in which case, you shouldn’t even be reading this site anyway. Wouldn’t you rather be distributing bamboo to underprivileged panda bears, or some cute shit like that?

Either way, homelessness is a problem in the United States, one which has only gotten worse during these difficult economic times. Luckily, the homeless are still great targets for online comedy writers, because, c’mon, it’s not like they’re gonna actually have the opportunity to read this. They definitely don’t have computers.

What follows is a rough field guide to help you identify and deal with the different subspecies of homeless person that you may encounter in your travels.

The Pissed Off Homeless Guy

Perhaps the most common of all types of homeless people, this fellow has the bitter attitude of a middle-aged high school music teacher who just divorced the wife that convinced him to take this job instead of going on tour with his own band in the first place, combined with the confrontational, “just don’t give a fuck” qualities of someone who has nothing to lose/Dick Cheney.

Odds are, he knew some form of a normal life before his current state, but whether through a series of bad decisions involving drugs, or rotten luck involving the IRS, he has wound up on the streets, and has decided that every single vaguely happy person out there is responsible for the mess he’s in. He’ll ask you for a donation the way you might ask a drunk driver for their information after they just totaled your car. In his eyes, the car that got totaled was his life, and the drunk driver responsible for it was you, despite the fact that you have never met this man before and he is the one who smells like a liquor cabinet.

If you run across this guy in your travels, there’s really not a whole lot that you can do to make the situation work out for you. You give him money, even a winning lottery ticket, and he acts like it’s not enough compensation for the damage that you (somehow) did by existing and not being a miserable asshole. You don’t give him money, he slurs some vague obscenities at you and goes along his less-than-merry way.

The Guilt Trip

This one is a little more difficult. Usually identifying himself as a veteran, most decent human beings would admit that he is deserving of whatever spare change we happen to be carrying. Even then, we are usually the ones who feel like it’s not enough that we are giving.

Still, however, there is often a sneaking suspicion that this is sometimes merely the shrewd, tactical incarnation of a homeless person…sure, there are definitely legitimate homeless veterans out there, but there are also guys with access to enough cardboard, markers, and basic imagination to construct a sign that states they are a veteran, when such is not the case at all.

Should you give him money? It’s a tough call to make on your part. On the one hand, it is impossible to just walk by this guy without feeling like someone is judging you, even if there is no one else around and you happen to be an atheist. On the other hand, you don’t want to donate a single penny to someone else’s lies.

And, you can’t exactly interrogate the guy to find out what regiment, platoon, division, etc., he was in. If he’s telling the truth, it’s disrespectful, if he’s lying, he’ll just get pissed off and tell you that it is disrespectful anyway. This is a situation where you may just need to toss in a buck and hope the guy actually deserved it.

The Businessman

The Businessman is an interesting one. He’s at least attacking his admittedly shitty situation with an entrepreneurial attitude, setting up shop along alleyways and street corners, hoping that his products can attract a few generous patrons.

It just sucks that nothing he is selling is anything you would actually want. After all, who really needs a torn up Old Navy knock-off t-shirt that has a few bizarre stains on it that you swear look like blood? Sure, you’d like to reward this guy for taking a little bit of initiative and working to get himself out of the mess he is in, but at the same time, you’re afraid of where these goods have been.

A common move in this situation, designed to alleviate some of your guilt, is to walk by slowly, throw some change in the guy’s jar and mumble something along the lines of “Just keep it.”

That’s sure to make you feel better about yourself. You’ll sleep like a baby tonight.

The Crazy Person

It ain’t easy living on the streets. Just ask any lower middle-class white boy who listens to too much rap and plays too much Grand Theft Auto. It’s a harsh world out there, one that can lead to serious mental deterioration.

Either that, or the mental hospitals were overcrowded back in the 80s and when they let a bunch of patients loose, they had nowhere to go (but crazier).

As a result, on any given day in any major city, you are bound to run into at least a dozen different individuals who know how and when the world will come to an end. You may not exactly be able to understand them, given the fact that they are mumbling some incoherent language that sounds like it belongs in a Star Wars movie, but surely if you were to decode the words they are trying to say, you would have revealed them to be a misunderstood prophet.

Anyway, this one is a no-brainer on your part. Any money spent on this person would be useless. They’d probably try to eat it.

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