The Price Tag on Sanity

The Price Tag on Sanity

“I have to pay for my sanity,” says Jason, a homeless Detroiter, as he recaps his struggles to get out of homelessness. His story strikes me as very telling of his motivation to get off the streets. He didn’t need to say much to convince me of his determination to get off the street.

Jason made some bad decisions in the past, started using drugs, and landed himself in prison with a felony conviction. Having gotten clean and been released from prison last year, and being determined not to ever go back, he has been trying to keep himself from negative influences. Up until last week he was paying for a cheap motel room by the week.

“Don’t you want to try to get into a shelter?” I asked him.

“Nah man. I’ve tried that. I don’t want to put myself in that environment. Most of the guys in those shelters have come from being locked up, or have just gotten off drugs. I’m trying to get away from that mindset so I don’t get tempted to do something stupid.”

Jason was unable to pay for his motel room this week due to a lack of work opportunities. He was forced to move temporarily into his brother’s house, which is already jam-packed with family members. He says his brother smokes weed with his friends all the time and is out on the streets doing stupid stuff that could get him in serious trouble. With the drugs and the violence that come in and out of that house all day, Jason is really hoping for an opportunity that will afford him the chance to move out before he gets sucked back into his old life.

As I sat listening to Jason talk about his frustrations with his felony keeping him from getting employed, and his struggles to afford himself a positive environment for a change, my heart broke for him. We too often look at homelessness as the product of a culture of laziness. We have the attitude that these people made the bed they’re lying in. For some, that may be true, but that is a very black and white viewpoint. The more homeless people I talk to, the more I’ve begun to understand the complexity of the issue. There are often barriers upon barriers that keep people from becoming stable, and the answer is not as simple as society tends to make it. In Jason’s case, a large barrier for him is a negative environment and a lack of positive community to support him. So he’s stuck in his vulnerability, doing the best he can with the little he has to work with. From the outside looking in, he’s set up to fail. And that’s just one barrier on top of layers of others.

There are many Jason’s out there. You don’t see them because they’re out looking for work instead of begging for money. They’re the opposite of lazy, and I can say with confidence that I have seen more motivation in individuals like Jason than I’ve seen in 3 middle class citizens put together.

There are things we can do. The first step is to stop giving money to panhandlers, and instead donate to agencies that help the homeless find employment and/or housing – but that’s a whole other article in itself.

For information on volunteering to help the homeless in Detroit, visit

John Azoni is a Social Media Marketer/artist/musician residing in Detroit, MI. His work can be viewed at Follow his sarcastic babblings on Twitter.