Letter to the Editor, Bemidji Pioneer:
Misconceptions of Homelessness
Let’s set the issue straight for the ignorant and those who refuse to do their own research. Homelessness is a complex issue. There is NOT simply one or two simple reasons to suddenly become homeless and being lazy or violent are NOT part of them.
One such reason CAN be mental illness or some type of physical impairment that is permanent or increasingly regressive or chronic. In fact, until recently, a large percentage of the homeless were veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or a severe physical injury. Over the years, victims of domestic violence and other forms of trauma or abuse also have constituted a large percentage of our nation’s homeless. One of every three homeless women in Minnesota is homeless at least in part due to domestic violence. 5% are unaccompanied youth, up to 40% identify as LGBT. 39% are youth under the age of 18 (either in a family or unaccompanied.) 27% of homeless clients surveyed had lived in foster care, a group home or other institutional setting for part of their childhood, 25% reported childhood physical or sexual abuse. I could type more stats.
It is said that the homeless choose to be homeless. The challenges that have put these people on the streets are complex and convoluted, and they are difficult to unravel. So it is unwise for the rest of us to draw hasty conclusions about those living on the streets. Because mental illness is prevalent among the most long term homeless, we must remember that a chronically homeless person can sometimes see the world through the distorted lens of their disease. Choices made because of mental illness are therefore not choices that are based on reality at all. But we do know this; circumstances put people on the streets. It is not simply a choice.
The biggest myth about homeless people is that Homeless people are different than I am. I could never become homeless. It is easy to separate yourself from a population if you don’t see them. If they are invisible, the homeless are easy to ignore. The fact is that one bad circumstance or series of unlucky or unfortunate events can lead to homelessness. When you listen to the stories of the homeless, you soon realize that any one of us could become homeless in this society. Moreover, homelessness affects every area of the population. Many of the homeless are still working, but without a living wage they can’t afford rent. Even being educated is not a guarantee against becoming homeless. People with graduate degrees can and have become homeless. Homelessness does not discriminate. To learn more, go to http://invisiblepeople.tv/blog/ for some interviews with homeless individuals and hear their stories.- See more at: http://www.preblestreet.org/news/Myths-about-the-homeless/232/#sthash.dBQhJ7i8.dpuf
To answer Fulton Gallagher’s fears about Bemidji’s homeless committing crimes against people: For every homeless person who commits an act of violence there are many peaceful homeless individuals just trying to survive and protect themselves from being harmed. For example, a study done by Johns Hopkins University found in reviewing arrest records in Baltimore that although homeless people were more likely to commit non-violent and nondestructive crimes, they were actually less likely to commit crimes against person or property. They found that for persons who were not homeless, 35 percent of crimes were crimes against property or person. For homeless individuals, on the other hand, only 25 percent of crimes committed were against person or property. – See more at: http://www.preblestreet.org/news/Myths-about-the-homeless/232/#sthash.dBQhJ7i8.dpuf However: In the past 15 years (1999-2013), the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has documented 1,437 acts of violence against homeless individuals by housed perpetrators. These crimes are believed to have been motivated by the perpetrators’ biases against homeless individuals or by their ability to target homeless people with relative ease.
Lack of affordable housing is cited as the number 1 cause of homelessness, along with low-paying jobs, unemployment, domestic violence and others I’ve listed. Hmmm, since these are factors that describe Bemidji it’s no wonder we are having this debate about our homeless. When we use wisdom instead of prejudice and compassion instead of criticism, we can truly make a difference in the lives of those who are walking through the terrible plight of this common social issue.
For more information on homelessness, here are a few websites that are helpful:
100,000 homes campaign: http://100khomes.org/
Invisible People: http://invisiblepeople.tv/blog/
Pathways to housing: http://www.pathwaystohousing.org/
Information on the Vulnerability Index: http://www.commonground.org/?page_id=789
National Coalition to end homelessness: http://www.endhomelessness.org/
HOMELESS BILL OF RIGHTS
Years of research and advocacy around the criminalization of homelessness and increasing violence commit-ted against people experiencing homelessness has shown that added protections are needed to preserve the civil rights of people who are homeless. NCH staff work to educate public officials and local advocates about the importance of passing protections for those without housing in the United States.
National Coalition for the Homeless
Vulnerable to Hate: Hate Crimes against the Homeless
We support the efforts of local advocates to pass Homeless Bill of Rights measures that include:
- Homeless hate crimes provisions as spelled out in the Model Language for All Legislation and
Resolutions of this report
- Protections against segregation, laws targeting homeless people for their lack of housing and not
their behavior, and restrictions on the use of public space.
- Privacy protections for those experiencing homelessness, and the ability to vote or feel safe in the
- Providing broad access to shelter, social services, legal counsel and a quality education for the
children of homeless families.
Karen A. Kimbrough
2902 Bixby Ave. NE.
Bemidji, MN 56601
(This was a Letter to the Editor of my local newspaper I wrote in reply to someone else’s letter. It was not printed in the paper. I imagine due to my letter being too long.)