BEDS Plus, like most homeless service agencies, confronts common stereotypes. They make it easy to blame individuals for their homelessness, ignore them and their needs, and oppose changes that would improve their lives. We’d like to deconstruct a few of the common misperceptions:
People experiencing homelessness are more likely to be victims of crimes than commit them. Living in public space puts them at constant risk of assault, theft, rape, and, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, hate crimes. Women are especially vulnerable. Half of women experiencing homelessness fled domestic violence. Ninety-two percent of homeless mothers have survived severe sexual or physical abuse.
Substance abuse represents a common cause of homelessness, but addictions should not be seen as personal failings, but rather illnesses that require treatment and support. Many begin abusing substances AFTER losing their homes, and people experiencing homelessness and mental illness often turn to street drugs to self-medicate, rather than seek treatment, which requires a stable residence, schedule, and transportation. Research shows that housing reduces chances of relapsing into drug and alcohol use.
“They’re just lazy.”
People experiencing homelessness work or want to work. The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), estimates that 40 to 60 percent of people experiencing homelessness hold irregular full- or part-time work. Unfortunately, those with jobs do not make enough money to afford housing, and those without face invisible obstacles to employment, like disability and mental illness, lack of reliable transportation, work-related expenses, and missing documentation.
“They’re from somewhere else.”
Most people experiencing homelessness in a community are originally from that community. When they change locations, they typically want to be closer to a job, friend, or family member, not social services in an area.