Myths and Facts about Homelessness
Thank you to The Council for the Homeless for compiling this useful information.
1 | Myth: People who are homeless should just get a job and then they would not be homeless.
Fact: Many people who are homeless do have jobs, sometimes two or even three. The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates as many as 40%-60% of people experiencing homelessness nationwide are employed. However, a paycheck does not necessarily solve their homelessness or other challenges.
In one County, a full-time worker earning $12 minimum wage would need to work 73 hours per week to afford a studio apartment, at the fair market rent of $1,131. At 40 hours per week, a household would need to earn $27.71 for a two-bedroom, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s (NLIHC) annual 2019 Out of Reach Report.
The NLIHC identifies the mean renter wage in Clark County as $15.88, which means at 40 hours per week a household could afford a unit for $826 per month. This rental cost is less than the fair market rent for a single room occupancy dwelling.
In addition, it is difficult to find and keep a job while living in a car, tent, shelter, or outside with no place to regularly bathe, receive mail, do laundry, and feel safe enough to focus on employment responsibilities versus daily survival.
2 | Myth: People choose to be homeless.
Fact: This myth is dangerous and allows us to ignore the trauma of homelessness and neurobiological effects trauma has on humans. Being homeless is stressful, humiliating, exhausting, and dangerous. It is a hard day-to-day existence for men, women, and children.
Some people may choose to sleep outside rather than in a shelter because they fear having to leave their pets or possessions outside. They also may not want to leave their community of others living outside. They may also be living with serious mental and physical health conditions with symptoms that make it difficult to have the capacity and ability to make rational decisions. In addition, some shelters and housing programs have strict criteria that potentially “screen out” the most vulnerable people.
When we take the time to engage and listen to someone’s story, we often hear they are not “choosing to be homeless” but rather the other choices available are undesirable, have been tried or misunderstood. For now, their current situation is better than the alternative because they have become accustomed to living unhoused. Homelessness is traumatic and complicated and solutions are not a one-size-fits-all.
3 | Myth: People who are homeless are dangerous, violent, and/or criminals.
Fact: A person who is homeless is no more likely to be a criminal than a person who is housed, with one legal exception: camping ordinances. People who are homeless break that law merely by being unhoused. The reality is that most spend their time and resources trying to survive and improve their situation.
Rather than being dangerous or lawbreakers, they are parents trying to work or find a job while they live in a car with their children. They are teens who have no supportive adults in their lives while they try to find a place to live, so they can hopefully stay in school. They are senior citizens with poor health and a fixed income struggling to get by. People who are homeless are more likely to be victims of a crime than to commit a crime. It is important that we not vilify people without homes but instead, see them as neighbors in need of shelter and best-fit assistance to help them find a home.
4 | Myth: Housing should come with conditions like being clean and sober.
Fact: Evidence tells us that people who are homeless can find stability and healing when provided empowering supports focused on housing and supports. Known as Housing First, this approach acknowledges the complexities of addiction, trauma, and the challenges that come with experiencing homelessness. It also acknowledges that it can be very difficult to successfully address challenges while living on the streets or in an unsafe and unstable situation. Read more about the evidence behind approaches that drive an end to homelessness.
Housing First is an evidence-based practice used in our local homeless crisis response system. For example, all publicly funded emergency shelters focus first and foremost on reducing barriers to housing and increasing household wraparound supports. The community also has scattered site housing first permanent supportive housing, where units are rented from private landlords and the tenants are heavily engaged through case management. Over 200 of these scattered site units exist in Clark County.
5 | Myth: There is nothing I can do about homelessness.
Fact: Effectively reducing homelessness will take the entire community working together around this common goal.
Be Kind: When those experiencing homelessness are asked what can community members to do help, the reply is resounding familiar, Simply Be kind. Kindness is a rare commodity for those who are unhoused. Unspeakable acts of violence and disrespect occur to people who are unhoused daily and often the act of kindness one shows, is the only sharing of humanity experienced throughout the day.
Speak Up: Homelessness is a complex challenge rooted in many social injustices. In order to effectively reduce homelessness we must advocate for person-centered, trauma-informed supports that meet people where they are in life.
Share Time: Volunteerism is vital to the sustainability of existing resources and new resources.
Rent or Hire: People and families experiencing homelessness are regularly in need of housing and work opportunities. Those who are unhoused are as diverse as the general public in their needs, experience, drive and skills.