In my last blog I promised I would begin to address facts and myths about the homeless population. There are a multitude of myths about people who live on the streets, in their cars, on the beach, in abandoned buildings, by the Los Angeles River.
Myth #1: People are homeless because they are too lazy to work. They don’t want to work. They would rather get free government money.
People who work with the homeless know that only a very small percentage of the homeless population fit this category. People who come in contact with the homeless on a daily basis, who have read the research and studies done over the last fifty years know this isn’t true for most homeless. 85% of homeless individuals have some type of mental illness and/or untreated substance abuse problem. Another 10 % are vulnerable individuals who due to life circumstances are not able to afford independent living.
So why does this myth persist?
It has proven impossible to extinguish. This myth about homelessness has been prevalent in this country since the first settlers came to our shores over three hundred years ago. A number of explanations exist for the persistence of this myth. They are psychological, sociological, cultural, religious.
Let’s just take on one – one from the psychological perspective. A quick and dirty interpretation: As human beings we all have belief systems about how to cope with the world. We using these coping mechanisms to reduce our own fears and anxieties related to the unknown and that which can’t control. So…
Stay with me here… If we believe that sheer willpower and devotion to “doing the right thing” has kept us safe and sane, how do we let in the notion that there are a whole bunch of people in the world for whom those beliefs don’t apply? Until the homeless get help – the right kind of help – they are at the mercy of their weaknesses and their demons. No amount of self-wellness and he right-thinking and proper values are going to save them. If we allow the idea that maybe self-determination and drive is not always enough, that sometimes we need help to right the ship, we find that idea can be disconcerting – if not downright scary. We prefer to think of ourselves as successful and independent – not needing help.
Please remember this next time you see a homeless person. Think of what I have shared with you as a person who has spent much of my life helping and learning to understand the homeless problem. It’s not up to you individually to help them, but we as a society need to come together to find effective ways to help. How can you best be a part of that?
One great thing you can do is to help me dispel these false myths about homelessness!
Myth#2 next blog.
Peter Getoff, MA, LCSW has been working over thirty-five years as a consultant and in upper-level management in non-profit organizations across Southern California. Specifically , he has accumulated over twenty years experience working with homeless populations and most recently was a clinical director at the Weingart Center on Skid Row.