What Responsibility Does the Family of a Homeless Person Bear?

Utah Homeless Man Inherits Sizable Fortune
According to an Associated Press story on Yahoo News, 62 year old Max Melitzer, homeless for years in Utah, had a brother with cancer. Family members mailed Max a phone number to contact them in September, but never received a call from him. His brother left Max a sizable inheritance.

You have to wonder if Max Melitzer knew his brother was sick, if he contacted him, worried about him or even cared.

I know nothing of Max’s story. Perhaps he had severe strings of bad luck, perhaps he made really poor choices, perhaps he couldn’t stand his family or vice versa or perhaps he is ill. The reasons people end up homeless are as diverse as the people themselves.

Why Did the Family of Max Not Intervene?
His brother may have worried about him. After all, he left money to Max. But why didn’t his brother intervene before his death to aide his homeless brother? Why did the rest of the family not reach out to assist?

What Responsibility Does the Family of a Homeless Person Bear?

What if your brother, sister, mother or father ended up on the streets?  What would you do in the fictional case outlined below – if this man were your relative?

Upbringing, Education and Experience
A man, raised in a lower-middle class nuclear family, educated with a BS (paid for by his parents) and an MS, served his country as a draftee for 2 years.

He married, but divorced with no children. After divorcing, he moved back in with his parents and after several ‘encouraging’ lectures from Dad, sought and obtained a job in the  research area of a prestigious university. He worked there for 15 years.

No Income, No Money Left
He got caught in a layoff two decades ago and has not successfully kept a job since –instead  living very frugally on the inheritance of half a million dollars from his deceased parents.

This man is a gentle and giving person. He even bought a house for his long time girl. Since he had no income, and gave away quite a bit of his inheritance, he ran out of money several years ago, even though he lived frugally.

He is a clutterer – with walls of trash and things inside his house, with pathways between them. He has ‘lost’ money – money escheated to the state when he received, but did not cash, checks or failed to correspond appropriately with the firms holding his assets. He has charged items to credit cards when he had no income or money and not re-paid them. Then, he subsequently ignored the collection agencies, saying “They will eventually stop calling”.

There are liens on the house he inherited from his parents – for the property taxes and for income tax which he did not pay in one of the few years he had a part time job.

Family Assistance Already Rendered
His family has tried to provide advice and assistance along the way.

They gave quite a bit of money to him for needed major maintenance on the house but the man chose to use the money for other purposes instead.

To avoid having the house put up for auction by the state for 2 years of back real estate taxes, family members purchased items of little value to them from him and made sure the taxes were paid with the money.

Members repeatedly researched and offered job leads to him, but he ignored them and never applied for the jobs.

The family did the research to help find government and private programs for which he could apply, and then walked through that research with him.

Family members cleaned the house multiple times, only to find it cluttered again on the next visit.

Members tried to assist him in interactions with the state’s escheatment division, to get back the lost money – but lack of action and/or interest on his part defeated the effort.

Pending Homelessness
This man’s house will be put up for auction in a couple of months. In a year he could be homeless.

He lives without gas (no hot water for showers and no clothes drying in the gas dryer). He has not had insurance (health, car or house) for several years. He gets his food at the local food pantry. His car sits in the driveway, unlicensed and unsellable because he can’t afford the required insurance or car maintenance to drive or sell it. He still avoids the calls from the bill collectors. He lives on social security alone, which is not enough to cover living expenses and the real estate taxes on his home.

Yet he still won’t (or maybe can’t) apply for any job. He won’t (or maybe can’t) deal with the state to get at least a couple hundred of his escheated dollars back. He won’t (or maybe can’t) clean up his house so that he could rent out part of it to a room mate and cover some expenses. He won’t (or maybe can’t) get his house on the market so he can move somewhere he can afford with his reduced income levels.

Family Viewpoint
From the family’s viewpoint, this man has lived off of others pretty much his whole life, will not take action to find a job, is foolish with money that he does mange to get, goes into transactions knowing he will not be able to pay, typically does not show concern for other family members, and won’t even keep his house and yard clean.

Perhaps Max Melitzer and his family also had a dilemma such as the fictional scenario above.

What Should Family Members Do?
How does a well educated person, raised to be hard working and self sufficient fall into such a state and what, if anything, should his family do about it? Should a family ever let one of it’s members go homeless? Should a family member who is not living up to family standards be given assistance when that assistance might instead be awarded to a hard working, self-sufficient family member?

What would you do?

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