THE FREEMAN 7/90 (bought all rights). Reprinted in 8 newspapers with the title ‘Low-life.’
Any discussion of crime, addiction, welfare abuse or other anti-social behavior should involve a realistic look at bums and common criminals. After years of social work I thought I knew something about them, but it took renting rooms in my house for 25 years to find out.
Most of the roomers were working-class guys. If there were problems, things could be worked out because they were self-respecting, mature, and responsible.
There were others, however, who were bums and problems could not be worked out because they were immature (by choice). They lacked empathy and wanted lots of favors – stamps, envelopes, change, jump starts, tools, etc. They wanted attention – wanted to talk about themselves at their convenience, not mine. They were overly sensitive, defensive, and wouldn’t sit down and discuss things when there was a problem. They got buddy-buddy too fast, and expected their messes to be forgotten because we were ‘friends.’ They thought they could find a job and a woman far beyond their reach. They had companions, not friends. They were impulsive in eating, drinking, entertainment, and spending. They ignored the house rules or tested them; if you gave an inch, they took a mile.
Some ate highly greasy food, had terrible manners, always needed a haircut and shave, kept losing things and locking themselves out of the house, left shopping carts out front, dipped into other people’s food, slammed doors or didn’t close them, broke things and denied it, wasted my utilities, wasted their food, clothing, and tools, and seemed to yell or mumble. They got behind with their rent, which brought lots of stories, moving out in the middle of the night and bouncing checks.
Some put off small repairs on their cars, costing them twice as much. Some told adult stories around youngsters. One hid a motorcycle in his room to work on.
They resented banks, bosses, cops, girls – life owed them a living. They wouldn’t manage their weight, diet, health, belongings, or money and drifted from job to job. They drove uninsured cars with no spare or jack, and they ate out – always broke, but always ate out. Some stole, gambled, drank, and smoked pot.
Many counselors would say their problem was mental, educational, intelligence, alcohol, ‘deprivation,’ etc. Nonsense; it was immaturity.
Take Pete: he was 40, had nothing, and promised he would be a good tenant. He had a new job. Save his money and get ahead? No, he gambled and drank it away. His room smelled terrible, he had a bad attitude, and he made messes in the kitchen and bathroom. He loaned his uninsured car for months at a time. He got terribly drunk on a work night, and he fell behind on his rent. I asked him to leave, and he did – sleeping in his car in front of the house! The police picked him up on outstanding warrants and put him in jail.
Enter Bob, a divorced 36 year old escapee from a communist country, father of two, with a high paying, skilled job. He was happy, fun, big-hearted, and very likable. He had a strong body odor. He knew it, but did nothing about it. He even went on job interviews that way. He was in and out of love every other week with barmaids, one of whom took his money. He went through a number of jobs and ran out of money. He worked around the house for minimum wage, but still ate out.
Once, when totally out of money during an emergency, he worked for me four days, was paid each day, and at the end of the 4th day was broke! He needed a loan for a big date who stood him up to go to bed with someone for $50. The next day he was way down in the dumps. He called his kids, cried, and swore off his night life. Then what? He went out again that night! (You have to see such things to believe them.) Eventually he moved out, leaving a room full of beer bottles and the police on his trail.
If these bums didn’t respect their property, why should they respect mine? If they didn’t respect themselves, why should they respect me? There were thefts, property damage and near fights. I had to ease them out gently, taking a loss so they wouldn’t retaliate. They knew where I lived; I would never know where they lived and couldn’t collect as they didn’t have anything.
Someone else who had been in social work like me, learned the same after having 25 homeless families on her ranch for seven years. She said it wasn’t until she was personally affected that she understood. You can read, hear, and discuss this, but you won’t understand till it affects your property, your time, and your peace of mind.
These bums and criminals take an enormous toll on society. They must have been the 6% of the families that absorbed 77% of the welfare, 51% of the health services, and 56% of the mental health and correctional services of St. Paul, Minn. where a survey was taken. These are the kind that loot during a riot or a natural disaster.
The working class lives near them and knows what they are like. In private they refer to them as ‘riff-raff, rabble, trash, deadbeats, animals, slobs, punks, wise guys, lowlife’ and worse. Many counselors, however, have gotten their ideas from books, and have been conditioned to excuse such behavior, in trying to form ‘relationships’ with them.
Bums and common criminals have chosen to remain immature and irresponsible. Any rehabilitation should meet them only half way and involve lots of discipline and hardnosed counseling. They have the slow, painful job of growing up. Cold-blooded realism is needed, not hearts and flowers. Strangely enough … … most of them would agree.