People don’t admit that statement to me anymore. It’s probably because they don’t want to be insensitive. Or maybe they’re afraid they’ll get an earful of what I believe.
People rarely express their feelings about panhandling to me anymore where it was once a common area of frustration I heard about.
But I see it repeated all the time in comments on articles about homelessness or on Reddit.
“The homeless are homeless because they want to be homeless.”
I think I understand where that is coming from.
- “They got themselves in this situation.”
- “They don’t want help.”
- “It’s their fault they are homeless.”
In some circumstances I can sort of agree with that.
They became addicted to drugs. They became alcoholics. They became criminals and are now felons.
But if we choose to play that game we can start to look at ourselves.
We ate too much bad food and developed heart disease. We didn’t exercise enough and suffered a heart attack. We smoked too much and developed lung disease.
I mean aren’t YOU eating too much gluten? That’s probably why you don’t feel well.
How many of us are totally innocent of creating our own circumstances?
But the truth of homelessness is actually not what we all want to admit.
Most people become homeless because they are poor and there isn’t enough affordable housing.
“Insufficient income and lack of affordable housing are the leading causes of homelessness,” reports The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.
But then the plot thickens.
For women, the number 1 reason they are homeless is because of domestic violence.
Woman are getting beat up at home and feel like they need to leave to protect themselves and their kids.
I guess you could say that was their fault for picking the wrong man.
People don’t typically become homeless because of just one reason. It’s usually a variety of circumstances.
- SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) estimates that 38% of people who are homeless are alcohol dependent,
- 26% abuse other substances
- Youth who have had to spend time in the foster care system are more likely to experience homelessness as adults (endhomelessness.org).
- We know that 35 percent to 45 percent of all homeless people suffer from some kind of mental illness.
- lack of affordable housing
- low wages (In this order)
We, as humans, have a desire to simplify complicated issues. Whether it’s the environment, drugs, wars, poverty or homelessness most of us have quick fix solutions to incredibly complicated issues.
I find it interesting that the quick fix solutions very often never involve changing the behaviors of the person advocating the quick fix.
But with homelessness I’m not actually suggesting you make any changes… except for one.
All I’m asking is that you open your mind to the possibility that a person is homeless for many reasons.
Please try to stop pushing out messaging that the homeless are just a bunch of drunk, addicted, lazy criminals that don’t want to work and get a home.
Whether you know it or not you are influencing people around you with that message. People trust you and believe your words.
You are helping push a message out that is easy for people to grab onto and believe. In doing so the problem of homelessness becomes all that much more difficult.
When talking about homelessness, if you don’t want to advocate for any of the facts and stats above please just simply say something like: “It’s complicated. People are homeless for a lot of reasons.”
That’s the truth.