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Setting the Record Straight: Five Truths about Homelessness

A 2022 report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness showed that nearly 600,000 Americans are experiencing homelessness. While many harmful myths and misconceptions exist about homelessness and unhoused people, it’s important to know what’s true so we can all hold more compassionate space for this vulnerable population.

Myth #1: “Bad choices” led to their homelessness

Truth: The majority of the time, people experiencing homelessness are a victim of circumstance. Taylor Marks, Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Centerstone says, “Homelessness can be defined as a lot of different things. It could be that they were living in an unsafe environment that they were trying to get out of, so they’re couch surfing, or going from shelter to shelter. Or maybe they found themselves in an unstable financial position.” With finances, it can be easy to fall behind on bill payments, and once that happens, it can be increasingly harder to get caught up. Sometimes, people experiencing homelessness have jobs, but aren’t bringing in enough income to sustain monthly housing expenses.

Myth #2: People experiencing homelessness are lazy

Truth: Some people experiencing homelessness do have a desire to work, but there can be any number of barriers in their way. For example, some people may not have a copy of their birth certificate which prevents them from being able to get a state-issued ID. Sometimes, they may only have the clothes they’re wearing, and may not have the resources to dress appropriately for a job interview. Or, they may not have earned their high school diploma or GED which many jobs require as a pre-requisite. Another barrier is that the resources available to help people obtain these things are limited, which can be discouraging when trying to find a job.

Myth #3: People experiencing homelessness are mentally ill and misuse substances

Truth: Actually, substance use disorder and mental health concerns can be a consequence of homelessness. People can experience depression or anxiety as a result of their situation, or they may turn to substance use as a way to cope when they feel like they’ve run out of options. However, not all unhoused people experience substance use disorder or mental illness.

Myth #4: Only certain demographics are more likely to be homeless

Truth: “Homelessness knows no bounds, it can truly be anyone,” says Marks. In some areas, you may see higher rates of homelessness among people who have an increased likelihood of hardship such as people of color, single parents, or people with significant mental health concerns. However, being unhoused can affect people of any age, race, or background including kids in high school leaving unsafe homes, a family who lost everything in a fire, or a retired older adult who isn’t able to make ends meet.

Myth #5: There is nothing I can do to help

Truth: There are several ways to get involved and help those experiencing homelessness in your area. Whether you help out at a volunteer event, donate food, clothes, or funds, or act as an advocate on their behalf, every action makes a difference.

If someone you know is experiencing the effects of homelessness, Centerstone can help. Find more information on our counseling services page or give us a call at 877-HOPE123 (1-877-467-3123) to talk with our trained counselors.

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