Top ten myths about homelessness

With over 20 years of experience working with the homeless under our belts, the Coalition realizes that some in our community still have misconceptions about the homeless. Here is a list of what we perceive to be the top ten homelessness myths, paired with some facts.

1 ) They are all men. – For many, the word “homeless” conjures up images of scraggly men standing on street corners holding cardboard signs. Today, that image is simply not reality: the face of homelessness is changing. In fact, the fastest growing segments of the homeless population are women and families with children.

2 ) They are all lazy. – A sad reality facing many homeless individuals and families is that even if they work, their income cannot sustain them. As a matter of fact, the majority of Coalition clients are working or actively looking for work, and yet remain homeless. In Orlando, service industry employment accounts for 40% of jobs, with resulting wages of $8 per hour with limited benefits. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Orlando requires an hourly wage of nearly $18.00 (according to our most recent statistics) – making it almost impossible for a couple to afford, even with both working 40 hours per week at $8 per hour.

3 ) Homelessness is a single issue. Many believe that the homeless “just need to get a job” to fix their situation. If only addressing the needs of the homeless was this easy! Instead, the many serious contributors to homelessness make obtaining and keeping employment difficult for many homeless men and women. Contributors to homelessness can include low wages, lack of affordable rental housing, job loss or underemployment (meaning work hours were cut or someone was forced to accept a job lower than their earning potential), domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues.

4 ) They are all from someplace else. – Eighty-three percent of the homeless individuals interviewed for the 2009 Point In Time Count (conducted by the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida) had lived in the area for one year or longer, showing that many started out as typical Central Florida residents. The Coalition served nearly 4,200 individuals and 490 families last year, the majority of whom were living in the Central Florida area when they became homeless.

5 ) Build it and they will come. – Constructing a new facility does not “attract” new homeless people to an area. They are already here in Central Florida, as proven by the 2009 Point In Time Count’s estimation that nearly 10,000 people would experience homelessness in our region over the course of one year. Providing services responds to a need that already exists.

6 ) Ignore the problem and it will go away. – The number of homeless families with children increased dramatically last year, according to the 2009 Point In Time Count. At the end of the 2008-2009 school year, 4,206 homeless children had attended schools in the Central Florida region, compared with 2,700 the year before.

7 ) Homelessness will be eliminated by adopting a 10 year plan. The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness has made strides by adopting their ten year plan to end homelessness in our area, but creating a vision for service infrastructure will not automatically eliminate homelessness. A ten year plan only puts into place the infrastructure to deliver services to homeless people.  It does not end homelessness.

8 ) Services provided are a hand-out. – Many homeless individuals need a hand up, not a hand-out. By providing job training, educational opportunities, mental health counseling, and life skills like budgeting and savings, the Coalition is working to ensure that services provide the tools clients need for self-sufficiency.

9 ) It is a lifestyle choice. – In the 2009 Point In Time Count, 84% of those interviewed listed issues such as employment, housing, disabilities, family problems, forced relocation, natural disasters, and recent immigration as the cause of their current state of homelessness. These individuals did not choose to be homeless and are trying desperately to return to self-sufficiency.

10 ) It will never happen to me. – Don’t believe homelessness can happen to anyone? Watch our latest video to hear the stories of three bright, confident adults who used to think the same thing.

Did we miss something that you think should be added to the list? Feel free to share your own myths about homelessness below!