MYTHS ABOUT HOMELESSNESS

Myths are widely held thoughts or beliefs that are not generally true.  Beyond just being misinformation, myths and misperceptions often create negative attitudes and even prejudice. This is most often the case when it comes to understanding homelessness.

Merely understanding the truth about homelessness and the people who become homeless often opens the door to create a community of people willing to help their fellow neighbors who happen to be experiencing homelessness. Click the “myth” below to find the true answer: 

Myth:  People are homeless by choice.

 

Fact:  No one starts life to become homeless. People are homeless for a wide variety of reasons, a good number of which are at least partly and often mainly beyond a person’s control.  Homelessness occurs when people or households are unable to acquire and/or maintain housing. Two significant factors that account for homelessness are the lack of jobs that pay a living wage and the lack of affordable housing.  Additionally, people lose jobs and then housing. Women run away to the street to escape domestic violence. Many people have experienced significant trauma and cannot cope with life. Others struggle with mental illness, depression, or post-traumatic stress. Yes, poor choices can contribute to homelessness. But outside circumstances strongly influence those choices. According to the 2017 Tampa-Hillsborough CoC homeless count (coordinated by THHI), 37 percent of people experiencing homelessness said they were homeless because of employment/ financial reasons.  Twelve percent (12%) cited medical/disability issues that led to their homelessness.

Myth:  If people experiencing homelessness wanted to, they could pull themselves out of it.

Fact: Once an individual or family loses their home, getting back into housing can feel nearly impossible. Most people lose housing because of financial situations – they simply do not have enough money to provide housing for themselves/their families.  Many because of job loss and/or underemployment.  Imagine trying to get a job when you have no address to put on a resume, no phone number, no shower, and no clean-pressed clothes.  Often, things like physical, mental, and emotional health, lack of transportation, and legal issues, hinder progress even more.

Contrary to popular belief, the resources available in our community are not ample enough to meet the need to help every homeless person. People experiencing homelessness do not want to remain homeless. However, some do ‘give up’ after months/years of trying to access services that either they don’t qualify due to some regulatory or program requirement.

Myth: Most people experiencing homelessness are addicted to drugs or alcohol. 

Fact:  While many people experiencing homelessness do report having a substance abuse issue, most report that the addiction occurred AFTER they became homeless and was not the cause of their homelessness.  Often, people experiencing homelessness turn to alcohol or drugs to dull the realities that come with living on the street.  While it depends on the person, many people find that they no longer find that they need or desire to continue with their addiction once they are off the street.

Myth:  People experiencing homelessness come to Tampa-Hillsborough County because of our good weather.

Fact: The 76 percent of people experiencing homelessness report that they lived in Hillsborough County for at least a year PRIOR to the first time they became homeless (based on the 2017 Tampa-Hillsborough County CoC Homeless Count Survey responses). This is not a new trend either, as, in all homeless counts conducted in Hillsborough County since 2007, at least 70 percent of people experiencing homelessness reported having either already resided in Hillsborough County or Florida for at least a year prior to becoming first becoming homeless.

Myth:  People experiencing homelessness need to “just get a job.”

Fact: Getting a job is a challenge for most people these days and incredibly difficult for a homeless person. Most lack clean clothes, showers, transportation, a permanent address, and phone number. Others have a criminal past, learning disabilities, and a lack of education that holds them down. Others have a source of income through employment, disability, and/or VA benefits; however, their income is insufficient to afford housing in our community. According to the 2017 Tampa-Hillsborough County CoC Homeless Count survey responses, 42 percent of homeless adults residing in shelters have income, with an average monthly income of $1,075.  Nearly 13 percent of unsheltered homeless adults reported income, with an average income of $856.71 per month.  The average fair market rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Hillsborough County is $815.  A person working for minimum wage ($8.10/hr in Florida) has a monthly income of approximately $1,400 before taxes and therefore would need to use more than 50% of their net income on just housing costs alone. Thus, even if a homeless person can find work, their low income often cannot sustain them.

Myth: People experiencing homelessness are dangerous.

