Homelessness cannot be written off with stereotypes

I once met a girl that was convinced that the majority of, if not all, homeless people were lazy, uneducated, irresponsible drug addicts.

The idea that a person from an average family with a job and a decent education could end up in a homeless shelter was unfathomable to her. Her conviction led her to believe that homeless people don’t deserve her respect, much less her help. If they want a better life they have to make it on their own. She isn’t the first person to have those ideas.

Often homeless people are written off as having made too many bad choices, being struggling addicts or being “crazy.” Yes, in some cases this is true. It’s commonly known that battling an addiction of any kind can cause financial strain resulting in the loss of a job or home. It has also become more common to see people who have mental illnesses on the streets. According to an article published by The Ann Arbor News in April 2013, homeless individuals that reported having a mental illness increased by 12.5 percent from 2011 to 2013.

In some parts of large cities it is hard to ignore homelessness. In Los Angeles there is an area called Skid Row. Skid Row is one of the largest homeless communities in the country. Homeless men, women, teens and families frequent the streets of Skid Row.

Recently the Jubilee Project, a nonprofit organization that uses filmmaking and storytelling to prompt change, posted a video of Skid Row residents, asking them one question – what is your dream? The answers were simple and honest.

Every person wanted something different but there was a commonality in all of their answers. Hope. All of the answers suggested that they had not given up on themselves or their dreams. A car, a place to call their own, and a job and to be able to provide for their families are what most people wanted.

Not every situation has to do with drugs, poor decisions or having a mental illness.

Dosomething.org, a not-for-profit focused on youth and social change, list these primary causes for teen homelessness: family conflict, sexual orientation, aging out of foster care and juvenile correction systems. The National Coalition for the Homeless lists domestic violence, foreclosure and poverty on their website as some reasons for homelessness.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 44 percent of the homeless are employed or have been paid to work.

Assumptions and stereotypes can’t be applied to every homeless person or family. Every one of them has a different story and not all of them are hopeless. Sometimes they are looking for a hand up, not a hand out. Once it is widely recognized that homeless communities are comprised of diverse and multifaceted crowds of people who are willing to work, that need assistance and that have goals, others will be better prepared to help them.

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