Homelessness: Facts vs Myths

The US has always had many shades of destitute, but this particular era of homelessness marks a new chapter in the country’s history.

The causes of this crisis are no great mystery.

Where we were

Real median household income has plateaued since the 1960s. Adjusted for inflation, minimum wage has fallen since the 1970s. After the manufacturing industry contracted and unemployment grew in the 1980s, the homeless populations in US cities rose precipitously. For the first time since Hooverville – the shanty town built by homeless people during the Great Depression of the 1930s – American poverty was laid bare in its parks and on its streets.

“Hooverville” – Arthur Rothstein [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Since then, about 600,000 people have lived without a home on any given night in the US.

Where we are today

In every housing market, minimum wage is not enough to afford the average two-bedroom rental. Federal and state programmes to support and serve the mentally ill have been all but entirely dismantled. And the highest prison incarceration rate in the world has only further destabilised poor communities.

For the most part, homelessness has been approached as a natural and inevitable plight of contemporary urbanity: a thing to be managed, not fixed.

But now a new optimistic ideology has taken hold in a few US cities; a philosophy that seeks not just to directly address homelessness, but to solve it.

During the past quarter-century, the so-called Housing First doctrine has trickled up from social workers to academics and finally to government. And it is working.

On the whole, homelessness is finally trending down, but there are still many common myths surrounding this epidemic.

Here are some of them… 

8 Myths about Homelessness…

Myth #1: Homeless people don't work

About 30% of the homeless are employed on a full-time or part-time basis.

Myth #2: Not many children are homeless

Children make up at least 20% of the homeless population. Families with children are the fastest growing group of homeless.

Myth #3: Most homeless people are mentally ill

The mentally ill comprise about 25% of the national total homeless.

Myth #4: Homeless people are heavy drug and alcohol users.

Some homeless are substance abusers; research suggests one in four.

Myth #5: Homeless people want to be homeless

Less than six percent of the homeless are homeless by choice.

Myth #6: Homeless people are to blame for their situation

Most homeless people are victims. Some have suffered from child abuse or domestic violence. Twenty percent are children. Many have lost their jobs after years of employment. All have lost their homes.

Myth #7: Homeless people are dangerous

In general, the homeless are among the least threatening and most vulnerable group in our society.

Myth #8: The homeless are uneducated and unemployable.

Many homeless people have completed high school; some have attended college and even graduate school.

We’re Taking Action

Want to see what we’re doing to address the homeless crisis? Check out how we help those facing hard times!