Friday, October 15, 2010

Homeless Culture: Not Responsible For Debt

A street person might collapse. Someone calls 911. An ambulance comes and takes them to the hospital and they are treated. About two weeks later, they receive a bill. Actually, a number of bills. All together they equal a minimum of a thousand dollars. But the street person has no money, no regular means of income. Rather than burden themselves with guilt about a debt they cannot pay, they ignore it. The bills keep coming and they keep throwing it away. Perhaps there is a slight amount of guilt about the bill, but the practical fact is, they can’t pay it.
Most hospitals have programs to help pay for such bills. But with those programs come a lot of paperwork, which most people on the street can’t fill out on their own. Soon, if there is any bill, any debt, it is routinely ignored. They figure that they wouldn’t have much use for a good credit number anyway.

But there is still a small amount of guilt about the debt for many of those on the street. For this reason, they generally avoid any kind of debt. If they are sick, they try to care for themselves, rest and take what few medicines are available to them. But they don’t go to the doctor, because that requires money—a lot of it. And they just don’t have it.

Interestingly enough, even after a person is off the street or obtains a regular income, this attitude persists. Debts are something to be ignored, not held responsible for.

2 comments:

Sarah said...

Do you think it is this kind of attitude that leads people to homelessness in the first place? I am pretty sure that many if not most of them also skipped rent and various other debts, child support for some. Irresponsibility seems to be the common theme here.

Hospitals have a powerful weapon called body attachment: http://ur1.ca/233cp

Steve Kimes said...

In my experience, this particular cultural item is learned on the street, not previous to it. Some people, like teens, already have that mindset, simply because they've never had the experience of paying. But a majority of homeless people have paid bills faithfully-- taken care of a household or raised children or had a job and an apartment. Most of them have had responsibility and it didn't do them any good-- they ended up on the street anyway. But that's for a lot of reasons, which you can see in my other post-- http://pastoralblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/what-causes-homelessness.html