Updated: Jan 21
Homelessness is suffering beyond that which many of us will ever be likely to endure, and for that reason it’s easy for us to find excuses to lessen the pressures, causes and impacts of homelessness. Here are 5 common misconceptions people have of the homeless.
Misconception 1. “Can’t you stay with friends or family?”
This feels like an easy way to address the growing problem that many of us see on our daily commute. The fact is – that many of the people who find themselves without a home, also don’t have the fundamental support that many of us enjoy from our loved ones. Many people forced onto the streets have already lost a lot before they reach the point where they become homeless, sometimes including close family and friends.
Misconception 2. “Don’t give them money, they’ll spend it on drugs and alcohol”
It can be tempting to assume that because someone you see on the street doesn’t have a home, that they must be a heavy drugs or alcohol user, or that somehow - they’ve contributed to their situation with substance misuse. It’s important to remember however, that the physical, mental and long-term impacts of surviving without suitable housing can appear to leave people in the same state as if they really had been abusing drugs and alcohol. Keep in mind that homeless individuals are unable to maintain regular eating and drinking habits, and do not get to interact with people in the same way as you or I do - and that a little understanding can go a long way. You don’t always have to give rough sleepers money, but if you can contribute a little something to eat and drink, you could really be making a massive difference to their life chances. You’d be amazed to find that some homeless people are the most fascinating, caring and kindest sort.
Misconception 3. “Why can't they just get a job?”
As mentioned above, people who are homeless are often led to this point after having lost a great deal in their lives. In many cases, this will have been spouses, children, parents, and siblings, but for others it may have been the loss of their job which led them to live without a home. The loss in employment may very well have been caused by deteriorating physical or mental health, bereavement, abuse, or to care for unwell loved ones. It doesn’t take long to begin understanding that the causes for homelessness are extremely varied, and not always the victims own fault. To suggest that a person who has no home, has the capacity to find themselves a job isn’t practical. First a person must be residing in a comfortable, safe and clean environment before they can facilitate the search for a new job. So, when you see someone sleeping rough, remember that they may have - until quite recently even, been living as normal a life as you might expect; but now don’t have the money, networks, or aid from authorities to help get them back on track. It is likely that before being made homeless, many individuals had lost their ability to keep up with the demands of life, and so it’s best to approach these very true realities with a sensitive and open mind. The process to finding a home and getting your life back on track is a journey that takes time, not something that can quite so easily be fixed in a broad stroke. For many people finding their feet, the idea of getting back to work so suddenly might even prove more damaging than it is good.
Misconception 4. “Don’t speak to them, they’re violent”
Already disoriented, drained of energy, cold and hungry – and feeling like you have no one in the world who cares for you – makes a lot of people feel defensive, disillusion with society and can bring out the worst in us. Could you imagine if you spent all your time watching others going about their lives and walking past you as though you’re not even there? Those people that so many of us have learnt to filter out on our daily commutes are feeling ignored and are in need of our compassion and support. Chances are you take the same route to work, or to the shops on a regular, if not daily basis, and a smile goes a long way – when you help to recognise someone in need, they feel understood. In fact, according to Crisis.org, in 2021 8/10 rough sleepers suffered some form of physical or verbal abuse – thus making homeless people more likely to experience violence than them being the perpetrators of it.
Misconception 5. ‘They live out here because they’re lazy’
We know that the causes for homeless are vast, and that we cannot speak for everybody - but what we do know is that there are so many brilliant and exceptionally talented people who have wound up sleeping rough and lost their way in life. Being homeless shouldn’t leave you seen as the problem, rather we should look to the streets and see our community who sleep rough as the victims of a wider problem. Try to remember that the young lady you saw in her sleeping bag under that station entrance, or that man searching the streets for lost change are not lazy, defeatist or willingly homeless, instead remember that they are facing pressures that many of us couldn’t even begin to conceive of. Given half the chance, a homeless person could have been the successful owner of your morning coffee shop, or the one you go to for an interview for your next job. Homelessness isn’t just an unlucky set of circumstances, or a life choice because people are lazy, it’s a failure of the current system to address the stemming causes for our rough sleeping community.
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