East TN News
East TN News

The Unending Poverty/Homeless Cycle

By John M Disque


Photo By John M Disque 10/20/2010

Am I fighting a losing battle? It depends how you look at it. If I considered it "a battle," I probably wouldn't try to fight anything, but I don't see it like that. I'm just a man who can't lie in a warm bed knowing that someone right up the street is cold. It's not easy for me because I know what it's like to ask why no one cares. I know what REAL hunger is and what real cold is. I know how it feels to have no place, no confidence and to eventually break.


The whole time I was homeless I knew I had something that the world wasn't recognizing and I didn't know how to prove it to them. There was no way to show them and no one had the time. The ultimate trap is: who was going to take a homeless person seriously?


Maybe I can help someone or maybe I can inspire someone to help someone and maybe someday that person will get off the streets and one day take their talent and realize that maybe they can help someone too.

As more people drop from middle class to poverty, one would think there would just be an increase in poverty. That isn't the case. With limited resources available to the lower classes, poverty stricken communities will hold back the growth in population to a point; however, the dam is weak, and it isn't long before there's an increase in homelessness. The lower class communities are forced to govern themselves and dispose of its weakest members. It is an absolute fact that the widening of the class divide is not creating more ghettos and run down neighborhoods – it's creating more death. The destruction of our economy is killing human beings

If our economy suddenly went back to normal numbers of 5-6% unemployment, the same mistakes would continue to be made until someone finally understands it and does something about it. As people get off the streets, they are thrown back into poverty. The result again is a broken dam of limited resources and more people winding up back on the streets. It's an ignorant circle that's right in front of all of us, yet no one seems prepared to face it. 

Due to the traps of poverty, as the economy gets better and more jobs begin to exist only a limited number of people who fell from the middle class to poverty will rise back up. There will also be a "leer factor" where people who lived through the tough times will hesitate to spend any available money on a new house or car or anything else. They have now lived through it and gained the knowledge of how fragile it all is and how easily they can lose it. The last thing they want is to live through it again, and many simply will not have the energy. They'll now know how to protect themselves and will remain in poverty conditions, leaving no room for a person rising from homelessness. 

The key would be to help people rise from the streets and from poverty into the middle class ranks while finding a way to safeguard their futures. Just as much concern and effort needs to go into the poor communities while utilizing newer, creative strategies that enable the people to help themselves. The result is a bigger tax paying, productive community which will create more jobs and utilize an upward spiral that will effect all of us in positive ways. The end result for Knoxville is a stronger, wealthier, more secure community.

On The Surface

I have never met a human being that didn't have a place or a talent that could change the world. It's the truth. The problem is that people don't take the time to recognize it.


Our world has become so fast-paced that we are forced to make split decisions about people. "Who is needed, who is not. Who is worth my time and energy and who is not?" We are too quick to judge and dispose of people and, once we do slow down, we focus on their negative traits. This attitude ends up destroying people. A person who doesn't use perfect grammar is often left behind when the fact is that person is often surrounded by the same and doesn't know they're being seen as ignorant. It doesn't mean they are stupid, yet they're often sized up as lowlifes. The same can be said about someone's cloths or car or home. We are all vulnerable to what others think and feel. If enough people feel that you're disposable because you're not wearing high-dollar clothes or driving a high-dollar car, it will destroy your self-confidence and life becomes a landslide. The person you walked away from may well be a gifted engineer who never got a chance to go to school. On the same hand, they could be the most talented artist, athlete, or businessperson that has ever crossed your path. 

I have often said that anger is the biggest stumbling block in both poverty and homelessness.

It is very easy and fast to justify turning away from an angry person, but if you stopped for just a moment you might begin to recognize a few things that you have never thought about.

Anger is a just a front, a way to protect and stand up for ourselves. I understand it, and I know how to push past the surface. Once you get past this barrier, it spills out in front of you. The truth is that we all want a place were we belong, and we all want to be accepted and valued. Being many people never found this or had a chance to acquire it, their only recourse is to discount them. But that's not what's really happening. Anger is a shield. You can use it as a shield or die in depression. To be "not good enough" and disposable is a horrible thing. While we have resources continually reminding us of our value and governing our anger level, the people in the lower classes and on the streets do not. Imagine living with that every moment of every day. While society goes on flaunting their value and smiling in your face, your value is less than 0 yet you were denied the same opportunities to prove your value and find your place. The anger you are seeing on the streets is nothing more or less than a determination to not let society kill you.

