Javier Leiva

Growing by Learning and Learning by Doing

Homelessness Myths

I started reading The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness, by Ryan J. Dowd. Evan Kozierachi recommended me Dowd’s newsletter some months ago, and I followed his advice. It’s excellent, so I am recommending it to you know.

I am only one chapter into the book, but I feel every word teaches me something new. Powerful pages. The author shares a list of what he calls the ten (plus one) homeless myths:

  1. People are homeless for a long time.
  2. Most homeless are mentally ill.
  3. Most homeless people are addicts.
  4. Most homeless people are unemployed.
  5. Most homeless people are old men with long beards.
  6. Most homeless people are stupid and/or uneducated.
  7. Homelessness can happen to anyone.
  8. Homeless people know they are homeless.
  9. Homeless people like libraries because libraries are warm and dry.
  10. Homeless people are nothing like you and me.
  11. Homeless people are just like you and me.

1 and 5 are very connected. Only about 10% of the homeless are what he calls people who experience chronic homelessness. This is the old men with long beards we are used to thinking about when we think about homelessness. The other 90% is people that don’t look like homeless: people that often have a job (4) and a degree (6). Part of them are homeless for a short term, and others a little more but manage to get out of it despite issues like addiction or illness (not all, but part of them: 2 and 3).

10 and 11 can seem contradictory, but they are not. They are not like you (assuming you are not experiencing homelessness) and me (I’m not, fortunately) because you have probably not been through the issues that have taken them to that place in life: abuses, long-term unemployment, the loss of a child, etc. Events that modify the way people see life, and that you can’t understand if you haven’t experienced. At the same time, they are just like you and me: they have dreams, love people, like to be loved, they went to the school when being kids, had friends (7), fell in love… they don’t see themselves as homeless people the same way you don’t see yourself as the three-bedroom house guy (8).

I’ve been thinking about this fragment for the last 24 hours:

Next time you see some ragged soul with a cardboard sign panhandling on the side of the road remember: […] thinking that homeless people are totally different than you is wrong and dangerous.

Finally, 9:

A library card is one of the few attributes that fully defines who is a member of the community. […]

“I was born in this town. Some guy who just moved to town yesterday can get a library card, but I can’t. I mean, did I stop being part of this community when I got evicted?

So much to process for only one chapter. Eager to learn about the next sixteen.

2 thoughts on “Homelessness Myths

  1. This is a great exercise in empathy. Where I am in in America, there seems to be a corruption/sickness that is pushing us all apart, but this is not natural. Love & community & solidarity & friendship & kinship SHOULD pull us together despite our emotional differences.
    Thank you for writing this, brother; it gives me hope for a future humanity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *