Reality behind stereotypes and struggles of homeless people

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Reality behind stereotypes and struggles of homeless people

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As the sun disappears behind the horizon and pulls the vibrancy in the evening sky away, darkness settles over the streets and the streetlights flicker to life. She watched the day fade away through the windows and now her shift comes to a close. Rushing into the bathroom, she slips out of her uniform and pulls a familiar sweater over her head that she had been wearing for months; her children were waiting for her from within the warmth of a stranger’s home.

There are many misleading generalizations and stereotypes surrounding homelessness that seem to create boxes around the arbitrary idea of what it is like to be homeless. The reality of what the homeless really have to endure is often ignored or misunderstood.

“I think that sometimes people believe homeless people are unwilling to work for what they want and that is definitely not always the case,” counselor Megan Hinkey said.

Others who encounter and work with the homeless frequently have found that these stereotypes are unrealistic and untrue.

“I’ve come to understand there are some of those [people unwilling to work for a change] without a doubt,” board member of Circle U Jack Doyle said. “But there are some whose situation is just an event in their lives that they have no control over.”

The kitchen manager at Circle U, Jim, is an example of someone that became homeless due to unfortunate circumstances in his life.

“He allowed his insurance to not go paid, and his house burned down,” Doyle said. “And so he was homeless, and had no furniture, clothing or anything. And that wasn’t anything of his own doing, it was just an event in life.”

Others like Jim may face these situations due to uncontrollable events or poor decision making, but some actually choose to live the way that they do.

“The homeless are on their own because of their own problems,” executive director of Circle U Eric Weiss said. “What I have found out though is some of them are homeless because they choose to be homeless, some of them are homeless because they do not have a job and cannot find a place to live, and the other reason is they are temporarily homeless, they have lost their job so they take their family and walk on the streets.”

There are everyday reminders of the typical struggles faced by a homeless person, such as food or lack of shelter and protection.

“Big things that influence homelessness would be the ability to find and manage resources, whether it be money, food, the availability of housing,” English teacher Darian Jones said. “In my personal experiences, many times I see homeless with alcohol but I’ve also seen homeless mothers and children and I don’t see the evidence of alcohol. But I don’t know what’s happening when they’re out of the sight of the public.”

Alcohol or drug addictions sometimes can be apparent when you see the occasional hungry beggar standing on the corner of a busy street, but oftentimes there are hidden explanations for why they are suffering from addiction.

“Folks can give in to decision making that they feel there is no other choice,” Doyle said. “So they might step into an environment where they find drugs and alcohol abuse, [and] they say yes to someone who is willing to let them sleep or stay with them.”

Use of drug and alcohol products can permanently alter someone’s appearance over a short period of time and slowly transform their body. It is the same for starvation.

“They’re not getting the nutrition they need, and it is detrimental on the rest of their body, because that energy is taken just to function the basic life,” Jones said. “If you haven’t had enough protein for the day, you can pass out easily. It’s basically like being in a comatose state with your eyes open. So without those resources of food, and that promise of a meal, not even three times a day, but enough calories and enough vitamins and nutrients for the body, you’re not guaranteed a functioning person.”

Loss of nutrition is accompanied by a lack of many other factors and resources in one’s life when in a desperate situation.

“Most people that are homeless have lost everything that they’ve owned, everything that they’ve ever had, [and] they’ve ended up going on the streets,” sophomore Gabe Brooks said. “They’ve just lost hope in their lives and they’ve lost the need to do anything.”

This loss of hope can lead to other emotional effects, causing poor mental health on top of poor physical health.

“[Homelessness can cause] A loss of self-respect and I find that difficulty often leads to depression which leads to loss of hope which leads to desperation,” Doyle said. “And when folks are desperate there’s no telling what they might do.”

Most people think that homeless people can just go get a job and solve their problems, but getting a job is much more difficult when in the middle of an unstable living situation.

“Most employers want their employees to show up clean, well dressed, groomed, just taken care of for presentation and then also to be ready to work,” Jones said. “Which means they’ve had food, they’ve had good sleep, they’ve got transportation to and from work, and when you get into the homeless, they aren’t guaranteed a meal. They aren’t guaranteed being clean. And this isn’t to say that they don’t want that, it’s that they don’t have that option.”

Being homeless not only affects a person’s finances or health, it can also affect their family or friends. Doyle had stopped a family member from becoming homeless multiple times in the past and finally decided that it would be best for him to go without a home until he thought about what he needed to do differently.

“We allowed Brian to go homeless so he could contemplate and think about what the decisions that he has made has brought to his life and his wife’s life,” he said. “That’s a horrible thing to deal with for all the family because of our desires to be compassionate and help him as we had so many times, but tough love sometimes has to be provided as well and you have to let them struggle so they can deal with the consequences of the poor choices.”

Poor choices like Brian’s may also lead to students being homeless, which can be a tragic situation… so much so that it brought tears to Doyle’s eyes.

“The statistics we hear about the number of students who are living in their car or jumping from one friend’s home to another friend’s home just breaks my heart,” he said. “The kids that I do come across here I find all kinds of emotions, some are angry, some are extremely withdrawn and quiet and a few really encourage me with their courage and their strength facing that situation, continuing to go to school, continuing to try to do their best, that gives me hope.”

Whether it’s a student, an adult, or a family who have become homeless, there are many places that would be obliged to help in some way.

“In Richmond there is a place every day of the week to get a hot meal,” Doyle said. “There are multiple locations where you can find food, whether its cans, meat, produce. We [Circle U] have two pantries a month, the second and fourth Saturdays, in emergency situations we give out food at other times as well. And then we have lists of places that hand out hot meals to the needy, where clothing pantries are available. This city does a wonderful job of providing for the needy.”

But despite Richmond having resources to provide hot meals to those in need, there are many ways that we as a community could help them get back on their feet.

“One thing I have been recommending and suggesting from day one is that we have classes to teach people how to use what we give them,” Jones said. “You give someone dry rice, or dried beans that they’ve never cooked, they don’t know how to prepare it for their family, it’s nothing to them. You gave them nothing. You give them enough food that if you’re very careful could last several weeks, when in fact it only lasts a few days because they don’t know how to make meals and how to plan and schedule, and we have to teach people how to use the resources we’re giving them.”

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