Many aspects of homelessness one can write about, from the varied causes of homelessness to the Welfare system that largely supports the homeless, you could write about the literally hundreds of agencies and organizations that make it their business to care and support the homeless. You could write about how the general public views the homeless, you could, of course, talk about being homeless (If you ever had that life experience). After you have exhausted all there is to say about these things, you could write about resolving homelessness, eradicating it from the face of the earth, like a horrible disease, in the same manner our society currently talks about ending ‘hunger’.
This is the first of a series of articles on the very complex subject of homelessness. The purpose of these articles is foremost to inform and to educate. Someone once said: “ignorance is bliss.” and if that is true, what would the adage be if one were actually knowledgeable? It is my goal, and my passion, possibly my calling, to change how homelessness is perceived, to put forth workable solutions for eradicating homelessness and to turn the “ignorance” into “knowledge”. And knowledge, in the right hands and right minds, is supremely powerful. For this reason I will use the remainder of this article to address what I believe are the prevailing myths regarding homelessness. This list is not exhaustive by any means and is in no certain order of prevalence, or importance.
- Homelessness is simply the result of losing your home.
- Homelessness is the result of losing your job or your primary source of income, so that you can no longer afford your home.
- Homelessness is the fault of the individual (or family) that is homeless.
- Helping the homeless is the responsibility of the government.
- Homelessness is mostly, and generally associated with the African-American culture and other minority cultures.
- Homelessness is so overwhelming that I as an individual can do nothing to help the homeless improve their circumstances.
- The homeless are generally “uneducated,” “irresponsible,” lazy and worthless and can do nothing to help themselves.
- The homeless people are the ones with their hands out or “flying signs,” asking for help/money at every busy intersection.
- The homeless dress as if they actually want to appear homeless, lacking better clothing, facilities, and other resources to aid in personal care and appearance, such as grooming and general hygiene.
- The only time the homeless are sociable (friendly, conversational, etc.) or display any actual social skills is when they are seeking something tangible from you, such as money or cigarettes.
- Most of the people who are homeless have never had a full-time job, and are, generally, not the type of person that you, as an employer, would be willing to hire for any level of employment.
- I as an individual am actually helping the homeless by handing them money believing that I am doing my part to give to the poor or homeless.
I saved this myth for last because I think this is the most prevalent myth we are confronted with every day in our society. The subject has even been addressed by the local and state governments.
I will now take each of these myths and expose them for the lies they are, proving them to be untrue, and thus begin to do chip away at the ignorance and to begin the process of departing knowledge, the real truth about the homeless condition.
The first thing I can say about each of these myths is that not only are they not true, but that they are, also, rooted and grounded in ignorance. I will address myths 1-3 together and delineate the remaining nine.
Myths 1, 2 & 3:
Homelessness is so much more than not having a roof over your head, or having has place to put all your possessions. Homelessness is not caused by the loss of income, although it’s a contributing factor. Individuals and families lose homes every day to natural disasters, predatory loans, death, illness, divorce, bad debt, loss of income/job etc…the list is endless. If even a tenth of all of these incidents resulted in homelessness, it would be considered an epidemic and a national disaster, which of course it’s not. Losing your home would be a devastating experience for anyone; however losing your home or your income does not have to result in homelessness. Homelessness is a condition, like a sickness or disease, and needs to be treated as such. It is often long term and chronic in nature, like a disease but it definitely can be “treated” and it certainly can be prevented and eliminated. Homelessness is a very complex and perplexing issue, not simply the result of losing your job or home.
The fact of the matter here is that it is everyone’s responsibility, not just the government’s. Today, however, the Federal, State and local governments are not helping in the manner in which they should help and are helping in ways they never should be. Take the Cash Assistance Program for example:
When it comes to supporting the homeless individual by giving cash money, generally in the form of EBT, and often in the form of disability income (SSDI), what are they really doing? Are they really helping or are they enabling?
The government’s support of the homeless in terms of cash assistance only serves to exacerbate the issues the homeless and does nothing to alleviate the condition. This issue of our state government giving monetary assistance to the homeless is no different in my opinion than you or I handing money to someone displaying a sign on 7th and Kellogg streets in Saint Paul, MN. What you and I and the government are really doing is allowing the homeless–in fact enabling the homeless–to remain homeless, while giving them enough money to sustain themselves for just a single day. More often than not this money is used for cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and even cell phones and motel rooms. It is seldom used to pay for their housing needs. Put another way, money is not the most pressing need of the homeless: Love is.
‘Homelessness’, as far as Myth #5 is concerned, does not show any favoritism, whatsoever, to the individual’s color, gender, religion, sexual lifestyle or preference, age, social or economic status, and, most certainly, the ethnic background of anyone… It bears repeating that ‘homelessness’ plays no favorites; NO ONE is immune. Sooner than you may think—or realize…today, tomorrow, next week, maybe even a year from now…you could, realistically, find yourself homeless, sitting in a park perhaps, shaking your head in total denial and be wondering what on earth has happened to you. You wouldn’t be the first and you certainly won’t be the last.
To the individuals in Myth #6—who think that there is nothing that they can do to truly help the homeless person, or community, I say this: If they would take the time to think, and do some research into the matter of being homeless, they would see, and discover for themselves, that there are, literally, a great number of things that they could be doing to help remedy the situation, and provide real hope, one person, or group, at a time.
