( And the reality of barriers )
By: Esther Kay
December, 7th, 2021
Every person’s viewpoint on life is shaped by their experience.
Someone who grows up on a remote, tropical Island surrounded by a close-knit tribal community is going to have a far different viewpoint on life than someone who grows up as an only child to Wall Street execs in a big, bustling city.
While these two extreme ends of the spectrum are not often seen occupying the same space, the same could be said for a growing subculture of minority within the boundaries of society: The person experiencing homelessness.
It could be argued that a child growing up in middle class America, in a home with two parents, a house with a yard, a dog, cable tv and a tablet lives in a completely different culture than the little boy staying at the homeless shelter with his drug addicted mom.
One has a stable home, is confident in his value and safety, never has to worry about where he is going to sleep, what he is going to eat, or if he is going to be subjected to violence, meanwhile his impoverished counterpart is left in chaos, fear and often—-neglect, or worse—abuse.
It is often through experiences that perspectives change, after all—-how can one be expected to understand something they have never lived through?
Many of us have lived through so much and still only have a limited understanding of how it has impacted us—for better, or worse.
While I’m not suggesting that everyone should become homeless for the purpose of understanding, I do hope that I can shed a little light on some of the most common misconceptions surrounding homelessness in general—in particular —the chronically homeless person.
Myth #1–“All Homeless Are Drug Addicts”
While this may be true for some, I have personally known and seen a much larger population of people who are sufferers of long term health problems.
Many of the people I have worked with as a case manager have never had an addiction, but became homeless because their health issues became so expensive that they had to choose between housing and life itself!
In our area alone I would estimate from the numbers I have seen that a large majority of the people experiencing homelessness were unable to maintain housing due to at least one form of disability.
Myth #2–“All Homeless Are Lazy”
Again; While this simplistic answer may have a certain amount of merit for a few—the larger population of homeless are employed on some level, or are actively seeking employment!
I don’t know about you, but for every job interview I have ever been on I always do several things:
I shower, I dress in clean, professional, ironed clothes, I type up and print out my resume and cover letter.
Most of the time I have pre-filled out an application online.
I use my cellphone to call and set up the interview.
I drive my car to the interview.
I bring my ID, Social Security Card and any other needed documents with me.
While the things I have listed may not seem particularly difficult, I’d like to put it in perspective:
How can you shower on the street? Do laundry? Shave?
How can you type and print a resume ?
What if you don’t have any documentation?
What if you don’t have a phone? Computer? Car?
Each one of the steps I listed above that most people take when seeking employment represent a barrier to a person experiencing homelessness.
“What do you mean by barrier?” You ask.
Imagine each one of those steps is a brick, and as each brick gets stacked higher and higher and wider and wider—-the wall becomes insurmountable —and that’s how you end up with chronic homelessness.
While there are many resources for people experiencing homelessness, most resources are not available outside of a certain time frame, many are not located close to each other and many have stringent application guidelines and are limited at best.
Now imagine you have somehow coordinated everything perfectly, the interview goes well and you have the job—-I have seen people lose that same job once their employer finds out they’re homeless ( yes—it’s true!) and they end up right back where they started, with a fresh layer of trauma, shame and rejection.
Myth #3–“All Homeless Are Crazy And Dangerous”
Okay, I just have to say it;
Can we all just stop trying to put large groups of people in a tiny box and expecting them to fit?
Every person is different…
Not one person experiencing homelessness is the same—they have different trauma, different life experiences, different skill levels, different stories!
While it may be true that there are some people experiencing homelessness who suffer from mental illness and there are some who can be violent—-this same fact can be said about any culture/subculture.
People are different!
I have had the privilege of getting to know the stories of so many people experiencing homelessness —-and my life and perspective is richer for it.
There is so much more beauty than there is ugliness in the people I have worked with.
If anything I would say that most people who have experienced homelessness are some of the strongest, most empathetic, most resilient people I have met.
That being said; the next time someone tries to keep your perspective small, I hope you take the opportunity to widen theirs.
Let’s start taking down those walls one kind act at a time.
It’s a great, big, beautiful world out there…
I hope we all learn to love the people in it just a little more every day.
If you’d like to learn more about how to help remove barriers for people experiencing homelessness in the Yakima Valley, please visit us at: www.camphopeyakima.com