Friday Fictioneers: Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

Posted: October 15, 2013 in Friday Fictioneers
Tags: , , ,

If you like stories, but don’t have much time to spend reading, then Friday Fictioneers is just right for you. Each story has only 100 words (sometimes plus or minus a few) and takes a minimum amount of time to read. Fair warning: sometimes you’ll find yourself re-reading, either because you missed something the first time or just because that story was so amazing (in one way or another), that you had to read it again, just to be sure it really was that good (or bizarre!)

You may access all the stories by clicking on the constantly-updating link at the very end of this post. Feel free to leave comments, to press “like”,or just read and leave. We all love friendly feedback and like to know that you read our stories. If you want to try your hand and pen/keyboard at writing, visit Rochelle’s site for the how-to’s.  That’s where you can find the weekly picture prompt, which will go live on Wednesday of each and every week.  Now on to my story (and this week, my photo.)



Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

The homeless.  Drugs and mental illness play a large part but many could go inside at night if they like.  I’ll never understand why someone would prefer cardboard on a steam vent or sleeping propped against a wall on the sidewalk.

I wonder.  Is homeless society hierarchical?  Do those with full-shopping-cart storage rank higher than those without?  Do the rest feel superior about their ability to survive with less?

It’s annoying to feel guilt at averting my eyes from the outstretched cups.

I want to help.  I just make sure the coffee I give can’t be traced back to me.

  1. dmmacilroy says:

    Dear Janet,

    The picture is Zen. Thank you for seeing it in the viewfinder and then sharing.

    Your story’s barrista angel is thoughtful and enigmatic, just like your photograph and the marriage of the two is seamless. We are left with a mystery wrapped in her questions.

    I, for one, will be thinking about them long after this week passes.



    • Doug, while I’m always happy when you like one of my stories, I’m perhaps even happier that you and so many other like the photo. I fancy myself a small bit of a photographer and this is one of my favorite photos of the thousands I’ve taken in the last few years.

      As for the question of the homeless, it’s such a multi-faceted question that it’s difficult. I’d love to help all of them, but what is help and what isn’t? And of course, i can’t help them all anyway. Will they use money for drugs or alcohol? Are they there because they have to be or because they choose to be? How can I really best help and is help even wanted in some cases? When we were in San Francisco recently, those questions came to the fore because due to the good weather, there are lots of homeless people there. I don’t have answers, but I’m thinking about the questions.


      • dmmacilroy says:

        Dear Janet,

        For some time now I have had the quiet pleasure of looking at your photographs (via Facebook and FF) and I want you to know that you are not “a small bit of a photographer”. I realize that your natural and laudable humility demands that you phrase that sentence in the fashion you did and I understand. That having been said, you are an excellent photographer and the photo of the shopping carts is one of your best. From the moment I saw it I wanted to write a Zen story. That I managed to pull it off to some degree is a direct result of your vision behind the viewfinder and for that I thank you. Oku no Hosomichi would not have been possible without you.



      • Doug, thank you. That’s it. Just very much appreciated.


  2. Ye Pirate says:

    Truly one of the best pictures we’ve had. Your tale would make great discussion. If I put myself there, it would be pride that would stop me seeking shelter at night, and fear that it could be another step down,not up. Scary thought, losing your roof.

    • Managua, I much appreciate the comment about the picture. I like to style myself as a photographer of some sort, so that means a lot. Yes, I think the story could be a good discussion starter. Losing a home is definitely a frightening thought and one that too many face, whether because of their own actions or not. Homelessness is a complicated issue with no easy, clear-cut answers.


  3. H. Ken Abell says:

    I could just keep writing different stories based on your photo. Seriously, I chose the first one I came up with, but there are a half dozen more bouncing around my head. Your story reads like an insider expose of life on the street — and the last line hits home.

