Our recent article on Spokane's "Camp Hope," Washington's largest homeless community, prompted many responses from readers. Most of which were along the lines of "people are homeless by choice." Or they're homeless because of drug addiction. Or they're "too lazy to get a job." These are common reactions that you've no doubt heard before. But are they true?

Let's take a look at some stats.

3 Myths About Homelessness

  • Myth: Homeless people are lazy. Fact: approximately 25% of America’s homeless are employed.
  • Myth: They choose to be homeless. Fact: As you'll see below, there are many ways one can become homeless, none of which involve "choice."
  • Myth: All homeless people are addicts. Fact: Some are, some aren't. Just like people in apartments, houses... your neighbors.

Who are the Homeless?

Photo by Steve Knutson on Unsplash
Photo by Steve Knutson on Unsplash

59% of Americans are a paycheck away from being homeless, according to a survey by Charles Schwab. So the homeless could easily be you. Or me.

The Top 5 Causes of Homelessness

According to the National Coalition to End Homelessness, the top five causes of homelessness are:

  1. A lack of affordable housing.
  2. Low paying jobs.
  3. Escaping domestic violence.
  4. Medical bankruptcy.
  5. Mental illness.

Categories of Homeless People

Photo by AR on Unsplash
Photo by AR on Unsplash

According to Arizona State University, there are three different types of homeless people.

  • Sheltered.  A "sheltered" homeless person lives in an emergency shelter or transitional housing.
  • Unsheltered. An unsheltered homeless person lives in "a place not meant for human habitation, such as cars, parks, sidewalks, abandoned buildings, or on the street.
  • Those in homeless camps. Most homeless people do not live in encampments. Those that do have likely exhausted all resources available to them. Or their conditions (drug addict/alcoholic, or a criminal record) prevent them from using shelters and other services. You may actually find people here who choose to be homeless; off the grid; dropping out of consumer culture.

What is it Like to Live in a Homeless Camp?

Photo by Brandi Alexandra on Unsplash
Photo by Brandi Alexandra on Unsplash

Homeless camps are not a healthy place to be. With no refrigeration, food borne illness is common. Disease can spread faster. There's human waste. And the victimization of women and children, in every way that you can imagine.

Homeless people are often arrested for public intoxication, petty theft, and trespassing. Mentally ill homeless people are more likely to be arrested.

Contrary to popular belief, most of the people in these homeless camps are not violent offenders and are more likely to be victims.

Why Do We Demonize the Homeless?

Why so many myths then, about the homeless? I don't have an answer for this question. I'm asking. And I'll offer up my best guesses.

Some feel threatened by homeless people. Others fear becoming them. Homeless people are a reminder that not everything is perfect here in the USA, and we don't want to hear that. Maybe it's a necessary survival instinct to villainize the homeless we pass by everyday, avoiding eye contact. Because otherwise, what does it say about us that we aren't doing more to help?

Just some thoughts to ponder.

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