MYTHS & STEREOTYPES
Setting the record straight
The truth about homelessness
Not surprisingly, there are so many myths and stereotypes about the homeless that have permeated throughout our culture. Most are either gross exaggerations or mischaracterizations of homeless individuals. It's important to dispel the myths and break down the stereotypes as we help to educate and engage the community in our quest to fix the problem of homelessness. Below are some of the most common myths, paired with the respective true realities.
Most are Mentally Ill
Decades of epidemiological research reveals that one-third, at most, have a serious mental illness. De-institutionalization or closure of mental hospitals was initially believed to be a prime cause of homelessness, but this occurred well before the sharp increase in the 1980s.
Drug Addicts or Alcoholics
It is believed that only about 20 to 40 percent of homeless have a substance abuse issue. In fact, abuse is rarely the sole cause of homelessness and more often is a response to it because living on the street puts the person in frequent contact with users and dealers
Dangerous and Violent
Homeless persons are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. Of course, some homeless individuals may commit acts of violence beyond self-defense but such acts rarely affect the non-homeless individuals they encounter.
Homeless persons are more likely to have criminal justice intervention. However, this is primarily because many of their daily survival activities are criminalized—meaning they might be given a summons or arrested for minor offenses such as trespassing, littering, or loitering.
Their Own Fault
Everyone makes mistakes, but the descent into homelessness is not necessarily the direct result of “choices.” Far more often a sudden illness or an accident, losing one’s job, or falling into debt leads to eviction—or doubling up with family or friends becomes untenable.
They Like This Life
Since “Housing First” began in New York City in 1992 at the nonprofit Pathways to Housing, Inc., it became clear that the offer of immediate access to independent housing with support services is welcomed and accepted by most homeless. People on the street often reject the option of crowded, unsafe shelters—not housing in general.
Buy Drugs & Booze
Interviews with street homeless persons show that most of their money goes to buying food and amenities such as socks, hygiene products, and bottled water. Although some do spend money on alcohol or drugs, the same can be said of anyone.
Just Get a Job
Many homeless people do have jobs—they just cannot afford to pay rent. Some receive disability income due to physical or mental problems but still cannot afford rent. Applying for a job with no address, no clean clothes, no place to shower, make such individuals far less competitive in the low-wage job market.
They Don't Care
Living outdoors means having no regular place for bodily functions, to dispose of trash, to store food safely, or to bathe. A homeless person who “cares” has few alternatives. Our research shows that lacking access to a shower is one of the more humiliating aspects of being homeless.
Nothing Like Me
Think you have nothing in common with the homeless? At least 40% had careers, families, homes, and a livelihood. Just a few life crises is all it takes to lose all that and find yourself without a home. Many used to be just like you. You have more in common than you may think.