Homeless Myths

Home  Government  Departments  Community Development  Homeless Program  Homeless Myths 

Homeless Myths

Screenshot (56) - Copy
MYTH #1:
     Homeless people don't want housing; they choose that lifestyle.
     No one wants to be homeless - it’s dangerous, stressful, and humiliating. Being homeless is not easy or comfortable. This myth
     allows us to ignore the desperate people living in tents or in cars without water, heat or sanitation. Some people who are
     homeless choose to sleep outside rather than in shelters because they are fearful of having to leave pets and belongings outside.
     In addition, many shelters and homeless housing programs have stringent eligibility criteria and rules that ‘screen out’ the most
     vulnerable people. The “Choice” to remain on the street is a dangerous one. 700 people died in the U.S. from exposure in 2009.
     Remaining on the streets also puts homeless people at risk of violence, including murder, assault, rape, and theft. Homeless
     people are often the victims of hate crimes. 1,500 reported attacks occurred nationwide on homeless people in the past 15
     years with 375 ending in death.

MYTH #2:
     People who are homeless should just get a job and then they would not be homeless.
     Many people who are homeless do have jobs, sometimes two or even three. The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates
     as many as 40%-60% of people experiencing homelessness nationwide are employed. However, a paycheck does not necessarily
     solve their homelessness or other challenges. In Shawnee, a full-time worker earning $13.50/hr. would need to work 60 hours
     per week to afford a one bedroom apartment at the fair market rent. That means a person working at the minimum wage of
     $7.25 works have to work over 112 hours a week. In addition, it is difficult to find and keep a job while living in a car, tent,
     shelter, or outside with no place to bathe regularly, receive mail, do laundry, and feel safe enough to focus on employment
     responsibilities versus daily survival.

MYTH #3:
     Homeless people just lack ambition and are lazy. 
     Experiencing homelessness is a condition, not a character defect. Lawyers, doctors, film directors, entrepreneurs, university
     professors, professional musicians and many others have experienced homelessness. Anyone can become homeless if they have
     no way to pay for housing and no other resources or support. It’s not about lack of ambition or desire for a safe and permanent
     place to live. In order to survive, many people who experience homelessness are constantly in search for the necessities of life,
     such as food, shelter and a source of income. Therefore, due to the barriers that they face, many people experiencing
     homelessness do not have the option of being stagnant or lazy. For example, searching for a job becomes even more challenging
     when an individual does not have access to a phone, computer, or fixed address on a regular basis. Homeless people are often
     sleep-deprived, cold, wet, and sick. With no transportation and little money, they can spend all day getting to food and maybe an
     appointment before they need to search for a safe place to sleep, all while trying to keep their personal possessions safe. 
     Additionally many people face the trauma of homelessness with disabling conditions including chronic health conditions and
     severe mental illness.

MYTH #4:  
     If people can afford a smartphone, then they really aren’t poor.
     Thinking that poor people are not poor simply because they have access to typical consumer goods like cell phones is a common       misunderstanding. There are many avenues to affording a cellphone. First, they may have owned the cell phone before they lost
     their home, or someone may have given it to them. Many do not pay for data plans and instead rely on free Wi-Fi and apps such
     as Whatsapp for calls. Also, second hand phones and outdated devices are becoming increasingly affordable. Finally, there are 
     safety net cell providers that focus on ensuring that people can get phones (once dubbed "Obama Phones"). The real challenge
     is finding places to charge. All and all, each person’s situation is different, and it is impossible to assume how a person may be
     funding their cell phone. Cell phones are almost a necessity in today's society. They are a great way to locate resources that can
     help people rise out of homelessness. Like the housed, a person experiencing homelessness needs to keep in contact with
     doctors’ offices and have a way to call 911 in an emergency.  Also, along with being an anchor to physical necessities, cell phones
     also are an anchor to resilience. Homelessness can be severely isolating, and when a person has connections to friends and
     family online, they are more likely to be able to get the support they need. In addition, having a cell phone in today’s day and age
     is crucial for applying to jobs. While email is accessible at the local library, many employers reach out primarily by phone or
     require a phone number on the application. Just like it would be difficult for the housed to seek resources for emergencies and
     job-hunting without a cell phone, it is even more difficult for the homeless. People own these devices now not simply because it
     is the next big thing, but because it is often the only way to stay connected to the world. Phones and internet are critical to
     securing employment and maintaining it. With ever-advancing technology, it is imperative that this vulnerable group not be left

MYTH #5:
     Homeless people are dangerous and violent.
     Individuals who are experiencing homelessness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. In fact,
     acts of violence against these individuals is on the rise. Check out these facts about crime against this population:
        - More than 1 in 3 have been deliberately hit, kicked, or experienced some other sort of violence while homeless.
        -Over one in three (34%) have had things thrown at them.
        -Almost one in 10 (9%) have been urinated on while homeless.
        -More than one in 20 (7%) have been the victim of a sexual assault.
        -Almost half (48%) have been intimidated or threatened with violence whilst homeless.
        -Six in 10 (59%) have been verbally abused or harassed.  
     And this is the tip of the iceberg. Murder, assault with deadly weapons, sexual assault, police brutality, and sex trafficking are
     common against homelessness people. Added to this violence is the fact that many entered homelessness because of abuse or a
     traumatic experiences. Violence against individuals experiencing homelessness is a hate crime. Unfortunately, it is not
     recognized by the federal government as a hate crime, though it meets the criteria of being "motivated by hostility to a victim as
     a member of a group." Don't turn a blind eye. Don't become numb to the plight of those without a voice.

MYTH #6:  
     There is nothing I can do about homelessness.
     The truth is, effectively tackling homelessness takes an entire community working together toward this common goal. The City
     of Shawnee can't do it alone. Organizations that serve the homeless population can't do it alone. If we think the problem is too
     big for just us, failing to get involved, nothing will ever change. However, the cumulative effort of individuals is unstoppable!
     There are many ways you can impact homelessness.
        - Time: Volunteer your time and skills with one of the organizations that work with the homeless population. Pick up a 
                        volunteer application to be involved in exciting City initiatives.
        - Employ: You don't have to own a business to help someone earn money. Need you lawn mowed? A wall painted? How about
                       a computer fixed? People don't want handouts, they want to earn.
        - Be Kind: You'd be surprised by the amazingly diverse group of people who are unhoused. IT professionals, mechanics,
                        medical professionals, business owners. Everyone has a story. Take time to be kind and get to know people.
        - Learn: Learn about homelessness, what causes it, the trauma it creates. What is the real cost renting an apartment? Realize
                       that 6 months ago, a lot of those experiencing homelessness could have been the lady at church, the couple you'd
                       have a cookout with, or the guy who fixed your car. No different than you.
        - Advocate: Gently correct & educate when you hear misinformation. Be a voice for those who have no voice. Push for
                       affordable housing. Help change "not in my back yard" thinking. A unified response to homelessness means that
                      Shawnee can be a place we can ALL call home.

MYTH #7:
     Housing should come with conditions like being clean and sober. 
     Evidence tells us that people who are homeless can find stability and healing when provided empowering support while in safe
     housing. Known as Housing First, this approach recognizes the complexities of addiction, trauma, and the challenges that come
     with experiencing homelessness. It also acknowledges that it can be very difficult to successfully address these challenges while
     living on the streets or in an unsafe and unstable situation.
     Check out the evidence here! Housing First
     And here! Evidence Behind Approaches to End Homelessness

MYTH #8:
     Homeless people are all a bunch of criminals. 
     Police contact is unavoidable for those experiencing homelessness. The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness
          “The sad truth is that for too many people, the experience of homelessness involves police encounters, lockups, courts, or jail
          and prison cells as much as it does shelter beds. Some people are caught in a revolving door between the streets or shelters
          and jails, not to mention other institutional settings.”
     Many homeless individuals are arrested for minor crimes like disorderly conduct, public intoxication, petty shoplifting,
     disturbing the peace, etc. In fact, those experiencing homelessness are arrested more often, incarcerated longer, and re-
     arrested at higher rates than people with stable housing. Homelessness contributes to the risk for incarceration, and
     incarceration contributes to higher risks of homelessness. Homeless people do commit crimes. Studies show that 20% of “rough
     sleepers” (people who sleep on the street) have committed a crime such as prostitution, shoplifting, or theft. However, it usually
     isn’t for economic gain, but rather an act of survival. About a third of homeless youth end up participating in “survival sex”
     during their time on the streets. Many homeless people commit a minor crime such as shoplifting in the hope of being taken into
     custody for the night.  Why? Because living on the streets is dangerous. Homeless people are much more likely to be a victim of
     violent assault, abuse, and intimidation compared to the general public. They are also more likely to be the victims of crimes
     rather than the perpetrators.  Homeless crime is hard to track because the police do not log crimes based on the housing status
     of the victims. Crimes against the homeless are often unreported, because they believe the police will not do anything. In
     addition, the consequences for “snitching” or reporting a crime to the police can be severe.