Is being homeless their fault?

A reader writes:

Here are some common misconceptions about homeless people:

  1. They brought the situation on themselves.
  2. They are all criminals, mentally ill, or lazy and unwilling to work

The reality is that while some homeless people have made bad choices that led to homelessness, it is only one of many causes for their situation. Often it is simply that circumstances thrust them into this state through no fault of their own.

While there are some people in life who are unwilling or unable to work, it can be incredibly difficult for a homeless person to get any kind of job. There is no way to contact them, they often lack appropriate clothing or facilities where they can to groom themselves properly, and once someone finds out the applicant is homeless their prejudices kick in and they will not hire them simply because they are homeless.

People are afraid to interact with anyone who appears homeless – fear being a huge barrier to communication. But f you get to know a homeless person, it brings an awareness that there is a very fine line separating a homeless person from yourself. We use avoidance to deny it could happen to us. Like some other people, if a homeless person says they are hungry I will buy them food from a restaurant or a grocery store. I will give them personal care items such as shampoo, deodorant, etc. I also offer information about shelters, free medical clinics, etc. Courtesy, kindness, and acceptance are qualities which cost you nothing but mean a great deal to the homeless person who quickly finds that being treated as if they are invisible is a chronic state.

Please consider choosing one person sharing our public spaces who is socially isolated by homelessness, and meeting for coffee once a week. Ideas about how to volunteer in this way are tabbed above.  My article about a program that leads to employment for street kids is at Crosscut.

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2 Responses to Is being homeless their fault?

  1. Bob in SF says:

    Often it is simply that circumstances thrust them into this state through no fault of their own.
    ===
    Yes, you are right. However, remaining homeless and spending years as a feral human being indeed IS the fault of the human who does that. Every city in America has some kind of program (and many have several) that will get you back on your feet IF ONLY you follow the rules and stop showing up drunk or drugged out of your mind.

  2. Bob in SF, thank you for writing. I agree that a small percentage of homeless individuals choose to be homeless (though based on the dozens I’ve personally come to know I wouldn’t assume they were feral) – see “Charlie and Me” for a good example of a guy making the choice (http://crosscut.com/2008/11/27/social-services/18659/). I’ve known many more who are mentally ill or addicted and not receiving treatment because U.S. mental health and addiction treatment is so bad. More stories about homeless people are on my blog – click on “How … freestyle volunteer?” in the top bar, and scroll down to the Freestyle Volunteer Stories” section. Thanks again!

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