Homelessness wasn't ever something I expected to be writing about, though why not? Let's help each other.
Our Journey Through Homelessness
We've met all kinds of people, and seen many sides of the fringes of society that were largely unknown to us while staying stuck in toxic cycles with family.
I had volunteered for many years, at food banks and local shelters, and have always been the kind of person who stops to give what I can to folks on the side of the road.
I also spent some time semi-homeless as a teenager to create distance between myself and my codependent family, though at that time, I didn't have adult responsibilities and had access to a little money every day.
So this is the first time I've genuinely been on this side of the experience of homelessness.
And it's been a particularly challenging time to be homeless, with unprecedented homelessness throughout the Pacific Northwest, and government resources being lower then they've been in a long time, because there's so many homeless families, refugees from natural disasters in other states, and refugees from Ukraine and other countries under siege.
And in Washington State, there's a law that says landlords can ask that in order to rent even just a room in a house, they can require that you earn 3x the rent amount—turning what could've been a mole hill into a mountain for single moms like myself.
As myself, my sons, and our pets have traveled our journey through homelessness, we've met all kinds of people on every side of the homelessness problem.
There are many stereotypes and myths that are either entirely untrue, some stereotypes based in truth, and some that are actually factual.
In this article, we'll discuss five common myths about homelessness.
1. Homelessness Is a Choice
Yes and no.
My boys and I have ended up homeless multiple times because we chose to leave abusive situations that would've been far worse than what we might've experienced in homelessness—there certainly are worse things.
Recently I met a woman from France, who saved up with her husband and sold everything—house, business and all—to bring their two young children to America to have a better life; to pursue the old American Dream.
They were told by our immigration office and a single friend of theirs that it would only take six months or so to become legal citizens, only to have their paperwork lost by the immigration office and now they are 10 months in, out of money, and can only get work with illegal immigrants—$20 a day for 8-10 hours of work.
Weeks ago I met a middle-aged gay couple who found safe sleeping space in a park we also parked and slept in.
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They remained homeless because they felt local employers who were LGBTQ friendly were too "snobby."
I also have a brother who preferred being rent free for many many years, even when that means camping by a river.
I also know of a photographer who has never really found "home" amongst overall society, who lives mostly in different wooded areas, wondering off the beaten paths to capture photos of the most beautiful places in forests that most people would never know about.
And when I used to volunteer in homeless shelters and food kitchens in downtown Seattle, I met many, many people who found themselves homeless for many, many reasons.
From what I've seen, the most common reason has been from workplace injuries that got mismanaged by western medicine, and by latent genetic conditions that didn't surface until adulthood; both result in an inability to work, and often even when you can get on SSI disability, it's not enough to keep up with rising rent and food costs.
There are some folks who chose homelessness: to leave dangerous situations, to chase beautiful landscapes, and for many other reasons.
Though for most, becoming homeless wasn't the choice they expected to be making, and remaining homeless certainly wasn't.
2. Homeless People Are Crazy
There are a good number of homeless individuals who genuinely have very serious mental illnesses.
They are likely the ones you see yelling and screaming at thin air while they walk down the street, or who do things that most reasonable mentally healthy people wouldn't do.
Though mostly, they are currently a minority amongst people who are homeless.
The stereotype that homeless people are scary or dangerous is mostly media fueled, and then it's perpetuated by the fact that most homeless folks keep to themselves other than to ask for food or trying to find a safe place to camp or park to rest.
Though like most human things, it's often the loudest who get the most attention, and then stereotypes are built around those individuals because there are fewer experiences with the majority who aren't criminals, addicts or suffering from serious mental health challenges.
Now that being said, there's certainly usually some mental health challenges amongst everyone currently experiencing homelessness, though most of that often comes up during homeless—as there's often not enough resources and nowhere safe to sleep and live and exist.
Which often fosters depression and anxiety.
3. Homeless People Failed at Life
As outlined above, there are many paths to homelessness.
