Despite evidence to the contrary, many folks still believe that the majority of homeless are drunkards; drug addicts; derelicts; psychologically disturbed; or just too lazy to work.
Those are the typical stereotypes.
The truth is those homeless who fit that description represent a minority of the overall homeless population.
In reality, the typical face of homelessness is comprised of vast diversity of people from all walks of life.
A recent headline from ABC News spelled it out quite clearly: Recently Homeless Don’t Fit Classic Stereotype.
The article pointed out one salient fact about homelessness which doesn’t seem to register in the minds of so many "housed" Americans:
"Many of the newly homeless do not fit the stereotype of homelessness. They may be hard-working, healthy and addiction-free."
It also pointed out one significant potential reality:
"The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that, because of the recession, as many as a million additional Americans may become homeless in the next two years.
For lower-income working families, it means one poor decision can rapidly deteriorate into a maelstrom of debt and financial problems."
Although the numbers of people becoming homeless has been on a steady rise over the last two or three decades, due to the economic recession some communities have seen an extreme increase.
For example –
Baltimore’s recent homeless count indicated that homelessness "… was up 12 percent from two years ago, and nearly 28 percent since the census began in 2003."
One shelter in Toledo has so many folks seeking emergency shelter that they are operating at a level which is "… nearly 20 percent above capacity."
Pinellas County, FL is reporting a 20 percent increase – with an "… 82.7 percent increase in unsheltered homeless individuals and families, and a startling 108 percent increase in unsheltered and sheltered children under the age of 18 years."
In California’s Monterey County, homelessness "… has increased 71 percent over the past two years… The increase is due partly to the bad economy pushing more people out of their homes and jobs and into the streets."
Indianapolis, IN is reporting that "… 213 families were homeless on Jan. 29, the date on which the count was held in Indianapolis. That was up from 120 families in January 2008." That’s an increase of about 78 percent.
And the list goes on…
What is a bit disheartening is that all of us know our nation is experiencing economic hard times. We also know that millions of people have lost their jobs. We know that millions of homes have been foreclosed and others are on the brink of foreclosure. And, we know that "average, everyday folk" – just like ourselves – have either already become homeless or are the verge of becoming homeless.
Yet, we hear the word "homeless" and our brains slip into "auto-pilot" mode and we envision a dirty, scruffy looking individual in our mind’s eye – even though we know better.
It’s this automatic response to homelessness which prevents us from doing that which needs to be done to help the homeless get off the streets.
And I do mean "us."
We expect government to do something to end homelessness. We expect them to continue providing funding for homeless support services organizations in our communities.
Some local governments are working toward that end by wanting to build affordable housing for the homeless.
Even so, we are just as responsible for helping to provide a solution. But, we can’t do that if we continually balk at the idea of providing housing for the homeless. We have to realize that there is a difference between housing for the homeless and tradition shelters.
Homeless shelters are "temporary fixes." They do little more than provide a meal and a bed.
Providing housing for the homeless helps them become self-sustaining. It gives them a goal to pursue. More importantly, it gives them hope for a better life.
We have to face the facts: if we don’t homeless on the streets of our communities, then we must be willing to allow the building of affordable and permanent housing for them.