Posted: April 13, 2008 in Acceptance, Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Stereotypes

Late last year I saw a film called Into the Wild. I had the chance to see the film again a few days ago. It was based on the life of Christopher McCandless, who leaves behind all of his worldly possessions and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness.

While I enjoyed the entire film, there was one line, in particular, that stood out in my mind the first time I saw the film and then again the other day:

"Call everything by its name."

I like the idea of calling things by their name. That’s the way it should be. Instead, because we’ve become too overly concerned with being politically correct, we’ve become a nation of euphemistic individuals.  

I have no problem with us not using language that is offensive to others. We should be kind to one another, but for some reason we’ve gone way overboard with it.

There are homeless persons who don’t like the term "homeless." They prefer to be referred to as "houseless" – which to me doesn’t really apply, since not everyone has the ability to own a house. The best they can do is rent an apartment. So for those, it would be more correct to refer to them as "apartmentless" – but that word doesn’t officially exist.

Others like to be known as "residentially challenged." Still others don’t feel like they’re homeless because, according to them, the "… whole world is home."

So, let me add a euphemism of my own: "domiciliary displaced."

The problem is that all of these euphemisms are nothing more than nonsense. Yet, I can understand why there are numbers of homeless people who don’t want to have the label of "homeless" hanging over their heads. And it has to do with synonyms.

The in the minds of so many, the word homeless is interchangeable with drunkenness; or being lazy or irresponsible; being a bum; being worthless; being of base character; or any number of other things. In turn these adjectives, which have their roots in ignorance of the facts, perpetuate stigmas that are difficult for a person to circumvent.

There are indeed those homeless who are drunkards. There are homeless who are lazy and irresponsible. But the same could also be said of so many who have a place to live.

To imagine that because a person is homeless that they are also a drug addict, alcoholic, lazy, or something else of that nature is the equivalent of believing that because all rabbits are four footed mammals that all four footed mammals are rabbits.

This type of "slight of hand" thinking doesn’t accomplish anything positive. Nor does it provide a solution to significantly reducing the ever growing numbers of people who experience homelessness each year. If anything, it only creates barriers that limit and, in many instances, prevent so many homeless from being able to rebuild their lives with dignity.

I’m convinced that one way for us to be able to see past these stereotypes is for us to slow down. We all seem to be moving through our lives at "light speed." Everything has become nothing more than a blur. We’ve become so busy and have filled our days with so many superfluous activities that we, often times, do not notice what is right front of our noses.

If we want to truly have an impact on homelessness we have to make the time to find out what it is we can do to help.

Sometimes that help comes in the form of us passing a homeless person a few dollars. Sometimes it comes from taking sometime to talk to them; allowing them to feel like a "real" person. Sometimes it’s just a matter of acknowledging that person; a simple "hello, how you doing?" You’d be surprise at how big a difference just a smile can make in the life of a homeless person.

Homeless means not having a "home." It means not having a place to live.

If we expect to reduce the numbers of homeless in our communities, we need to call things by their proper name and we need to stop attaching stigmatizing adjectives to the condition. Once we do that, we have an actual chance at effecting change, not only in our community, but in the lives of others who need our help.

It’s time to stop the euphemisms and pseudo-synonyms.

It’s time to make a difference.


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