When it comes to the homeless many of us have preconceptions. The general population tends to view the homeless in a negative light which can have a profound impact on the their ability to get back on their feet. This is ultimately costly to society. The Sense Cause is entering in the second week and these are five common myths held about the homeless that me and the community have learned.
Homeless people aren’t like you or I
It may be convenient for us to think that the homeless are inherently different from ourselves, lesser mortals somehow, perhaps less ambitious, willing to settle, the makers of the kind of bad choices that the rest of us are not be foolish enough to make ourselves. Worryingly such attitudes are seemingly part of a wider trend of desensitisation towards the plight of the homeless. We write cruel tweets about them, we design our cities in order to further alienate them, we barely bat an eyelid when we see them huddled in doorways. Perhaps we find it difficult to picture ourselves in their shoes. However, the brutal reality is that 1 in 4 of us is only one paycheck away from losing our home. With the number of people working on zero-hour and temporary contracts on the rise, many in society are living an increasingly precarious existence, waiting by the phone hoping they may get the chance to go into work in order to guarantee a roof over their head. To think that it couldn’t happen to us is naive.
The majority of homeless people are drug addicts and/or alcoholics
It cannot be denied that the links between homeless and drug and alcohol abuse are well established. Substance misusers may end up homeless because of their addictions and some homeless may end up turning to drink and drugs as a coping mechanism. Some may be hard drug users, others may simply drink alcohol to keep warm while sleeping rough. However, there are plenty of homeless people who remain sober.
Giving money is an act of kindness
It’s likely that people who have failed to be moved by the sight of a beggar–huddled in the cold, sleeping bag wrapped around, paper cup in hand and displaying a dog-eared sign declaring that they are ‘homeless and hungry’–are few and far between. Many of us dip into our pockets for some spare change to throw into their cup, perhaps imagining that they will buy themselves a hot cup of tea or a warm meal later. However, many homeless charities including Thames Reach now argue that to give money to the homeless is to kill them with kindness. The evidence suggests that money is often used to buy alcohol and drugs rather than food. While this is not the case for every homeless person begging on the streets, the money of kindly strangers would be better served being donating directly to homeless charities or shelters where it will have a greater impact.
All homeless people live on the streets
The homeless that we witness on high streets up and down the country, cold and hungry and laying on cardboard may lead us to assume that the majority of homeless find themselves in a similar predicament. Research by the homeless charity Crisis estimates that 62% of homeless are classed as ‘hidden homeless’. This means that they are not being counted in the official statistics. They may be living in bedsits, bed and breakfasts or hostels. They may be living on friends’ sofas. In short, those who are sleeping rough on our streets represent just the tip of the iceberg.
The homeless wouldn’t be homeless if only they tried harder
The homeless find themselves caught in a vicious cycle – they almost certainly don’t want to continue sleeping rough or constantly moving from place to place. Indeed, who would want such an existence? However, in order to live a stable existence they need a regular income. However, applying for a job without a fixed address is hugely challenging, if not impossible. They may have a criminal record preventing them from getting a job. Even if they somehow manage to gain employment, their personal situation can be so precarious that they can’t keep it for long. Furthermore, the homeless often have physical and/or mental health issues that need to be addressed – the NHS estimates that in London, 64% of homeless people are affected by a physical health problem and 70% with issues with their mental health. The result is that no matter how much they want to break the cycle, homeless people are often trapped.
These five brief examples serve to demonstrate that, like the rest of us, the homeless are not all the same. There are many different reasons why they became homeless in the first place and they differ in their reasons for remaining without a permanent roof over their head. However, one thing’s for certain – by working together and raising awareness, the lot of the homeless has a much greater chance of being improved – to the benefit of the homeless themselves and to wider society.