I've noticed a lot of colorful high-tech tents popping up in homeless encampments lately. If the homeless are so poor, how can they afford those pricey new tents?

—Shelter Envy Homeowner

Please don't take this the wrong way, Envy, but you sound like kind of a dick.

From time to time, a reader will float the proposition that the homeless are holding out on us, secretly living lives of ease and luxury while the rest of us poor slobs trudge to work.

It's a seductive idea: If you can convince yourself that the homeless are hip-deep in resources, you don't have to feel bad, or do anything to help.

Unfortunately, since poor people are by definition not rich, convincing yourself that they are is hard. Thus any scrap of potential supporting evidence is precious, and when certain people see a homeless guy with a hot dog, or some gum, they inevitably cry, "See? He's not worthy of our compassion—he has a…thing!"

To be clear: Being homeless doesn't mean you have to shamble through the streets clad in rags, entirely devoid of possessions or will. (Maybe you're thinking of zombies.)

In fact, given our housing crisis, the stereotype that only the helplessly addicted or wildly insane become homeless is less true than ever. These days, even quite capable people may find themselves homeless.

If such a person manages to get a little bit of money, he's probably got his act together enough not to blow it on drugs or give it to a family of ducks. Some form of temporary shelter is going to be a pretty high priority. (He may also be lucky enough to score one from outreach groups who pass along donated tents when they get them.)

So, not only are those tents not a moral "Get Out of Jail Free" card, they're a painful reminder that even "regular" people who know how to take care of themselves can't find homes in Portland. Go Timbers!

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com