The Absolute Worst Advice About Homelessness

The Absolute Worst Advice About Homelessness

When it comes to homelessness, misinformation abounds. A lot of this misinformation takes the form of common advice, proving that just because something is “common knowledge” doesn’t mean it’s actually true.

Rebekah Holt
Rebekah Holt
Content Specialist
The Absolute Worst Advice About Homelessness

When it comes to homelessness, misinformation abounds. A lot of this misinformation takes the form of common advice, proving that just because something is “common knowledge” doesn’t mean it’s actually true. Here are three examples.

“Never give homeless people money”

The most effective way to help people experiencing homelessness is to provide aid to organizations. Organizations have the connections to make a little bit of money help many people instead of just one.

That said, this advice is still inappropriate. It implies that people experiencing homelessness are unable to manage their finances well, either because of indifference or ignorance. This is untrue. People who experience homelessness are not stupid. Often, they are doing the best they can with their limited resources.

Furthermore, this bad advice often comes paired with the assumption that people experiencing homelessness are going to spend the money on drugs. This is problematic for three reasons. First, it implies that the person giving away money has a right to dictate how that money is spent once it leaves their hands. Second, it implies that the person experiencing homelessness is addicted to drugs. Finally, it implies that if they are addicted to drugs then they do not deserve aid. Considering how much overlap there is between substance abuse, disability, and (chronic) homelessness, this is a particularly horrifying stance. If anything, these are the people who need aid the most.

“That homeless person has an expensive thing I don’t think they should have, therefore they deserve to be homeless”

Maybe the expensive thing is a car. Maybe it’s a smartphone. It doesn’t matter what the item in question is. Like the last piece of bad advice, this advice assumes that people experience homelessness because they are unable to manage their money well. The belief goes that if a person experiencing homelessness has any expensive item in their possession, then either they could never truly afford it or they were irresponsible with their money. This can be worse if the item in question appears new.

However, the situation is likely more complex. Homelessness is often transitory. More than half of people who experience homelessness do so for less than a year. It’s not unreasonable for a person to not have housing but still have belongings--even expensive ones--from when they were housed. Also, because the monthly payments for items like a car or cell phone are much less than rent, it’s unreasonable to think that giving up one or both would suddenly make housing affordable. Even if the belonging in question does not also have a clear functional benefit (like a phone or car), it may hold sentimental value or may otherwise enrich the life of the person it belongs to. I once read an anecdote about someone who bought scented candles while homeless because it made them feel good and helped them remember that someday they would have a house where they could use them. That was not a purchase without value.

“Homeless people should just get jobs.”

Many people experiencing homelessness have jobs; they simply don’t earn enough to pay for housing. While some would argue that they should get “better” jobs, this shifts the blame entirely onto the person experiencing homelessness. It implies that because they do not work jobs that are “good enough” they somehow deserve poverty. This is untrue. We need retail, warehouse, and fast-food workers (a mere three examples of underpaid jobs). Without them, modern life would be more inconvenient if not impossible. The fact that people in these jobs are usually underpaid is not their fault.

Additionally, keep in mind how difficult it is to get any job in the first place. Many jobs can only be found online, and internet access is hard to come by when experiencing homelessness. Most jobs require interviews. For in-person interviews, this means getting to the interview location and being well-groomed. For remote interviews, this means access to a phone or computer. In order to keep a job, employees have to be able to reliably commute to that job, and not all people experiencing homelessness have cars or access to public transit. All-in-all, suggesting that having a job will necessarily lead to stable housing is ignorant at best, if not downright insensitive. In fact, in cases where a person experiencing homelessness is unemployed, finding stable housing is often the first step to getting a job, not the other way around.

Sources:

https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/who-experiences-homelessness/chronically-homeless/ https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/who-experiences-homelessness/singleadults/ https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/what-causes-homelessness/housing/ https://www.tumblr.com/blog/view/comicsbookwyrm/169628387254 https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/what-causes-homelessness/incomeinequality/ https://endhomelessness.org/resource/housing-first/