10 Myths About The Homeless

Being homeless is a lifestyle choice.

Very few people, if anyone, start out in life with the goal of becoming homeless. But people do lose employment and then their housing. Some run away to escape violence or abusive relationships. Other simply cannot cope with life as they struggle to deal with post-traumatic stress, depression or other mental health issues, or an addiction which often leads to legal problems and snowballs from there. Peoples’ poor choices do contribute to homelessness, but oftentimes outside circumstances come into play and strongly impact upon those decisions.

Homelessness is always related to mental illness and/or substance abuse.

Homelessness is often associated with the abuse of alcohol or chemicals, or with other untreated mental health issues. While these issues clearly remain a factor in some people being homeless, there are many other causes and reasons why someone finds them self homeless. The loss of a job and the lack of affordable housing are two key factors that often come into play. However, other factors can combine to form a sort of “perfect storm” which results in someone becoming homeless. Relationship issues, legal entanglements, and a myriad of other reasons can combine to contribute to someone suddenly finding themselves literally out on the street. See some of the causes of homelessness listed below.

Homelessness is usually a long-term condition.

The federal definition of being “chronically homeless”, means someone who has been continuously homeless for a period of one year or more, or someone who is homeless for at least their 4th episode of homelessness within three years. Contrary what most people believe, the number of persons who are “chronically homeless” is relatively low. The most common length of time someone is homeless is less than a week and most people who enter the homeless shelter system will leave within 30 days, never to return. However, a number of individuals do find themselves chronically homeless. Most of these individuals have weak, if any, family connections and some sort of disability, whether it’s an issue with chemical abuse and addiction, mental illness or a physical disability. Though they may make up a small percentage of the homeless population overall, the chronically homeless consume a much larger portion of the resources spent on emergency and transitional shelter, and they occupy medical and correctional facilities at much higher rates.

Homeless people just need to “Get a Job”.

Finding employment can be a daunting challenge for most people these days, but for a homeless person it can prove to be extremely difficult. Having clean and appropriate clothing, being able to shower, having a permanent address and phone number, or even just finding transportation to get to a job interview, all may present special challenges for the homeless. For those with a criminal record, finding an employer “willing to take a chance” can prove very difficult. For others, physical or mental health disabilities, a lack of job skills, lack of job history, and/or a lack of education, often prevent them from obtaining meaningful employment at an income level sufficient enough to afford housing.

The homeless don’t use the Internet.

Many homeless people have a cell phone or tablet which serves as a sort of lifeline to civilization. Free WiFi makes it possible for the homeless to text, call, email and maintain contact with others. It also makes it possible for them to apply for jobs and find out information about where to find a variety of services. Libraries, coffee shops or other locations where free WiFi is available can be “golden” to the homeless.

Homeless people all live on the streets or sleep in shelters.

One of the fastest-growing segments of the homeless population is not people in homeless shelters or living on the street, but people who are living in their cars. The loss of a job and affordable housing can lead to someone’s motor vehicle being their last choice of refuge, and is frequently an option for the newly homeless. As Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless once noted, “The people who have cars are the individuals who are still hanging on to the remnants of their housed life.” The chronically homeless however, usually don’t have cars.

Homeless people are lazy and don’t want to work.

Many homeless people actually do work – some full time, but at wage levels simply too low to afford their basic living expenses, including safe and adequate housing in today’s market. Further, being homeless can actually be a lot of work, in and of itself. Finding a safe place to sleep or even to just park you car, or finding a warm shelter and a hot meal, can sometimes require a lot of effort. Joining a gym or health club, especially one that is open 24-7, can provide a warm (or cool) place to be, and the availability of a hot shower. Libraries also offer temporary shelter and free WiFi, but the effort required to navigate and avail oneself of the use of these facilities, all while hauling their precious few possession with them, can prove to be anything but easy, and to the contrary, is a lot of work.

Homelessness would never happen to me or anyone in my family.

Most homeless people never intended or expected that they would become homeless. Most have had solid jobs and family relationships in the past, but at some point things went terribly awry in one aspect of their life, and then things suddenly snowballed from there. Although you may think it could never happen to you or even anyone close to you, don’t be too certain. As a wise person once noted, we don’t always know for whom the bell tolls.

Ignore the problem and it will go away.

If this were indeed true, then homelessness would have ended years, if not eons ago. Perhaps it says something about the human condition that there are, and perhaps always will be, people in need who would truly benefit from constructive help provided by others.

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  1. Dawn on July 11, 2020 at 1:23 pm

    We are in the process of designing a backpack outreach to the homeless in our church/resource center community. This article was very insightful. May I copy it for distribution? Please advise. Thank you.

    • StreetPax on July 13, 2020 at 3:03 pm

      Sure, Please feel free to do so!

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