Homelessness is often made out to be a situation that people have brought unto themselves. It is common that those who do not find themselves in a situation of homelessness, take a sort of comfort in pinning the blame on those individuals who find themselves in tough housing situations, or even without one. Misinformation as well as unwillingness to educate ourselves, can lead to the wrongful assumptions that there are prerequisites or some sort of formula that leads people into being homeless.
Common assumptions are often associated with issues surrounding substance use, whether that be consumption of drugs or alcohol. People presume that those individuals on the street asking for money are asking not for money but for their next fix; this is an extremely harmful narrative. It is dehumanizing as well as dismissive of other deep underlying issues related to addiction. Rehabilitation and sobriety paths are not self-taught. They require finances and support; not everyone is able to afford rehabilitation centers/ specialists or necessarily reach the understanding that they may need to get sober. People who may struggle with addiction, are still people, and that does not make them undeserving of a home or of your help.
Further to this, the concern one might have with the manner in which a homeless person spends their money, can be a little hypocritical. Often, people donate to larger organizations in order to help the homeless, without questioning the use of that money. This sentiment could also be extended to the people we directly give money to. Instead of viewing the money you could give to a homeless person as fueling an addiction or being potentially spent on something “useless”, you could see it as a direct donation to a person in need. It’s like giving money on a nineteenth birthday, they may spend it on something “useful” or they may spend it on a drink, regardless the money is no longer yours and the choice is up to them.
Homelessness is also not inextricably linked to access to finances. People who belong to the LGBTQ+ community, can also experience homelessness due to non-acceptance of their parents for example. They can be forced to escape home with no options for housing. This is an instance where homelessness is related not to a “personal shortcoming”, but to an issue of personal safety. Not everyone has a safe home where they can live and sometimes having a roof over your head is more dangerous than not. Even in instances of domestic violence. Those who were able to escape these circumstances are often left without housing.
This is where it is important to remember that homelessness is not something that people bring upon themselves, but it is often a failure on behalf of the systems designed to support them. People do not magically find themselves without the money to make ends meet. The cost of living steadily increases, while wages remain stagnant with minimal mobility career-wise. Required experience gets higher, while the quality of the jobs demanding this experience gets lower. Earning a living wage looks a lot different for people now, and the support has become minimal. It’s easy to “stigmatize the problem away”, especially when the problem boils down to a system from which many of us benefit. However, this won’t solve any of the issues related to homelessness.
The issue of homelessness also takes on various forms. It’s not always someone on the side of the street asking for money. It can also be your friend who’s couch surfing or someone you saw sleeping in a car in a parking lot. Homelessness is not always related to a deep struggle, sometimes it's simply being unable to afford your own house, something which is very real for a lot of people. Mythicizing homelessness is what ostracizes homeless people and inflates the issue.
As we can see, the myths mainly root from a place of hypocrisy, whereby arbitrary judgements are extended to struggling people, rather than a helping hand. Making comments and assumptions about homeless people is easy when it’s being done from the comfort of your car or your house; actually understanding the causes relating to those who we judge, requires some level of discomfort . It's important to understand that homelessness is a virus to society, not homeless people. Those who we see on the streets are not cautionary tales or mythical people, they’re real struggling people, who need help. So whether it be your spare change or a coffee, help someone out, and don’t buy into false narratives.