One of the most prevalent stereotypes about homeless people: that they choose to be homeless. However, there are many valid reasons for choosing shelters and even the streets over home—if there is a home at all.
Victoria Vantol addresses the question Why Don’t Homeless People Just Go to Their Famiy? offering insights that shed light on not only what it’s like to be homeless, but how someone gets there as well. Some highlights…
1. Never Had a Family
Returning home is impossible if you’ve never truly had one. This could happen if you were orphaned or removed from your parent’s home at a young age. About 20,000 youth age out of the foster care system each year in the U.S. Many of these youth will go on to struggle with homelessness, if they haven’t already, due to challenges they faced growing up.
2. Family Members Have Died or Don’t Have Homes Themselves
Many homeless people are elderly. Perhaps their parents were a major part of their support system, and have now passed on. The same could be true of siblings and other relatives. Sadly, some homeless people are old enough to have watched most of their safety net pass away. They find themselves with less and less supports to reach out to, much less live with.
3. Cannot Find Their Family
There are many situations that would cause a homeless person to lose contact with their family. They could have been released from a long stay in an institution, such as prison or a rehab facility. Upon being discharged, their families may have changed addresses or phone numbers.
4. Not Welcome at Home
People may become homeless because they were kicked out of their home. This happens often, and for many different reasons. Here are a few of the most common:
- Being LGBTQ.
- Using Drugs or Alcohol.
- Being Mentally Unstable.
5. More Danger at Home than on the Street
Sometimes a person becomes homeless because they’re safer on the streets than with family. Though it’s difficult to imagine, the streets can offer relief and safety when they’re a means of escaping abuse. This is often the case in domestic violence situations. There’s little data available on domestic violence survivors, but as of 2016, an estimated 41,000 people fleeing domestic violence stayed in a shelter or housing program each day.
A More Informed Perspective
By better understanding the many reasons homeless people have for not simply going home, we can be more compassionate.
Homeless people typically have a long list of hardships and traumas which came before the picture you see in front of you on the street. Their problems only seem simple to solve when viewed from outside. Their realities are much harsher and more complicated. In fact, being homeless may only be one of many problems they face.
Understanding their homelessness and advocating for equal access to housing is something we can do. Getting housed isn’t everything, but it certainly eases the burden.
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