What I will say about Myth #7 is that, after having been personally involved in the life of many people, I can tell you that they are some of the smartest, the most educated, the most articulate, and the most honest and responsible people I, personally, know. Myth #7 is not only a ‘myth’ but it is, also, a total and complete misperception and misunderstanding of the true homeless scenario. There are a good number of homeless people who are, in fact, improving themselves every day, some even more so, in a school of higher learning.
Myth # 8
The pure and simple underlying truth here is, is that on an average day there are some 300-500 ‘homeless’ individuals—at any given time—in the city of St. Paul; and the majority of these people are not the ones at the busy intersections.
Concerning Myth #9, I will admit that identifying a ‘homeless’ person is, usually, not very difficult to do—even with a minimal powers of observation. You can usually pick them out by the clothing that they wear, clothing that doesn’t fit properly or is inappropriate for the weather or season, or their physical appearance, the darkness of their skin from countless hours in the elements. Most often, though, these individuals are the chronic or long–term homeless, those who have no hope of a better future, and thus, the ones who may have simply stopped caring about their physical appearance or how they are perceived by the general public. But once again they represent a small minority in the homeless community. The majority of the homeless dresses like everybody else because they know where to get the clothing and hygiene resources they need.
Contrary to belief, the reality to Myth #10 is the opposite of what is perceived of them. Yet, again, there are some homeless individuals who DO “live up to the standard of the ‘misperception’. There is always one born with the silver spoon, who’s word are smooth, even believable, and if they were not asking for something, they wouldn’t be seen talking to you. The fact here is that there those in the community of the homeless that are quite articulate and would be happy to partake in a conversation on any number of issues, with anyone willing to participate. It bears repeating: “it is the few, the minority who cause this perception to exist”.
Myth #11 is another of the many “BIG misperceptions” and “falsehoods” about the ‘homeless’ individual. Many of these people faithfully work regular full-time jobs, doing all that is within their power to better their lives, some are even former corporate professionals. Additionally, It must be noted that not all homeless are able to work due to age or disability. While it is also true that there are those who are capable of productive work that, either, have never applied for work, or, who refuse to learn the responsibility or discipline of actually performing a 40-hour workweek, these once again represent the minority.
The thing that I want to make mention of with Myth #12 is that it is NEVER “wrong” to give—even if your motive for doing so is not “what it should be.” As an example, I, personally have often given my last dollar or last bit of change without having the right spirit or attitude. Other times, I have given with that ‘sincere’, ‘honest’, and ‘loving’ spirit that I believe dwells and works within everyone. I am often torn between giving—just to satisfy my ‘guilty feeling’ and that of genuinely wanting to help them but not having that which they are seeking from me. Neither of these ‘scenarios’, produces a “good feeling” within me.
It has taken me a couple of years, and many ‘flip-flops’ in my decision-making, to write what I am about to share with you.
What I have, finally, arrived at is this: That simply handing that person a “5” or a “10” or is simply encouraging the ‘recipient of your generosity’ to continue doing this same routine over and over again. When they find a ‘hot spot’, they will stay there and willingly “depend on the generosity of others” when this same person is fully-capable of earning a productive living on his own. In a very real sense, we are responsible for promoting their lifestyle.
There are those who will say that this is a very hard, or even cruel, stance to take; others will never be ‘convinced’ or ‘convicted’ that this continued action of theirs labels them as “enablers”. My stance is in reality, one that is done in “the spirit of love.” There are other more loving things that I could be doing to help the homeless person or community that would be of greater benefit than handing them cash over and over again. I am asking those who do give cash to stop doing so, in the name of love and understanding. The homeless person, who is fully-capable of working, will have a hard time, at best, to understand this rational because they feel that their greatest ‘need’ is money. I am telling you that they are deceived and that their real greatest need is the “expression” of your love in other, more tangible, ways.
I have, purposely, started this series of articles with the myths, misperceptions and stereotypes from the viewpoint of one who has NEVER been there and, God-willing, never will be. This list of twelve myths isn’t nearly exhaustive – in fact you have probably thought of many more, as you read this, though I believe I have made my point quite clear.
My next article will present the same myths and stereotypes taken from the perspective of the homeless person, define what homelessness actually is, and provide insights to solutions to the some of the causes of the homeless condition. I hope that through this article that you have been informed, even if it’s only in reference to a comment which causes you to pause and have a “second thought” about the nature of homelessness. It is my deepest desire to share with you my knowledge on this real-life issue, and in the process to inform, educate, and enlighten, and hopefully inspire you to help in whatever way possible.
I close this article with these words: Like everyone else in this world, the homeless community and each individual in it are human beings, with real feelings and desires, goals and aspirations, hopes and dreams and are equally created in the image of God. As God has shown grace and mercy upon each and every one of us, so we, also, should do so for each other, including the homeless. Yes, homeless is sometimes the result of making bad decisions, but everyone is entitled to a second chance, even multiple second chances.
As I have done with considerable thought, I want YOU to give this following question serious thought and consideration:
“If you had it within your power to transform the life of, even, ONE ‘homeless’ person…WOULD YOU? and WOULD YOU make the effort that may be required of you?”
If you have any comments, inquiries, or questions about this article, or if you would simply like more information on this topic, please direct your inquiries to Jerry Sedgewick, the Editor and Founder of Prevail News.
Written by Daniel Velner (Homeless Advocate)