When you look at people experiencing homelessness what do you think? Maybe they’re an alcoholic, an addict, a felon, a sex offender, or a criminal, right? Many myths follow all homeless people throughout their journey to find a home. It’s hard to overcome stigmas and it causes more obstacles making a hard journey that much harder.
People assume all homeless people are the same and have all the worst qualities. It’s simply not true and makes it harder for everyone without a home. We have to pay the price because they are making assumptions about someone they don’t even know. I think that’s one reason why I enjoy writing for The Contributor. It gives me and others a voice and helps educate the public. It lets them get to know us.
I had asked my homeless friends what assumptions, myths and stigmas they’ve had to overcome or are still overcoming. I was saddened by their responses. Wayne B. from Flint, Mich. said he was recently kicked out of a Taco Bell by the manager who called him a “troublemaker” because “all homeless are troublemakers.” It seemed like he’d had trouble with someone who was experiencing homelessness, so he assumed all homeless people are trouble. Wayne frequented that Taco Bell to charge his phone, grab something cheap to eat, cool off in the summer and stay warm in the winter. But now that option is gone.
Another formerly homeless friend from Wilmington, Del. said, “People assumed I use drugs and alcohol. There just had to be some other reason that I was sick and couldn’t work.”
Alexander from Melbourne, Sydney said, “Because I suffer from PTSD I must be a danger to myself and others.”
Another friend from Los Angeles said, “People think I’m lazy and it’s my fault that I’m homeless.” Unless you go up and talk to every person experiencing homelessness, you really can’t assume anything, yet people do.
I remember living in a drug infested hotel because no one would rent to us and hearing people say, “They want to live there. They like it.” These assumptions hurt and I had to work hard just to have people understand that we’re not all drunks and addicts. Not all homeless people are alcoholics and drug addicts just like all drug addicts and alcoholics are not homeless.
Assumptions from the public prevent us from being seen as human beings, voters, or real people who are simply without a home. We are real people with real feelings and when these stigmas come up it makes it harder to get where we need to be — in a home. I remember a former Contributor vendor telling me he went to apply for a job and the interviewer said, “I can’t hire you. You’re homeless.” Kind of a Catch-22 if you ask me. The interviewee asked, “How can I get a home if I don’t have a job?” The interviewer stated, “That’s not my problem.”
The Bay Area Rescue Mission last month posted a list called, “Eight Ways to Help the Homeless,” where the number one thing was to NOT give them money. “Too often well intended gifts are converted to drugs or alcohol.” This simply isn’t always true. Number six was to take precautions for your own safety saying some of the people living on the streets are criminals and fugitives running from the law. Seems like this mission was appearing to help the homeless, but actually creating more myths and fears possibly to gain donations for themselves.
I’ve also heard people tell me if I didn’t smoke I could afford a place. We’ve been priced out of the market for three years now. Even if we spent $140 per month on cigarettes quitting smoking won’t be enough to afford a monthly rent in Nashville. Other stigmas that I’ve personally heard are that homeless people are dirty and smell. Many people riding the bus will make rude comments about homeless people sleeping on the bus. The comments hurt my feelings. I can only imagine what the person it’s being directed at feels. One person thinking they’re better than another. Is this not stirring the hate pot?
Treating people experiencing homelessness with love, compassion and kindness is free. It costs nothing yet some would rather treat with hatred and ignorance. If we could overcome the stigmas, the assumptions, and treat homeless people as everyday people instead of social outcasts, maybe agencies could start listening to people with lived experience and represent those voices on their panels, their committees, and yes even congress to bring direct solutions, real solutions, lasting solutions to this epidemic of homelessness. We could be the change that can change the world.
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