The stereotypes most often associated with homelessness permeate our social mindset. As a result, is difficult for many people to imagine that some of our nation’s homeless are actually victims of circumstances.
We’ve grown accustomed to thinking of the homeless as derelicts, bums, drunks, drug addicts, and etcetera. Reflexively – and without challenging our own perceptions – we tend to blame a person’s homelessness on themselves. And, because of that, we are all too often unwilling to provide anything more than the absolute bare minimum of resources and assistance to our homeless.
This offering of "table scraps" is just enough to keep the homeless alive – and hopefully, out of sight – but does nothing to actually help them get off the streets.
There is no denying that there are those homeless who do indeed fit the stereotype. However, the stereotype is not an accurate representation of the nation’s total homeless population.
An ever growing number of homeless are folks who others would’ve never imagined would end up out on the streets.
An article in the Daily Press this past Saturday, pointed out that an increasing number of homeless are people who,
"… never thought of turning to a homelessness organization in the past.
Many facing financial destitution used to consider themselves of the middle class.
They were small business owners or middle-income family members whose jobs were wiped out by the country’s economic woes."
A recent article in the New York Times, reported that,
"Growing numbers of Americans who have lost houses to foreclosure are landing in homeless shelters…
Many take refuge with families and friends, occupying extra bedrooms, basements and attics. But such hospitality rarely lasts.
So, as lean times endure and paychecks disappear, homeless shelters are absorbing those who have run out of alternatives."
What makes it all the more tragic is that articles, like the two I’ve cited above, are becoming common place.
It seems not a day goes by that I don’t read an article from somewhere around the nation which is spotlighting a local person or family who have found themselves homeless due to circumstances beyond their control.
And yet, despite these types of news reports, it is the stereotypes which remain the predominant perception of homelessness in the minds of many Americans.
I’m not sure why.
Perhaps it is because if we were willing to admit that the majority of homeless do not fit the stereotype, we’d have to also admit that what we believed about homelessness was wrong.
And we don’t want to be wrong, do we?
Maybe it’s that if we were to admit that not every homeless person is a "bum," we’d then have to explain to ourselves why we hadn’t done something to help the homeless.
But, how does one excuse the inexcusable?
Or, could it be that we’ve known all along that the homeless stereotype is a myth and we’ve chosen to deliberately ignore it?
After all, ignorance is supposedly bliss. And, if we can convince ourselves that anyone who is homeless isn’t worth helping that lets us off the hook. It doesn’t require us to be accountable to our own consciences or to put forth any effort.
It may also be that we don’t want see homelessness because we’re terrified that we may be the next one in line to experience it.