The Classic Homeless Stereotype Is A Myth

Posted: June 23, 2009 in Acceptance, Compassion, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Hunger, Misconceptions

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.

  1. ~B~ says:

    Wow, reading that ABC article was a bit heart-wrenching for me, since I can relate to these folks that have never previously had housing/job/money issues or ever been on any sort of public assistance before now. Matt and I have gotten a lot of asinine comments along the lines of “you lazy homeless bums should get off your ass and start looking for work”… completely overlooking the fact that, of course, we DO work, as do many others in our situation. You’re right about the “autopilot” part. People do tend to check out and revert to stereotypes. Guess that makes them the lazy ones, neh? Understandable, since we all do it to a degree. But still not right.

    And clearly it’s not going to get any better any time soon – a million more to become homeless in the U.S., before this thing starts to improve.

    On a side note, the lady on the second page of the article totally looks like she’s staying in the exact same motel I am – down to the comforter and the headboard and the picture on the wall! Obviously, it’s not a great long-term solution. Even the cheap motels are so expensive for a single month that you might as well be paying for an apartment. Of course, you get utilities/cable/internet included, but still, very difficult for a homeless individual to maintain as a sustainable lifestyle :( That’s why we can only stay for a week here and there.

    Matt and I are so looking forward to meeting you! :)


  2. Rev. Cynthia says:

    Hey, Bri ~ fun finding you on here! When will Matt be back in the states?
    Am looking forward to seeing you in SLO @ some point.

    Rev. Cynthia

  3. ~B~ says:

    Hi Cynthia!

    He will probably be back within a week and a half to two weeks. We are waiting on my EDD checks to arrive (should be within another 5 business days) and then we will schedule his flight out immediately afterwards. We want to be financially prepared for when he gets out here.

    We’re looking forward to meeting you in person as well! Matt tells me you’re gonna marry us ;)

  4. Matt says:

    Is this a private conversation or can anyone join in? ;)

    Stereotypes are, as I’m sure you know, something I write about often and have explored a great deal. I feel the main problem is one of visibility. The homeless population that do not fit the stereotypical image are usually not recognized as being homeless and as a result the stereotype is not corrected.


  5. Shelagh Considine says:

    Enter an older single person. Yes, I have worked all my life. My Social Security proves that, although it is not enough to rent in this area. I have been squeesed out into the streets because I don’t have enough money.

  6. Erin Harper says:

    My husband and I were that homeless. We do not look homeless and we are both college graduates. We are marketable and healthy and still on the streets. We have a nine year old son and a sleeping bag as assests. We have run across the stereotypical homeless but the majority of us are in the same boat. My once one sided opinion of the homeless has changed and humbled me a great deal. It’s hard to get up from your camp after a rough nights sleep no shower no comforts of home and an empty stomach and go to work or even apply for a position. You have to strap on you gear and pack and and walk into an office of well dressed housed Americans who would rather see you to the door than ask “How may I help”. So please the next time a “bum” walks into your office for an application don’t be so quick to judge. Give them a chance to get off your block with a sign and allow them the opportunity to at least hand you a reume’.

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