I have a group page where I post stories and also answer questions about homelessness. Recently, someone posted the following comment:

You can only help those who want help…the rest are content with no responsibilities…no rent, no utilities, no car, no insurance, no overhead. Free food, tax free cash from passerby’s (panhandling). We as a people need to address these issues and find a solution, not continue to enable this blight on our cities.

While this response does have some validity, the writer’s beliefs and understanding about homelessness are based on her experiences in life. I would guess she is a very responsible person who has encountered many critical situations while maintaining her position in society, such as I did while owning a hazmat business for over 20 years.

However, I was introduced to the underlying issues and causes of chronic homelessness in a very abrupt manner. This is the case with many people who live on the streets. I will address many of the horrific events that have affected the majority of the people I have come to know on the streets.

It is easier to dehumanize the homeless population with blanket statements

The first step of change is understanding and accurate knowledge of the homeless problems America is facing. It is easier to dehumanize the homeless population with blanket statements in order to justify ignoring these homeless citizens. I hear statements like, they, the government, somebody should do something about “this”—as though the person who needs help is a nobody, rather than a somebody.

This limited understanding does not take into account men and women who were molested or raped by their fathers, brothers, neighbors, or priests.

It does not take into account people who are beaten to the point of needing hospitalization on multiple occasions. And then there are those who have suffered catastrophic injuries and mental issues, like brain damage, schizophrenia, clinical depression. It does not consider people who lose
all their physical possessions in fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, or those who are rejected by former family members friends and society as a whole.

These horrific experiences have a paralyzing effect on an individual’s basic decision making process, breaking down this person’s drive to a point that living on the street becomes a viable option.

You may be surprised at how often rent is a common cause of homelessness. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $3,700 per month. And the median cost of a single-family home is $1.6 million. Then there are some special circumstances such as a friend of mine. He is a 68-year-old man who lives on the street in order to support his fifteen-year-old son by paying alimony. After his divorce it was a very simple choice for him: live in an apartment and not support his child or live on the streets and support his child. He chose to support his child.

These causes are not intended to be excuses, rather real examples, not textbook general knowledge.

Unfortunately, most people form their opinions about the homeless based on the people they see on the streets while they are on their way to work or coming home. You do not see or hear of the homeless living a clean and sober lives, wearing clean clothes, or working a job. Instead, “Joe Public “ only sees the people that lay on the sidewalk, begging for money. For each homeless person you may see, there are many others you will never see.

I appreciated this response on my group page, because without questions and responses it would be very no room for learning. But overall, I found this belief to be a very two-dimensional view. Statements such as “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” seem to treat myself and others like we are lazy, drug-addicted bums begging for change on the street to support our bad choices. These statements imply that we are not real citizens of our great nation, just homeless people with no ambition.

Timothy Busby is a homeless writer who lives in Berkeley. He writes from his past five years of experiences while living on the streets from New Orleans to Berkeley, and many cities in between.