It's far too easy for anyone whose never been through homelessness to imagine that getting there is because of failures.
Which isn't to say that you can't end up homeless from intentionally refusing to participate in society in ways that manifest stable housing.
Though for most folks, it's not a failure that they end up homeless.
In my own situation, becoming homeless was actually its own form of success—in getting away from and leaving behind abusive family, friend, and romantic dynamics.
I know of many other homeless individuals—especially women, who share similar stories—where they became homeless to save their own mental health, to get away from domestic violence, and to try to provide better lives for their children.
I've also met several individuals who tried to legally immigrate here, to manifest better lives for their families, only to end up homeless when our immigration system showed how ineffective and messy it is.
Those are not situations that qualify as anyone failing any part of life, and thus, in most situations, a person doesn't end up homeless because they failed at anything.
4. Homeless People Can Get Welfare
After the point of applying for various different DSHS, community services, disability, low-income housing, and more, for many years we still ended up fully homeless, and I started reaching out to friends and acquaintances to see if anyone could help.
One of the first things most people do is ask if I've applied for any number of services they've heard about or once successfully got help from years ago.
The biggest suggestion is to get on food stamps and to check low-income housing; though in our state, most low-income housing costs more in rent than many private rentals, and even though they don't require income that 3x the rent, they are so backed up that it's often six months before you can even get your name on their waiting lists.
This is because low-income housing has been limited for years, and each time state and county officials pass bills to build more low-income housing, they build luxury low-income housing and then have to recoup the costs not covered by taxpayers.
In the winter of December 2021, my car needed a new starter to run the engine to keep us warm in the snow, and we temporarily got a hotel room. I was told by our state's "emergency housing" department that they wouldn't help us until we had to be in the car or on the streets in the snow for at least 48 hours—even though it was 11 degrees outside and cold enough to get hypothermia.
When we did have to be in the car in the snow for several days, I called them back and was told all the shelters were full and that there wasn't any housing available. And when shelter space came available, they'd have to separate my autistic teenage son from me to go to the "men's" shelter that wasn't anywhere close to the women's shelter.
When we did get more then just food stamps from the state, they took what little child support I received, and charged me for the amount of time we needed welfare.
Then I was informed that all forms of assistance were being lowered for everyone, and that anyone making over $800 a month, even with children, no longer qualified for assistance.
Being that I've had osteoarthritis for many years and can only work so many hours, I've applied to and been denied by disability many times.
Which is very common amongst homeless populations—workers who got injured on the job, made just barely too much to get state insurance and not enough to get their own insurance that covered their injuries so they could get back to work, then kept working and aggravating the injury while trying to get on disability before they really couldn't work any longer.
This myth is only partially true.
Homeless individuals and families can apply for welfare and other services, though that doesn't mean those services have the resources to help them through homelessness and most services certainly can't get you out of homelessness.
5. Homeless People Are All Addicts
This is partially true.
But the actual truth is that it's mostly only the addicts that the public interacts with, and of those addicts; many of them became addicts only after they became homeless and felt the hopelessness that drags many into depression after realizing that even though there are many "social safety nets" we all get taxed for, hardly any of them actually help anyone much.
That being said, addictions of all kinds are a big enough challenge amongst homeless populations that we avoid most areas where the homeless population isn't supervised.
It's also a good reason to be cautious around anyone homeless you see wandering the streets.
Though it's also important to recognize that there are many addicts who wander around and look homeless, but who are not.
They are not always synonymous.
Many Myths About Homelessness
You can't ever really know what's true or false from reading or hearing about it on the news or Internet.
It's part of a lived experience that an even larger part of society than normal is going through; and not every person's experiences with homelessness are the same.
That being said, becoming as educated as you can in the experiences of homeless individuals and families can help everyone develop a greater sense of empathy and ideas for helping to provide more adequate socioeconomic structures to help everyone get back on the feet and into stability without taxing too many resources from everyone else.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
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