People love to quote statistics when talking about the homeless population. I guess it helps us to make sense of people that we know nothing about. Oh, so half of them are working, huh? Well, I guess that's okay then. Somehow it makes it better when we know things like this. But the numbers don't really tell the whole story, do they? I mean, think about the community that you live in. Maybe you live in a house in the suburbs. I bet half of the people on your block are working. I'm sure that some people on your block suffer from addictions, some probably have a mental illness, too. Some have been abused and some are abusers. I'm sure that lots of people on your block have low self-esteem. I imagine some of them are lonely as well.
But this is not the story of your community, is it? And this is not how you would define your community. I wonder why people always use these types of parameters to define homeless people.
The thing is this: In general terms, most people who find themselves homeless are very much like people who live in homes. Weird, huh? Some of them are grumpy. Some are very nice. Some of them work, some don't. A few panhandle, most don't. Some have addictions, some like a beer after work. Others are not very good at volleyball. Some call their moms every night, while others write letters to their children. Some even fit into multiple categories. Yes, some are grumpy, have jobs, addictions, excel at volleyball, but never phone their moms. You see, they're people. Nothing is black and white.
I think the thing that gets me is the "they" mentality that many have about homeless people. When people ask me questions about my work, they often ask things like: What are they like? or Are they scary? And it's frustrating because when speaking of people that are homeless, we are not speaking of a cohesive unit that acts as one, but rather a very diverse community of all sorts of people--individuals--who are as different from one another as you and I. They are not "they". This may seem trivial, but the importance of understanding this is paramount to addressing the issues surrounding homelessness.
A quiet night last night. We slept 1073 people. And each of those 1073 people has a unique story to tell. Just like you or I. The only difference is they don't have homes.
Tim Gorman is a Night Supervisor