    • We saw so many homeless recently in San Francisco that it brought these ideas to mind with the shopping cart although loneliness was the first thought I had. I also had a number of different ideas but wanted to try to find something I thought not everyone else would use, yet one that had some sort of message and was thought-provoking. As for the photo, I’m really pleased you liked it. I love photography and am always trying to get pictures that as they say, “speak to” the viewer.


      • H. Ken Abell says:

        The homelessness in San Francisco is heartbreaking. Toronto, too, sorry to say.

      • There were plenty in Cleveland, too, but I knew that many of them could have been in shelters; they just chose not to be there. That was one of the kernels of my story line but I confess to not knowing nearly enough. Much of what we hear about the homeless isn’t really true.

  4. elmowrites says:

    Your photograph, and the worldview you give us from it, are both going to leave me thinking this week. Thank you for both gifts.

    • You’re very welcome, Jen, and thank you for the lovey compliment. Although I wouldn’t put the homeless out of their supposed misery as did this woman, I do wonder how best to help.


  5. Lynda says:

    An evil twist… and nicely spun!

  6. Sandra says:

    Great photo, and a story that took me by surprise at the end. Quite a change of mood there. Well done.

    • I had a more prosaic ending originally, Sandra, and then decided it wasn’t FF enough, so I went where I did. Very happy you liked the photo, too! It’s one of my favorites.


  7. Loved your photo, loved your take… A truly unique surprise at the end…

  8. rgayer55 says:

    Dear Janet,
    I enjoyed this week’s prompt and wrote a lengthy pre-ramble which basically makes it a two-fer. I’m attaching a link to a documentary entitled “Why I Went to the Woods” about a homeless man who is a college graduate and was once a well known and respected sports writer. I think you (and your readers) will find it fascinating. I did.

  9. howanxious says:

    Thought-provoking write. Some things are not meant to be understood, I guess. The ending was really nice.

  10. JKBradley says:

    I would prefer to give the homeless food, clothing, some conversation, but often I only have change.

    • I agree, JK. I think that it might be fun? nice? helpful? sometime to make sandwiches or some other kind of food, package it up and give it to them. Too often money is used for harmful things rather than necessities.


  11. Clever tale, well written and great jag at the end.
    Love it.

  12. Oh Janet what are you putting in the coffee? 😆 When it got rough financially for me some years back . I thought how free the homeless are, no rent, begging for money and food. Just a thought I pry I never fall that low.

    • Hey, it’s not a true story, at least not that part of it!! 🙂 Yes, the homeless are in a sense more free than the rest of us, but they’re also less free to go places, do things, etc. Freedom means many different things. I hope you’ve recovered financially now. The real question for me, which I was trying to get us all to think about, is what really helps. I know that varies, but it’s a good starting point.


      • Oh hoped it wasn’t true. Years ago I stopped giving money to the homeless. But I did give food, my left over lunch or I would buy some fries or something. I brought a woman a box of pampers once. She was asking for change to buy some. I think that’s the better way to help. Better than giving money that may be spent on alcohol or street drugs. Funny when I offer those who are really hungry they prefer the food. Those who want to get high refused the offer. I’m not thinking about being homeless any more. 🙂 I’m comfortable.

      • I think, too, it’s better to give food or “things”, rather than just money. Glad you’re doing well now.

  13. kz says:

    thank you so much for the photo… it’s a really wonderful shot. “It’s annoying to feel guilt at averting my eyes from the outstretched cups.” i sure know how that feels. loved the last line. 🙂

    • kz, with the exception of that last line, the story is pretty much a mirror of how I feel. So far the best way I’ve come up with to help is donating to shelter and places that are better place and equipped than I to help.


  14. MrBinks says:

    Intriguing and devious. An insight to the real you? 😉

    Good work.

    • Fortunately not. 🙂 My help consists more of wishing I could and feeling guilty for averting my eyes because I don’t know the best way. Pretty much true until that last line. That was the FF twist.


