The importance of this question was brought home to me last night as a group of young activists came out to "sleep with the house-less," something that me and my partner have been doing for nearly two years and for many of the same reasons stated by the group.
Namely to experience directly what poverty is like, to be in solidarity with those who are suffering, and to bring attention to the issues of poverty in general and homelessness specifically.
Even as I thought of the question I already knew the answer, and the answer saddened me. I consider myself an activist and an anarchist, and this is where the problem lies, not in the communities "being helped."
It lies in the place of privilege that many in the activist community and even the Anarchist community come from. It lies in the self motivated attitudes and a self promoting nature, that leads to hypocrisy, and an I have all your answers ready for you mentality they bring with them.
We have seen this many times over and from various groups, some of them anarchists, occupiers, socialists, church groups and so on, so we're positive these attitudes are not isolated incidents or isolated to particular groups, and the effects of them are most telling both for the group doing the helping and those they are trying to help.
One of the young men last night spent the night excitedly running around trying to get donations, in the hours before it began the nights freezing cold rain, he and others got together food, clothes and other assundry items.
A nice thing to do certainly; however, it wasn't what was going to be needed in the immediate by the people living on the streets in the area, nor themselves. Myself and others who live on the street tried to explain to them, what they were in for and the dangers they faced as the rain picked up and the night got progressively more cold.
When we decided when our voice wasn't being heard, which is often the case in these sorts of situations or any time those with privilege come in and try and help, to do our own thing and seek shelter for ourselves and those most vulnerable.
We informed one of the organizers of the "solidarity action," what we were intending to do and why in a last ditch effort to encourage them to seek shelter for themselves, their equipment and the things that were donated.
He responded haughtily "what you're not going to stay over here with us, you're not very hardcore," at which point I reminded him that we live right here, every night when there is bad weather we go through this, we have to tell V.A. security to f*ck off, when we do. I'm not concerned with being hard, but people's safety and the safety of our equipment, that we can't afford to replace and isn't in the best conditions to begin with," and left the to fend for themselves.
Should I feel bad, for having left them to fend for themselves? Not a bit, We attempted to tell them what it was like on the streets with bad weather and if they chose not to listen, we they'd just have to find out for themselves and maybe it will be good for them in the long run.
Eventually they ended up moving under the awning in front of the building, but left much of the supplies donated under a plastic tarp next to a tree, a lot of it got wet over the night.
In the morning they decided that they were going to transport everything over to the Peace House an activist collective in the DC area, we told them that it would be far smarter to take everything over to Franklin Square if they wanted to get rid of it, as much of the homeless population goes there on the weekend to receive food and other things they need from various church group, who come to preach to people before giving them what ever minuscule amount they have to dole out.
This mentality also serves to perpetuate the problem rather than to solve it, but at least they're hypocritical thinking is understandable, if you're trying to spread your religious beliefs, what better way to acquire a willing audience for your social control rhetoric than by creating a situation where people need what little you're offering to survive.
But these attitudes are not just limited to class, they are also used against black, Hispanic, and female activists, as well, in fact they are used against you if you fail to be anything but white, male and middle class.