Flutterby™! : ethics of homelessness

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ethics of homelessness

2000-05-02 23:31:55+00 by Dan Lyke 16 comments

I realize that my discussion system sucks asteroids through capillary tubes, but perhaps ya'll will abide that and offer some feedback: I'm trying to see how ethical structures other than my own would handle a problem that a friend of mine was crying on my shoulder over last night. The friend we'll call "X" knows someone we'll call "Y". Y got into a space in Y's life where Y needed some support, so X offered a place to sleep and room to breathe so that Y could get back on Y's feet, in exchange for following a few simple rules. Some of those rules influenced other people, X put X's reputation on the line in recommending Y for some easy tasks. Y broke those rules, X complained, Y promised to do better, but didn't. After repeating that cycle a few times, finally X said "no more", with the end result that Y's probably going to end up homeless on the street. X views Y's eviction as an act of total last resort, and sees it as a decision which involves giving up any interest in whether Y lives or dies.

Needless to say, since X once viewed Y as a close friend this is a matter of some emotional turmoil. And it likely involves one more person on the street, a problem which affects the general quality of life of the culture I live in. I don't see a solution other than the one taken, but I'm wondering if some of my more economically liberal readers would offer their takes on the ethics of the situation. What can be done when someone's unwilling to take basic actions for survival? And how does this differ from the person who spends commute hours with the "will work for food" sign at an intersection, and the rest of their day sipping tallboys under the local bridge?

[ related topics: Ethics ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:56+00 by: jra

One of my standard observations, right up there in importance with "Stupidity is *supposed* to be expensive" is "We do our loved ones no favors by being *too* nice to them." I'm not sure of the relevance of economic liberalism here; for me the focus point is "some easy work that Y could do" "[blew it]". If this is really what happened, then *that* is the killer for me. The currency was X's solicitude; Y spent it.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:56+00 by: John Anderson

I'm not sure I meet the 'economically liberal' qualification, but I'll toss in my two pennies anyway.

(Since you don't mention, I'm assuming that Y doesn't have any (what I would consider extenuating) circumstances such as substance abuse or a disability that prevents performing the tasks.)

Anyway, given the situation as you described, I don't see what else could have been done either. There's always the possibility that this will be the

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:56+00 by: jra

Yup. Asteroids. Did it *really* eat my entire comment?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:56+00 by: John Anderson

Apparently so, Jay. Repost it, or edit it, or something -- I'd like to see what you have to say.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:56+00 by: hanan

It seems that Y has a tendency to dysfunction and needs some help. Y acts like a

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:56+00 by: Dan Lyke

Hey, Jay and John, I don't know what's going on with the clipping. It's simply doing an insert of the unchanged data into the table, and the data in the table's clipped (all the formatting happens on output). Since this is the same code that I use for the updates to the 'blog in general, I'm not having the issue (Netscape 4.61, Lynx 2.8.1rel.2 or XEmacs20/w3-mode), so tracking it down is important.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:56+00 by: John Anderson

Well, my previous two comments were made using Navigator 4.72 under Debian 2.2 -- so that doesn't really add anything useful. This comment is Communicator 4.7 under Solaris 2.7.

Is there any way for you to check logs and see if the text is actually getting sent versus the browser not handling the form correctly? (Although how brain-dead would that be?)

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:56+00 by: TC

Hey Gang, In Dan's defense he has the equivelent of 3(yes THREE!) full time jobs going on and on top of that a full blown open source project starting up(it's a secrect so don't tell anyone) ...DOH! Anyhow I think the porblem is the text box capture. The quick work around is after you type your comments. copy them into your buffer. After you post you'll be in edit mode for that post. You can just paste your comment back in. yeah yeah I know but the pressure should be off Dan in a little more than a week and then before you know it! It will only be like sucking asteroids down a garden hose... :)

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:57+00 by: debrahyde

Dan, I don't have a problem with X's decision. After all, to continue the situation is enabling at its worst. (And this is a heartbreaking decision to have to make so I think the feelings are warranted.) On a personal level, I find enabling behavior much worse than putting someone on the street. In this case, sometimes personal priorities take rank over civil and social concerns. Hey, though -- didn't Marin County just open a new, dorm-like shelter for street people? Saw on CNN and thought it was pretty forward-thinking for a rich county to create such a place. It doesn't warehouse people and actually helps get them back into the loop of standard living. Maybe X should see about getting Y there.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:57+00 by: Larry Burton

Dan, X made no decision, only rules. Y made the decision. Let Y live by the decision Y made.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:57+00 by: Larry Burton

Dan, X made no decision, only rules. Y made the decision. Let Y live by the decision Y made, to do otherwise is meddling.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:57+00 by: spink

Although I tend to be pretty soft hearted when it comes to kids and sometimes even teenagers, when adults are involved, I expect them to act like adult. The way I see it, X did a favor for Y that involved providing shelter and help to get y back on y's feet. Y has both an explicit and implicit obligation to X to do whatever Y can do to get Y back on Y's feet and not imposing on X. Y apparently felt the easiest way to do this was screw over X. It think the only problem in the story is X was far too nice. You get two chances, one of which is used when you first ask for help from a friend. If you screw up again, your on your own. TNSTAAFL.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:57+00 by: ebradway

I've been in the same position as X and when my Y finally moved out, he took my favorite t-shirts and some of my CDs (he did leave a monster container of Nestle Quick that I haven't been able to use up over the ten years since he left). My only advice is that X should make sure Y leaves with supervision. A far as being homeless, I think Dan said that the only people not able to find work out that way are the folks who don't want to work. And judging by the quality of service I've been seeing in restaurants lately, even those people are getting paid too!

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:57+00 by: hilarion

i 've known two y's and been in tight situations because of them. i don't think it's *because* x is so nice, or *because* y has made a decision. the y's i know thought they were doing what was within their ability and desire; they were unwitting agents of their own problems. mind, my two y's fell down quite a bit until they hit their parents, so the street wasn't an issue. one of them is at least partially reformed, after 5 years. moral? if the guilt is complex and needs to be address morally (or with justness), then one's fault but the environ they lived in, and their predisposition towards self-reflection. how can either x||y feel guilt or moral harm in what happened? advice to x: don't change. advice to y: do... but these things take time and environment, and that's exactly what is out of your hands. if y "turns into" a street person, they will have a change to examine their real choices of environ. this might be their character-building exercise. Clipped for me too: Communicator 4.72.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:57+00 by: jra

Excellent evaluation, Larry.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:29:57+00 by: ziffle

I have made the decision, and recently... Its not easy, especially not in the abstract; I chose not to take in Y; the end result seemed to be clear; like an alchoholic, they must crash before they fly again, and it does not help anything to be part of their crash in the mean time. Once they turn the corner and really want to fly is the time to help them. Ziffle