The Devastating Truth of Homelessness
en you think of a homeless person, what comes to mind? What are the markers or signals you look for that tell you someone is homeless? I invite you to open your mind to consider those among us whose homelessness may not be obvious, but is just as devastating.
I recently had lunch with one of our visitors, who shared with me the struggles he faces as a man who lives outside. He gave me permission to share his challenges with you:
He has work, but doesn't make enough money to afford an apartment.
He does not have a current address with which to fill out an application to lease an apartment.
He does not have a credit history with which to qualify for a lease.
He has access to a computer at the Public Library, but space is limited.
To access classified ads looking for roommates, he uses the computer at the library. He is then discriminated against by the people seeking a roommate because of his current homelessness.
In order to access public assistance he is subjected to a variety of tests and assessments, which make him feel like a lab rat.
He is constantly frustrated by the lack of dignity offered to people experiencing homelessness - like group shower facilities with no privacy.
He can't afford a car, so he needs to live close to public transit.
The most painful aspects of homelessness for him relate to the way he is treated by other people. I am a Pastor. It is my job to look at the beliefs that motivate our behavior as a community, and then call on us to be better. There are ways we can be better neighbors to those who are experiencing homelessness.
It starts with clearing away the following misconceptions:
Homeless people don't work - either because they are lazy, drug addicted, mentally ill, or irresponsible.
All a homeless person needs to do is get a job.
Homeless people don't deserve to have preferences - beggars can't be choosy.
Homeless people don't have families.
Here is the statistical reality based on a variety of University, Government, and Private Research Studies conducted over the past 20 years:
44 percent of homeless people around the country did some paid work during the previous month.
A full-time minimum wage worker would have to work between 69 and 174 hours a week, depending on the state, to pay for a two-bedroom rental unit.
Census data from 1960 – 2014 shows that inflation-adjusted rents have risen by 64%, but real household incomes only increased by 18%. The situation was particularly challenging from 2000 – 2010: household incomes actually fell by 7%, while rents rose by 12%.
The most common duration of homelessness is one or two days - one in six homeless people were classified as chronically homeless.
While mental illness and addiction are found in higher percentages among homeless people compared to the general population, it is a lack of affordable housing, unemployment, and poverty that are the top three causes of homelessness.
One in three homeless people were 24 and younger in 2014, and 37 percent belonged to a family. One in 45 US children experiences homelessness each year.
I encourage all of us to get out of the mindset that people are homeless as a result of some character defect, or that they somehow "deserve" anything less than their full dignity as human beings. I invite you to consider the possibility that homelessness and poverty are failures of our community, not of the individual alone.
Next week I'll share with you the solutions different cities are implementing to support their homeless populations.