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August 21, 2023

Take A Moment to Read Christopher Fay's 'Who Are the Homeless' Blog

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Who Are the Homeless?

For many Americans, the image of a homeless person is a single adult residing in a makeshift tent on a city street or begging for change outside of a store. Images on the internet reinforce such stereotypes. What we don’t see are mothers with children in shelters who are escaping domestic violence, refugee families sleeping in church basements, or teenagers finding safety and refuge together in the woods, preferring the hazards of homelessness to returning to their families.

The reality is that when we say, “the homeless”, we are talking about a lot of Americans – up to 500,000 according to recent counts – with many reasons for lacking a home. For mothers with children, the major cause of homelessness is domestic violence, exacerbated by poverty, trauma, and isolation. Increasingly, urban shelters are housing migrants fleeing strife-torn countries. 75% of homeless single women and 33% of all homeless adults suffer from a mental illness. 20% of the homeless are children.

Nearly half of homeless adults are employed but do not earn enough to afford housing. The growing gap of affordable housing, especially in high-cost areas, and the paucity of sufficient income-based housing vouchers, contribute to our current homelessness crisis. Exacerbating these problems are “one size fits all” housing policies promoted by federal agencies that fail to recognize the disparate needs and causes of homelessness, especially the needs of children.

While people often think of homeless people as dangerous, the reality is that homeless persons are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, which is why they often gather in groups in public places like parks. And, while encampments are often thought of as crime-ridden, the reality is that only a few people commit the crimes, to the chagrin of the others.

The explosion of cheap and abundant drugs has accelerated our current homelessness crisis in cities, small towns and rural areas The variant of meth known as P2P is not only highly addictive, it can also elicit symptoms of serious mental illness, begging the question for outreach workers, what came first – the mental illness or the addiction?

Because there are so many different kinds of people among the homeless, with varying needs, skills, barriers, and aspirations, we cannot apply one or two simple remedies and expect to be successful. We must recognize that there are many different people in crisis, with many different causes, and that many those causes – a lack of affordable housing, inadequate services for the mentally ill, worldwide conflicts driving the influx of refugees, “one size fits all” housing policies, unchecked streams of cheap and highly addictive drugs - require remedies that transcend partisan politics and will be both expensive and time consuming. To undertake the remedies necessary, we must first stop viewing the homeless as anyone other than our neighbors in crisis, worthy of our love and investment.

Christopher Fay