False assumptions about homeless people

Mia Chairez, Staff Writer

Patrick and Cindy Kennard both had college degrees and stable jobs. They also found themselves homeless. Their story was first reported by NBC news. Patrick worked at a bank call center, while Cindy worked at a childcare facility as a director. They have three girls: 16 year old Brianne, 14 year old Melodie, and 9 year old Jillian. They received help from a church shelter that eventually facilitated their move back into an apartment.

Their trouble began after Patrick suffered from kidney problems. On top of the medical bills, they had student loans payments and a broken down car which left them $35,000 in debt. When they had nothing else they pawned their wedding rings for $100 to pay for food and gas. Patrick told NBC, “That ring on my finger meant the world to me.”

In the United States of America, there were over half a million homeless reported by the U.S. Department of Housing in 2015. Despite this significant and troubling number, people continue to make misinformed assumptions about homeless people. They believe anyone who is homeless must be a drug or alcohol addict. They believe they are lazy and unmotivated. They believe people choose to become homeless. However, according to some of the most reliable, comprehensive studies and statistics, the primary reasons families become homeless are unaffordable housing, unemployment, and poverty. Secondary causes of homelessness are substance abuse and mental illness; yet, these conditions are counter-productively viewed as criminal instead of the health concerns that they are.  In general, homelessness is treated as a criminal activity. On a daily basis, people are arrested for sleeping or living in their car, sitting on a curb or begging for money to acquire food for themselves or for their families. In January 2015, the number of people who were homeless in the United States amounted to about 564,708 people. Reportedly, 206,286 were families and 358,422 were individuals. The number one state with the highest homeless population is in Hawaii (465 per 100,000), then New York (399 per 100,000), then California (367 per 100,000).

In the United States, women and children are the most susceptible to homelessness. In 2005, the National Center on Family Homelessness released a study which found that one out of fifty children were homeless in America, which amounts to about 1.5 million children. Many women become homeless because they are trying to escape an abusive family. They also flee abusive partners. In St. Louis Missouri, 347 of homeless women were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and 74% of them developed the syndrome before they became homeless. Children often become homeless after their family descends into poverty. Of course, some children do become homeless because they run away from their homes, but studies indicate most children who were independently homeless were trying to leave abusive parents.

Another cause of homelessness is natural disasters and a weak economy. Catastrophic hurricanes, landslides, tornadoes, and earthquakes have left significant numbers of Americans devastated years after the fact. In addition to this, after the most recent economic recession, vast numbers of people lost their jobs so they couldn’t pay their monthly mortgage bills. Banks swiftly made the most profitable choice for themselves by foreclosing on homes rather than working with homeowners to adjust payments. Many homeless people are still looking for jobs and an affordable home or apartment while staying in shelters until they financially recover.

Military veterans comprise another significant portion of homeless Americans. In the United States, about 40,000 homeless people are veterans. They often become homeless because of war injuries or psychological trauma which prevent them from gaining or sustaining regular employment. This makes it difficult to regain stability or even offer contact information to potential employers. A lot of veterans don’t have a home to go to after they return from the war. Some of the veterans come back with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress syndrome disorder because of the extreme battle-related experiences they’ve had during active duty. Flashbacks, anxiety, depression and other symptoms of PTSD can leave veterans unable to hold a job. These veterans often start to abuse alcohol or other drugs to relieve their pain or forget disturbing memories.

There are a number of struggling shelters in Fresno that would appreciate any type of donation, most notably, The Poverello House. There are also a number of charities that are in need of food, toiletries, warm clothes and blankets for the winter in addition to financial donations. Fresno shelters do prefer money the most because they have established partnerships with companies who can offer supplies in a more cost-effective way and cash ensures some flexibility when looking at what they truly need at any point. Cash donations also prevent them from having to employ precious volunteer time to sift through donated food for expired products.

Most importantly, we need to change our misconceptions about homeless people if we ever hope to solve the problem. The only difference between “us” and “them” is a terrible set of circumstances. Patrick Kennard didn’t think it would happen to him, but when it happened he told NBC News, “Homelessness can happen to anybody. We’re proof of that.”