1. “They’re all criminals.”
This is one of the most dangerous generalizations that we can make about homeless populations because it prevents non-profit organizations and the general public from feeling sympathy towards this demographic. The truth is that homeless people commit fewer crimes than those who are not homeless. And those who have committed a crime, are usually guilty of only status crimes which include loitering, trespassing and sleeping in public. Think about it, a status crime is something that would be hard to avoid if you called the streets your home.
The larger issue is that homeless people are easy targets for crimes that range from being beaten up to getting murdered. For a recent example of this, you only have to look as far back as July of this year, when four homeless people were lit on fire while they were sleeping in San Diego. The crime resulted in two fatalities. When it comes to violent crimes, we need to start realizing that the homeless are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators.
2. “They choose to live on the streets.”
There is a common misconception that the homeless are choosing to live on the streets instead of going to shelters. The truth is is that not everyone is allowed into shelters, including many who suffer from mental illnesses or drug addictions. There are also strict regulations against having pets in these facilities, so shelters are usually not an option for homeless pet owners who refuse to abandon their animals.
There is also a growing rate of “living in the rough,” for homeless LGBT youth, who face a greater amount of discrimination than straight homeless youth. It is noted that about 40% of homeless youth who seek aid from shelters identify as LGBT.
3. “They are unemployed.”
It is often believed that homeless people are all jobless, but this is far from the truth. There are individuals who work one, two, even three jobs but are still unable to pay for rent due to a various number of reasons. These people are often paid under-the-table or only given minimum wage for their work, resulting in a barely livable salary. Especially in cities like San Francisco where rent is sky-high, it’s not unheard of to be working full-time while living on the streets.
4. “They are uneducated.”
It’s a common belief that the homeless have little to no higher education. But according to the Huffington Post, 58,000 college students are living on the streets of America — whether they’re paying their way through school with scholarships or going to a community college while working multiple jobs in order to give themselves an education. Many of these homeless students consider their schools to be safe havens, where they can escape a harsh reality while enriching their minds.
There are also, of course, homeless individuals who have received an education and for a wide variety of reasons have lost their home due to job loss, addiction, mental illness or an inability to stay on top of their bills, many of which might be student loans.
5. “There are no viable solutions to helping them.”
While it’s true that homeless shelters are expensive to finance and often yield mixed results, there’s an alternative approach called Housing First, which is shown to be more effective than shelters.
With Housing First strategies, homeless individuals are given long-term affordable housing where they do not have to have a job or be sober to qualify. They pay a small amount of their rent, but the government pays the majority.
In the Housing First approach, people are given resources to get employment and addiction help, which aren’t required to be utilized, but often are. In Utah, the homeless population has been reduced by 72 percent since 2005 because of this kind of thinking. In 2015, there were just 300 people living on the streets in the entire state thanks to this simple approach of just “giving homes to homeless people.”
6. “They are mostly men.”
Homeless men may be more visible on the streets, but the truth is that a little under 40 percent of the homeless population in the U.S. is made up of women. A common reason for a woman to be homeless is that she has escaped a domestic abuse situation. A lot of these women are single moms trying to support their children while dealing with the emotional and physical issues that may have plagued their lives.
Homeless women often try to remain more elusive than their male counterparts because they face a unique set of challenges on the streets, often related to sexual abuse. Many avoid shelters because of the rampant abuse that is known to take place in these facilities.
7. “Those who have homes are immune to becoming homeless.”
It may be easy for us to take the roof over our heads for granted, but circumstances can change for the worst in a moment. With a volatile economy or a bad domestic situation, there are plenty of things that can happen that can cause homelessness. We can look no further than the recent recession to remind us of this. It started in 2007 and continued until mid-2009, causing the U.S. homeless population to increase by 3 percent, or by 20,000 people, due to a lack of stable employment. In 2008, the percentage of homeless families jumped to 40 percent in New York City within just a 5-month period.
Instead of believing that a person can only become homeless if they do something wrong, we should use our recent history as a way to spark empathy and to remind ourselves that homelessness can happen to anyone.