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How do you help a homeless friend?

What's the appropriate response when someone you know is out on the street? Give them money? Practice tough love?

By MSN Money Partner Dec 19, 2011 2:23PM

This post comes from J.D. Roth at partner blog Get Rich Slowly.


As the U.S. economy enters its fourth year of turmoil, average folks continue to struggle. At Get Rich Slowly, we've shared questions and stories about people who can't make ends meet, who are losing their homes, and who find themselves out of work. But we've never tackled the homeless before.


Recently, though, Evan wrote with a tough situation. One of his friends is out on the street, and he feels guilty because of it. Should he help? What's his responsibility here -- financially and otherwise? Here's Evan's question:

I've read your website for years, but I've never written for advice until today. Now I could use advice from you and your readers.
I have a childhood friend who's in trouble. I've known him since we were both 10. We went to school together, so I saw firsthand his rocky childhood. He never finished college, but he's always been able to find a job until recently.
My friend just emailed to say that he's been homeless for four days in Phoenix. I'm appalled at this. I'm sitting in my luxury condo knowing someone I grew up with is suffering. I could Western Union him some money, and probably will, but I don't know if this is any sort of long-term help.
I'm trying to decide what I should do to help get him set up again. I can see on Craigslist that there are rooms for rent by the month in places that don't cost much money. I just want him to have a roof over his head and some stability so he can find another job, retail or otherwise. I don't know of any addiction problems (other than cigarettes); he never did drugs in his teens or 20s, and he isn't a huge drinker. He's meeting with a job counselor at the shelter soon.
Have you ever had an experience like this? With so many people unemployed and so many homeless, what do those of us who are well off do when confronted with someone we know in this position?

Have I ever had an experience like this? Not exactly.


I've certainly had childhood friends who ended up in trouble, financial and otherwise. (In fact, it was the death of my best friend from high school that put into motion massive changes in my life three years ago.) It's always difficult to know how (and how much) to help. Post continues below.

Those from the tough love camp say, "Never lend money to family and friends. Don't give financial help." And, of course, they have a point. You don't want to enable bad behavior, and you don't want to create rifts in the relationship over a few hundred dollars. There have absolutely been instances where I've refused to provide financial help in cases where I thought doing so would create more problems than it would solve.

Having said that, I'm not much of a tough love type of guy. I'm a softie. If I were in a pinch, I'd hope my friends would pitch in to help me out; in turn, I usually do what I can to help those with financial problems. I take a lot of flak around here for not donating much to charity, but I'm pretty free with my money when it comes to people I know. Helping a friend with financial problems makes me feel good, and I hope it helps those friends find their footing.


What can Evan do in this case? What should he do? Only he can make that decision, obviously, because only he knows how much he trusts his friend, and only he knows how much money he can afford to lose. But surely there's some general advice we can offer. And there are probably some GRS readers who have firsthand experience with this sort of thing.


Have you ever been homeless? Known somebody who was? What helped with the situation? What can the average person do to help a homeless friend? What would youdo?


Do you have any advice for Evan? Should he give his friend money? Rent him an apartment? Help him find a job? What advice can you offer?


More on Get Rich Slowly and MSN Money:

Dec 19, 2011 6:07PM

No, I wouldn't ask him to move in, especially if you have a spouse or family.

But, if you are really in a position to help him get set up in housing, ask him what HE wants. If he has a plan, tell him to pitch it and you'll see if you can help. More info will help you make a better decision.

Dec 19, 2011 11:00PM
If it is a good friend then you help in whatever way you can.

A friend moved in with me a few months ago after being laid off from her job along with hundreds of others.  Being in her 60's made it near impossible to find another job.  She had to let her house go in a short sale because her savings ran out.  She moved to another city on the promise of a job but the company ended up laying people off instead of hiring.  Her only income is social security and that isn't enough to pay rent for a place of her own.  She pays me a minimal amount to stay here until she can find another income.

No rules in my house.  I don't care if a friend in need smokes, stays out late or whatever.  If they need a roof over their head for awhile that's the least I can offer.  Not going to ask them to change their habits to suit me.

Dec 19, 2011 4:18PM
If it was me, I  would let him live with me until he found something, if he is a true friend he will help you with what ever and look for a job as soon as he is able.
Dec 19, 2011 3:29PM
It sounds like friend has connected with a shelter, so he has some support. Perhaps friend could give shelter counselor permission to speak to Evan & together they could formulate a plan.
Dec 20, 2011 8:55AM
You don"t turn your back on a true friend., If it was you would you want to be turned out into the street.

Yes I have had the same thought.  What would I do if a friend found him/her self on the street?

As a retiree there's not enough money for me to share with others.  But maybe there are other ways.  It's winter and cold and wet.  Take advantage of shelters.  Move from one to the other. Find a food bank, you have to eat and take care of your health.  Keep yourself clean and presentable when looking for a job. If you find one, save every penny you can. Drugs, cigarettes and alcohol are out of the question.  Even dog walking is a job.


If you are 55 or over, connect with AARP.  They can probably help too.  I know Home Depot and other hire seniors.  In the summer connect with a church or community that offer community garden space.  They provide the water most of the time. Seeds are cheap and you don't need al ot.  Small starter plants will be available too.  Stay healthy, use organic fertilizer.  If you have an overflow of food that you have grown, share it with others who are not so fortunate.  Then sell the rest of it.


I hope that I have been of help a little.  Good luck!



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