Here’s Your EBT Card and Your Fishing Pole – The DIY Way

When one turns from one street into the parking lot of the grocery store where I shop, or out of it in another direction onto the coastal highway, there always are “homeless” men positioned there, holding hand printed signs on ratty old cardboard, stating they are out of work, and need money for gas, food, or whatever. There are considerable rumors circulating around town about these guys, the property they own, and the amount of money they make begging from tourists and kind hearted locals.

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Personally, I do not think on those things. Every time I pass them, I want to remind them there are public assistance programs available to meet both their food and medical needs. If they have children, there are cash assistance programs available to help support the kids. I worked in public assistance programs for many years, so I have a pretty good knowledge base in those areas.

Yet, shared knowledge for what is available to someone is useful only for a while. Eventually, the time allotted for particular services or provisions runs out, or requirements to participate change. For most programs there is no life long guarantee for assistance. The needs seldom change, but the rules are akin to a revolving door. And lest anyone think otherwise, one must be poor by the rules.

As I have been thinking on how the food or hunger problem could be better managed, I pose a recurring challenge to myself. What would it take for a partial to complete paradigm shift in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP for short, or Food Stamps by tradition?

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It would take no more than an investment in some equipment, brief training on how to use the equipment, and either centrally located resources, or community transportation on certain days to reach resources. And what exactly is it? Equipping people to grow, gather, catch, or dig much of their own food; or at least access what is available in the area they live.

I remembered all the towns in which I have lived over the years, and there has not been a single one where I did not have reasonable access to a lake, river, stream, ocean, bay, bog, field, park, empty lot, or back yard. In each of those places, I fished, picked berries or fruit, gleaned cranberries from a bog after the harvest, grew every vegetable that would thrive in the area where I lived at the time, and loved every minute of all the above activities. It was not hard, nor was it unpleasant.

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So, if one needed assistance, how about issuing a fishing pole, gear, tackle box, and a schedule for the means by which to get to where the fish are? And how about man made lakes or ponds in urban areas where fish could be stocked, regularly? How about a collaborative agreement with farmers to receive some form of remuneration or tax break if they allowed people to glean fruits or vegetables after harvest? A shovel and bucket could be provided for digging clams, or a crab pot for crabs for those who live near a bay or the ocean. Take portions of public parks, where it looks pretty, but is otherwise fairly useless, and turn those areas into public gardens where people can cooperatively grow the vegetables they need for their, or their family’s good health. Provide seeds, starts, saplings, manure, water. Tap into community resources for teachers who can instruct those who have no idea how to bait a hook, or plant a zucchini seed.

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The point is, anyone can learn to fish, pick, garden, or dig. They just need a nudge in that direction if they have never done such a thing before. It could begin by issuance of licences at the time of certification for Food Stamps or cash assistance, and registering for classes to learn how to get ones own food from the land or water. There could be facilitators who would encourage, aid, and problem solve along the way. Everyone who needed help would have the opportunity to learn and become successful at providing, to a certain extent, their own food for themselves and those in their care.

I am not advocating elimination of assistance in the ability to purchase other items people eat. Although I do believe recipients of public assistance should think twice about purchasing subway sandwiches from a particular sandwich franchise, or ready made pizzas to take home to bake. One can buy a lot of beans, rice and flour for what it takes to purchase those one-meal-only treats. There are a lot more choices out there which are affordable, nutritious, and delicious. The only caveat is one needs to cook. But the benefits are so much greater than how good a prepared, over the counter, semi-fast food tastes.

It seems a bit trite and cliche; however it is true. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

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3 thoughts on “Here’s Your EBT Card and Your Fishing Pole – The DIY Way

  1. Truly homeless people cannot receive any welfare, of any sort. An address is required. Proof of income, or lack thereof, as well. There are no medical programs for adults until they reach the age of Medicaid, and again, an address is required. Vets can receive care at veteran’s hospitals, but only for life-threatening emergencies, otherwise, to make an appointment, one must have an address. If you worked in assistance, shouldn’t you know these things?
    Also, you should know that there is a difference between those who receive only food benefits, and those who receive food and cash. Food stamps cannot be used at restaurants, but yes, those who have cash can use the cash anywhere it’s accepted.
    I’m all for urban gardening, and especially communities building these outcomes together, but it will always require someone donating land, time, and resources. I cannot imagine my local homeless population trying to fish the canal downtown Indianapolis, because you know what you need to fish? a fishing license! You know what you need to get a fishing license? an address! And who is supplying the poles? We can’t even provide them a place to perform basic bodily functions.
    I guess I really don’t understand this post.
    I do, however, understand being poor in an urban community, as I WAS for 4 months, raising a family, while pregnant, with no income, when my husband lost his cushy job due to restructuring. Thank God he quickly became employed again, so I didn’t need to listen to the judgments others placed on us.


    1. I expected some feedback, and always appreciate people expressing themselves, especially passionately. Just to clear up a couple misunderstandings, though, until three years ago, I did work in public assistance maintaining ongoing cases for Food Stamps and Medicaid. It was in California, where I assure you the homeless can and do receive food stamp benefits. Once upon a time an address was needed, but now all that is needed is a mailing address, and in the county where I worked, most homeless used the Salvation Army as their mailing address. There also was, for some folks who had particular health issues and did not qualify for Medicaid, which in California is called Medi-Cal, an indigent program where they could be treated at a medical facility that participated in the Indigent Program. I think ObamaCare may have changed all that, but it has been three years, so I am not sure. If you have a Subway Sandwich near where you live or a Papa Murphy’s, you will find EBT cards are accepted. My point was benefits go further when one buys and cooks the food at home. I suggested creation of lakes, etc. in urban areas that could be managed by tax monies, not that anyone should fish in a canal. And the license you mentioned, as I mentioned, could be issued at the same time as approval of certain programs. I did not choose to go into all the rules, regulations and exceptions to each of the extant programs, because this post was not about the issue of being poor or the problems associated with poverty. There is no judgement on my part; only a mulling over a paradigm shift that I think would be possible if due consideration were given. I successfully worked with this population for many years, and one likes to think of better ways to do things, because sometimes it becomes a case of chasing a failed technique.


  2. I like the concept of training people with new skills as part of a whole plan to help people back to self sufficiency. There is a group in Chicago that teaches at risk youth the craft of beekeeping where they maintain, harvest honey and sell the product. They learn business skills as well as the beekeeping. I think we have better results when we help people climb ladders, but understand they have to climb them. So, we should have that as a goal.

    I have shared with you that I am a volunteer Board member of a group that helps homeless families. We use the anti-charity charity model spelled out in “Toxic Charity” to much success and the families stay housed at a rate of 88% at various checkpoints up to 24 months. In essence, we provide social worker management with rental subsidies based on the family’s ability to pay. But, there are milestones the family must achieve to get various additional services – go to class to learn about “Bridges Out of Poverty.” Save some money which we will match. Give up a 24% interest rate car and purchase one later that has 0% or low interest rate.

    Charity is needed for emergencies and to supplement, but we need to work toward the goal of self sufficiency, at least in my view. Great post and idea. Thanks, BTG


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