Fact:  Homelessness is often associated with drugs, alcohol, violence, and crime.  Life on the streets can be perilous for homeless men and women, but very few crimes are committed by people experiencing homelessness against those of us who try to help them.

Myth:  People experiencing homelessness are lazy.

Fact:  Surviving on the street takes more work than we realize. Homeless men and women are often sleep-deprived, cold, wet, and sick. Their minds, hearts, and bodies are exhausted. With no transportation and little money, they can spend all day getting to food and maybe an appointment before they need to search for a safe place to sleep, all while trying to keep their personal possessions safe. It is not a life of ease. Though some help is available, they may have no idea where to begin navigating the maze of social service agencies and bureaucracy.

Myth: Low-Income or Free Housing Should Have Conditions.

Fact:  Many well-intentioned people have genuine concerns about offering low-income or free housing to people experiencing homelessness suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, or mental illness. Shouldn’t their housing be dependent on their willingness to undergo psychiatric examinations or get sober? Yet, there is strong evidence that shows otherwise. Housing First and Rapid Rehousing programs, which provide access to housing without requiring participants to use other services such as mental and physical health care, addiction treatment, education, and employment options, across the nation have demonstrated success in ending homelessness for even the ‘hardest to reach.  For example:

 

Pathways to Housing (Housing First Program) – A wide range of studies conducted by an array of investigators in different cities have found that Pathways to Housing programs have a significant, positive impact on its target population.  Some studies were conducted by Pathways staff under federally-funded grants, others involved Pathways’ collaborations with researchers, and others were conducted by independent researchers or universities. Significant findings include the following:

  • From baseline to two-year follow-up, Pathways Housing First participants spent approximately 80% of their time stably housed, versus 30% for participants in the comparison group, who were assigned to traditional programs that made treatment and sobriety prerequisites for housing.

  • At two-year follow-up, participants assigned to Pathways Housing First reported significantly more choices concerning their housing, treatment, and daily living than participants in the comparison group.

  • From baseline to two-year follow-up, participants assigned to Pathways Housing First accrued significantly fewer supportive housing and services costs than participants in the comparison group.

 

(Source: U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness)

100,000 Homes Campaign – Featured in February 2014 by Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes, this Housing First effort is underway in many cities across the nation, including Tampa. Click here to see the report and learn more about Housing First, its benefits, and overall success. 

Myth: There are ample services for people experiencing homelessness.

Fact:  While many organizations and programs in the Tampa-Hillsborough County community provide housing and services for homeless individuals and families,  the current level of resources does not meet the need.  This, unfortunately, means that not everyone can get help. Unfortunately, our community is not alone in this reality.  However, we have learned that the communities that are doing more than simply managing the need are those that have a coordinated, common strategy that:

  • allocates available resources by prioritizing those most vulnerable and most in need

  • has a system of matching people to the right intervention for them,

  • a focus on permanent housing solutions, and

  • provides the minimum help needed to re-house them.

 

THHI, working in conjunction with many service providers, government, community and business leaders, and others in the community, are working to create this type of system in the Tampa-Hillsborough County community.

 

Myth: Establishing services for people experiencing homelessness will cause more people from all around to migrate to a city.

Fact: People experiencing homelessness who move to new areas do so because they are searching for work, have family in the area, or other reasons unrelated to services.  According to the 2017 homeless count in Hillsborough County, 76 percent of people experiencing homelessness resided in the county for at least 1 year PRIOR to becoming homeless.

Myth: Homelessness will never happen to me.

Fact: People experiencing homelessness never intended or expected to become homeless.   They never thought they would become homeless.  They’ve had solid jobs, houses, and families. But at some point, life fell apart. Even people on relatively sound financial footing are not immune to a series of unfortunate events leading to homelessness.

Myth:  Providing food and shelter only enables people to remain homeless.

Fact:  Food and shelter are essentials for life. We build relationships with people in need by offering these and other outreach services, like restrooms and mail service. Then we’re able to offer them something more through our recovery programs, like counseling, addiction recovery, emotional healing, spiritual guidance, education, life skills, and job training.