  15. zookyworld says:

    Janet, thanks for this compelling photo — it could inspire many different takes, and I’m looking forward to reading the stories that the Fictioneers have come up with. Your own take on the photos is also compelling, with the thoughtful questions from someone who has pondered homelessness deeply. And then the twist at the end! The character questions the homeless, but comes up with a conclusion they assume is helping. I like this complexity.

    • Thanks so much. Homelessness is a difficult issue in all aspects. As for the photo, I’m very happy you like it so much. I’m enjoying reading the stories, too, although I’m quite behind right now. The good news is, I have almost a week to finish. 🙂


  16. Very clever twist at the end there. What starts out as contemplation of all our collective guilt turns on a dime. Wham! We see you have your own agenda.

  17. Janet the photograph was excellent. If you get a chance read the poem I wrote that your photo inspired (the link is on my fictioneer’s post)
    If you were looking for an answer I can give you one. I’ve been homeless twice and I’ve helped in founding several non-profits to help the poor and the homeless. Currently homelessness is on a rise as people( because of the economy) are losing their jobs and their homes. Where does a family go? Most homeless shelters are for women and children or men. Yes there are a few family shelters out there but the ones I have worked with have such a high demand that people can only stay for a set period of time (i.e one month).
    To stay open many homeless shelters are now having to charge their residents rent which, in many cases, comprises the entirety of the person’s income. The last time I was homeless (two years ago) I had a child to also be concerned about. If I made over $600 per month, I would not qualify for housing. I did not have a car to live in (as some have) so our option would have been a cardboard community (at least we lived in warmer California).
    We always think of homeless people as uneducated, drifters. That’s a picture we have from the 1920s. There are more and more of us who are college educated (even with advanced degrees) who have lost everything and don’t have family to help.
    For some levity: recently my son said I’m the most likely person to live under a bridge. I don’t fear being homeless I’ve been there; it’s just another way of surviving.

    • Thanks so much for the input and your story. I’m aware of the problems facing families at the shelters due to the separation and so on, but thanks for the reminder. It seems that the best way to help is to donate to the shelters that are working so hard to help. I know that not all homeless are uneducated drifters but the many we saw in San Francisco were quite down and out, regardless of education.

      It seems that professional people could be of help in donating services, such as dental and medical, if they’re able to do so.

      I don’t have a problem with people in shelters helping with “rent” but if it takes all their money and if $600/month disqualifies you, those are both huge problems. You can’t live in the real world on $600/month, either, so that makes it “worthwhile” not to make too much.

      Like so many other problems, there aren’t any easy answers! Thanks again for taking the time to give me such a helpful response!!


  18. Adam Ickes says:

    I can’t help but wonder. Who is the coffee actually helping, the homeless by relieving their misery, the city by relieving their homeless, both, or neither?

    • The coffee had something in it to quietly kill them. Maybe I was bit too subtle?


      • Adam Ickes says:

        No, I got that. But in the eyes of the homeless being killed that may not be the “help” they’re looking for. So who is the true winner by the homeless going gentle into that good night? That’s what I was going for with my question.

      • That’s really the question I was raising. Does it help to kill them? Is that just a way for the narrator to avoid feeling bad about not knowing what to do to help? How can we really help? Just wanted to spark some thoughts, although I hope no one’s going around killing the homeless, even in a gentle way.

        Who is the winner? Might be no one, although the narrator may feel that she’s doing something helpful. She seems to be ascribing her thoughts and feelings to the homeless, which is very likely to be wrong.


  19. You I am dense sometimes so I believe you will not be offended if I ask you to clarify the last line. I don’t quite get it.

  20. Hi Janet,
    So you’re the Homeless Homicide Henchman. Or Henchwoman. Let’s not be sexist when it comes to serial killers. I had a guy come up to me recently as I was pumping gas and hit me up and he was refreshingly honest and admitted he was trying to get enough money together for beer. And, yes, I rewarded his honesty. When I first saw this photo, my first reaction was, what could I write about this? It’s a strikingly graphic photo and I love the monochromatic tones. Your story seems so sympathetic for the plight of the homeless, and then takes such a sharp turn at the end it made my head spin! Ron

    • OK, Ron. You got me. I’m the Homeless Homicide Henchperson, or at least my narrator is. The narrator is sympathetic to the homeless, but just take a different way to try to solve the problem. The ending is pure FF! Glad you like the photo, too. I’m working my way through the stories but dratted real life keeps getting in my way. Off now to make some banana muffins, then back to unpacking, repacking and putting away.


  21. vbholmes says:

    Great photo, Janet, which inspired a lot of interesting stories. One reason homeless folk stay out of shelters is the risk of theft–I’ve particularly heard complaints about the loss of shoes. Life on the street is tough, yet some tell of a sense of freedom that comes with the choice. Just be glad you’ll never find out how tough it is (and don’t bring your “special blend” to any Fictioneer gatherings).

  22. Janet, I like your take because the picture so suggests survivors among desolation, but I’m not sure I like the protagonist’s solution because there seems to be nobility about these survivors. They could make it. So don’t bump them off! But nicely done story.

    • Perry, that wouldn’t be my solution, either, but you know how these characters go! They just go their own way with no regard to anyone else. Thanks from dropping by and commenting.


  23. Janet, your photo is very provocative and an excellent prompt! Thanks for sharing it. I, too, feel like I could have written more than one story… so many directions to go. Your post and the questions you pose are challenging and thought provoking. I have been working on a post about homelessness, and it remains in my draft file, because it’s so complex and difficult to put into words. Nice job.

  24. julespaige says:

    Thanks for the photo and sympathy. If we all gave just a little bit.

    I actually did a stand alone with an up side. Please enjoy:

  25. Dear Janet,

    Remind me never to accept a cup of coffee from you. 😉 Love the photo. Seems this was just the right time to use it. Thank you for the loan.
    A well written story as always.



    • Caribou had a BOGO today and since it’s just me, I got a dark chocolate mocha hot for there and an iced one for tomorrow here. No poison, though.

      As for the photo, I’m thrilled everyone seems to like it so much. Makes the photographer side of me very happy.


  26. Jan Brown says:

    The photo is great, and I love that your protagonist is giving out coffee.

  27. claireful says:

    Your story and your response to Doug also put me in mind of San Francisco – I was there in the summer on my honeymoon. So many homeless people. The woman who ran our B&B thought that for many it was a lifestyle choice – she said that hostels were provided but many chose not to use them. It’s hard when you want to help. A very thought provoking story this week Janet.

    • Because of the clement weather, SF probably has more than many other large cities. It’s a very complex problem and I’ve also heard and read that many choose to be outside rather than in shelters or hostels. The underlying causes are another set of issues. At any rate, if it got people thinking about homelessness a bit, that’s a good thing.


  28. […] to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for taking care of us every week. Today’s photo is provided by Janet Webb. Thank you, […]

  29. Janet, I really enjoyed this prompt although for some reason I was stumped on a story. I see that others came up with incredibly imaginative ideas. When I see a shopping cart, I think of homelessness too. I always feel shopping carts are sad, even when I have them in the grocery store. In any case, these are great questions you ask in your piece, and something to think about. – Amy

    • Amy, sometimes my mind goes blank initially, too, and sometimes I write a story I think is just OK and everyone seems to like it. Go figure. 🙂 Grocery carts in the store don’t seem sad to me; they seem like vehicles of mayhem, especially when piloted by little old ladies who, although they want respect, will run you down as soon as look at you. 🙂

      Working my way towards you, but it may be some time yet. I feel as though I’m wading through the waters in my photo as I try to get to all the stories.


      • That’s okay…I’m way behind. Swamped. Ha ha.

        Yeah, I can see the image of the old lady running someone down with a shopping cart. That works, too. The shopping cart is sad when the wheels don’t function and they wobble, and you just want a new cart!

