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Dispelling some myths about homelessness

Mamie - a homeless woman
Mamie - a homeless woman
Photo by Kit Hedman

Here are some of the top ten myths about homelessness...

Myth #1.  Homeless people want to be homeless.  The truth is: less than six percent of the homeless are so by choice.  Most outreach workers can count on one hand how many people have declined accepting service from them.

Myth #2. Homeless people are to blame for being homeless.  They've done something wrong to bring this upon themselves.  The truth is: most of the homeless are victims. Some have suffered the death of a loved one, loss of a job, or prolonged physical or psychological illness or disability that has left them homeless.  Some veterans have been abandoned by the government they served.

Myth #3.  The homeless don't work.  The truth is: many homeless people are among the working poor.  People earning minimum wage can't earn enough to support a family or pay inner-city rent.  If you are able to visit a homeless shelter or day center, you will also find individuals that are working or constantly trying to find work.

Myth #4.  Homeless people are mentally ill.   The turth is:  only about 25 percent of the homeless are estimated to be emotionally disturbed.  One percent may need long-term hospitalization; the others can become self-sufficient with help.

Myth #5.  Many of the homeless are alcoholics and heavy drug users.   The turth is: some homeless veterans are substance abusers (research suggests one in four).   Many of these are included in the 25 percent who suffer from mental illness.  Data from Arapahoe House has shown that 65% of addicts also have co-ocurring mental health issues.

Myth #6.  Homeless people are dangerous.   The truth is:  while some encounters with homeless people may end in tragedy, it is extremely rare.  Generally, homeless people are among the least threatening groups in society.  They are more often victims of crimes rather than the perpetrators.

Myth #7.  Homeless people are usually single men.  The truth is:  Families make up a large and growing percentage of the homeless population.

Myth #8.  Homeless people are a fixed population who are usually homeless for long periods of
time.  The truth is:  the homeless population is quite diverse in terms of their length of homelessness
and the number of times they cycle in and out of homelessness.  Research on the length of homelessness states that 40% of homeless people have been homeless less than six months, and that 70% of homeless people have been homeless less than two years.

Myth #9.  Setting up services for homeless people will cause homeless people from all around to
migrate to a city.  The truth is:  studies have shown that homeless people do not migrate for services.  To the extent they do move to new areas, it is because they are searching for work, have family in the area, or other reasons not related to services.  A recent study found that 75% of homeless people are still living in the city in which they became homeless.

Myth #10.  Homeless people commit more violent crimes than housed people.  The truth is:  homeless people actually commit less violent crimes than housed people.  Dr. Pamela Fischer, of Johns Hopkins University, studied the 1983 arrest records in Baltimore and found that although homeless people were more likely to commit non-violent and nondestructive crimes, they were actually less likely to commit crimes against person or property.

Information supplied by the National Coalition for the Homeless and ECHO (Ending Community Homeless Organization).


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