What would you like them to do? Cry? They're not going to do that because that would be seen as weakness. They're not going to give you the only thing they own, but I know that when all is quiet and they're alone, they do. I've lived with it, I've held it, I breathed it, and what's happening on the surface is not the truth. What is truly happening in Knoxville and communities throughout our country is brutally, horribly sad.

Ultimately, the problem is that until someone faces the issue themselves they don't fully understand it. That's not unique to homelessness. It can be said about any social issue. We turn our minds and hearts off at the click of a switch or a mouse. We blame the homeless for being homeless to free us from our guilt and ignorance. We lock our doors to keep us safe from our own hearts, but I strongly believe there are no disposable human beings.

We need less anger and less finger pointing. There's been enough of it, and it almost no longer matters who are at fault. Nothing is prevented because everyone has a different answer. In the process of all of it nothing gets done and no real, lasting solution is created or applied.

What can you do about homelessness?

For a moment, I'll ask you to switch your focus from who's at fault, what everyone else doing and all the rest of the issues to you personally.


If you're confused about what you can do, it's not hard to figure out. You can start with some simple questions: What do you do? What's your talent? Now, of course, how do you use your gift to help the homeless? Naturally, that's up to you and your own creativity. If you use it wisely, your gift can and will make a real, profound, lasting impact. You'll live the rest of your life with a pride and dignity that no amount of money could buy. The homeless will finally get a chance to do what you did.

If you have plenty of time and talent and you have a unique plan in place, consider starting your own organization and find out which US government grants you are eligible for. Concerning homelessness, there are thousands of different grants available but each falls into one of five main categories: housing, medical, mental health care, education, and employment. The issue is complicated and can be very time consuming, but this is the best website to get you started: www.federalgrantswire.com. In the meantime, gather as much support as you can muster from community businesses, everyday people, politicians, churches, family, friends, and neighbors. Start a website and promote it on the social media sites. If your idea is brilliant and you're prepared to face all of the hard work, the Knoxville Daily Sun will give and get you as much support as we can.

If you don't have time and like to donate money or assets, I will again warn you to be careful. Contact your local politicians and ask them what they're doing. Ask how much money in US government grants was applied for, who got it, and why. Ask them which organizations they recommend and why.

Research and contact your local homeless organizations. Ask them what they're doing and if they have any long-term programs in place. Ask them how much they pay their employees, owners and management, where they get their money and how much of it is going to the people who need help. Be leery of any organization that refuses to answer your questions.

Know in advance that it is US law for a non-profit organization to publicly post all of their numbers (income, "including all donations, items, grants, etc.", expenses, "including rent, payroll, utility bills, vehicles, expense accounts, vacations, investments, etc" and what percentage was actually used to help the people you are trying to reach.)

If you agree with the organization's policies and you believe they're making a difference then support them but continue to follow-up on the organizations and do your best to make sure that your heart and your hard-earned money was put in the hands of the right people.

If you own a local business you could develop a training program, which is set aside and focused on helping people in poverty and homeless conditions. You could also apply for a grant to start and develop your program.

You would be offering more than a job. While assuring yourself that the person you're hiring has been properly trained you would be offering hope, recognition and humanity to people who would otherwise not have these things. The end result would be further growth and financial success for your business. 

Continuation of Homeless Topic

If you read through this series you should be much more aware of the issues than before you started. 


It was never my intention to write a 6 part weekly series on this issue and then walk away from it. I will continue to stay very involved with homelessness in East Tennessee long after this series is complete. There are many issues that haven't been covered, and, even if I wanted to walk away, I couldn't. I've made too many friends from all walks of life that are concerned about or living through this problem. I will continue to write about homelessness and stay abreast on everything that everyone, including myself, is doing and thinking in regards to this issue. New articles will be written and published. Most of you know why it began and continued but let's just say, "It was close to Knoxville Daily Sun's heart and it always will be." Maybe that's a message to anyone out there doing anything shady or maybe it's a statement to the homeless themselves. We're not going away. We've barely begun.

What I wanted was to bring you the truth and inspire you. Inside the filthy black and white world that no one wants to look at, I wanted to show you the beauty and the hope. With incredible love and appreciation to the Knoxville Daily Sun for having the courage and compassion to run this series, hopefully we've begun to make a difference.

Published in Knoxville Daily Sun December 22, 2010

Published in East TN News October 10, 2011

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