  30. Dee says:

    Your last line stopped me in my tracks. We all think that we would/should help the homeless or down and outs but what is help?
    This will stay with me a while
    Well done

  31. ly says:

    The fact that what you mention in your last line pops into all our heads in situations like this says a lot about where our society is today–sad to say.
    Your photo inspired many different ideas through the group. That, I think, is your reward! Thanks.

    • It’s a wonderful reward, although I confess that my original ending was much more plebeian. Then I metaphorically smacked my head and thought, “Hey! This is a Friday Fictioneers story. There has to be some sort of twist.” And this is what came to mind, that would be believable, yet unexpected. I’m so pleased that the picture was a hit.


  32. Linda Vernon says:

    Your picture really was a wonderful story starter! There were so many ways you could go with it. But I do think that abandoned shopping carts remind us of the homeless and how difficult their lives must be. And what events led to where they are now. Thinking about them as babies and six-year olds and thinking about how sad their parents must be. Because I do think many of them have families, but due to mental illness the homeless person just wants to be on the street — or worse doesn’t even know he or she is on the street. So many many sad stories indeed. I’m going to watch Russell’s link. I’ll bet it’s fascinating.

    • I haven’t looked at his link yet. Thanks for the reminder. Being homeless with a family would be one of the worst situations I can imagine. As for the photo, I’m very happy you liked it! Enjoy the weekend!


  33. wmqcolby says:

    Like, like, like LIKE! I wanted to read more. Plus, the prompt makes it special. You had a very interesting entry there, both story AND pic. Bravo!

  34. That’s quite a unique way of trying to solve the problem of homelessness, although whatever her motivations are, it seems like a pretty dark response. I’ve wrestled with the problem of how to help homeless people as well. It’s not an easy problem and can’t simply be solved by money, of any amount.

    • Definitely a dark response but hey, it’s for Friday Fictioneers. I could see someone deciding that this would be helpful in the same way some think euthanasia and abortion are helps (not intending to get into a political discussion.) And yes, trying solve the problem, which is really a symptom of many other problems, is extremely difficult.


  35. camgal says:

    Loved the prompt and your take on it.

  36. […] Friday Fictioneers: Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?  […]

  37. pattisj says:

    Thoughtful story–makes one think, too.

  38. Abraham says:

    Fascinating. Then the last line totally changes the story and turns it in another still fascinating direction!

  39. helenscribe says:

    Wonderful comments, but I have always called the “homeless” Urban Campers, because some of them seem to enjoy it. There are a couple of old bearded guys who occupy a bench in a leafy local park 24/7. They have the best living room in the world, with the rest of humanity hurrying through their landscape as entertainment. Beats TV. The guys seem perfectly well-fed, just lack razors and possibly a roof.So save your pity folks. Desperate people save themselves. The rest drink coffee;)

    • Although hopefully not this coffee. I agree that some of the homeless enjoy their lives. Statistics show that quite a few have drug or mental problems, which is a whole other ballgame. But hopefully any who drink coffee aren’t drinking this brew. 🙂


  40. vera ersilia says:

    Regardless of the hows and whys I liked to give $20 sometimes when I still was able to go out by myself. It was always a revelation to see the surprised reaction, and I felt it was less demeaning than to give a pinch of money or of food – or worse a sermon.. To me it meant that I respected their autonomy. Sometimes we forget to say: ‘there but by the grace of god go I’.

    Age has now made me I less independent and where live I have not seen the homeless yet…

    • I’m sure that was a wonderful surprise for them, Vera. The discussion that sprang from the story was quite good but the story itself was just a hundred word bit of fiction in response to the photo. Thanks for sharing your experiences and for visiting.


  41. vera ersilia says:

    PS: No, I have not read the story because there are only so many posts that I can handle in a day…so I cannot comment on that…only on my personal interaction with the homeless.

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