Common Myths about Homelessness

June 18, 2018

myth #1: Homeless people are lazy and don’t want to work

About 25 percent of homeless people around the country are employed, with between 40 to 60 percent of the homeless population having some form of full or part time employment in the last month according to the Urban Institute. Austin Street Center has approximately 40 beds reserved for folks who are working.

Myth #2: Getting a minimum wage job will by itself keep someone out of homelessness.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition found a full-time minimum wage worker would have to work between 69 and 174 hours a week, depending on the state, to pay for an “affordable” two-bedroom rental unit (defining affordable as 30 percent of a person’s income). A full-time minimum wage worker couldn’t afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent, in any state. Austin Street Center, through a series of roommate matching events, has found success in being able to group folks together to pool their resources and share rent. However, due to specific employment, health, and other personal needs this is not always a viable option.

Myth #3: Homelessness is always a long-term problem.

The most common duration of homelessness is one or two days, according to University of Pennsylvania researcher Dennis Culhane. Nearly one in six homeless people were classified as chronically homeless — people with disabilities who have been homeless for a year or more, or experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in three years — by HUD’s survey.

The longer people are homeless, the longer they are likely to stay homeless, which is why it is important to get folks transitioned out of shelters and into an appropriate and permanent living situation as quickly as possible. Austin Street Center’s diversion program helps keep people from becoming homeless in the first place by assessing every new client for alternative living arrangements.

Myth #4: Homelessness is always related to mental illness.

In fact, many people begin to struggle with mental health or experience increased symptoms AFTER they become homeless. Serious mental illnesses are more prevalent among the homeless: about one in four sheltered homeless people suffered from a severe mental illness in 2010, compared to 5 percent of US adults, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). About 44% of Austin Street Clients say they struggle with mental health, but lack of affordable housing, unemployment, and poverty are the top three causes of homelessness (according to a 2014 survey from the US Conference of Mayors).

Myth #5: Most homeless people are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Roughly one-third of sheltered homeless adults had chronic substance use issues in 2010, according to the SAMHSA. Certainly, addiction and homelessness intersect—but they are not the same issue and should be treated independently of one another. Not every addict is without a home, and not every homeless person is in need of addiction treatment.

Myth #6: Homelessness is only a problem in big cities.

Nearly 46% of homeless people lived in a major city in 2014, according to HUD’s survey. The rest lived in smaller cities, suburbs, or rural areas. Homelessness is something that every community faces. The answer is not to send folks elsewhere, but to create solutions everywhere.

Myth #7: Homeless people live in the streets.

About 69% of homeless Americans lived in shelters in 2014, according to HUD’s survey – Dallas is similar with about 1,300 on the streets and about 3,000 in shelter or transitional housing according to the 2018 Point in Time count. At least 30% of unsheltered homeless in Seattle residents live in vehicles, according to the Vehicle Residency Research Program. Truth is, the people you see on the streets represent a minority of those experiencing homelessness.

Myth # 8: People choose homelessness as a desired lifestyle.

In fact, based on a 2018 survey in Seattle, 98% said that they would move into safe and affordable housing if available. There are rare cases of personal choice favoring a homeless lifestyle – evading work and responsibility – but this is far from the norm.

Myth #9: All homeless people are older and single.

One in three homeless people were aged 24 and younger in 2014, and 37% were part of a family unit experiencing homelessness, HUD’s survey found. You may not find them under overpasses, but one in forty-five US children experiences homelessness each year, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness.

Myth #10: Fighting homelessness is expensive.

Once, Austin Street Center helped end homelessness by purchasing some hearing aids, which then made it possible for the gentleman to find work and self-resolve his homelessness. Another time, ASC purchased a bus ticket for less than $100 to enable an individual to move in with family. Leaving folks homeless costs law enforcement, jails, hospitals, and other community services $31,000-$40,000 per person per year. It is much less expensive to find solutions than let it continue.

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