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10 Things About Homeless People that Everyone Needs to Know

10 Things About Homeless People that Everyone Needs to Know

The next time you pass a homeless person on the street, try to envisage what really went wrong and why they ended up there. Dismissing all these people as failures, drop outs and drug addicts is grossly misleading. It is time to reflect on the real reasons for homelessness and look at individual stories to get a more rounded picture. Here are some facts and stories to help us do just that.

1. They are not all victims of poverty.

The main cause of homelessness in both the USA and the UK is poverty. But the homeless are not all drop-outs or professional failures. Did you know that almost 1 in 10 homeless persons in the USA are veterans? They had difficulties in adjusting to civilian life, had mental health problems or were suffering from PTSD. Los Angeles has the highest number of homeless veterans, now estimated at 6,300. Many US cities are now committed to ending homelessness and have ambitious projects to do so.

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2. They may be female veterans who are at increased risk.

You may be shocked to know that the number of female veterans has actually doubled in the last few years, making them the fastest growing group of homeless in the USA. It is also disturbing to note that 1 in 5 women soldiers suffered sexual harassment or assault while serving the nation. The Department of Veterans Affairs now says that these women are four times more likely to end up with PTSD and/or with alcohol and drug addiction. The next homeless woman you see may have fought for your freedom and security.

3. They may be escaping war, disease and death.

Many homeless people have escaped catastrophes which are beyond our imagination. Take the story of Jimmy Thoronka from Sierra Leone who is now under arrest. He was a champion sprinter who took part in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last July. But just before he was due to return, he learned that his adoptive family had all died from Ebola. His own parents had been killed in a civil war some years ago. He decided to stay in Britain but his money and passport were stolen. He was just another homeless person who has become emaciated and ill, after a very hard winter on the streets of London. He will probably be deported although a crowd fund campaign has collected £10,000 which may go to securing a better future for him. There have, fortunately, been countless offers of help, accommodation and food. Jimmy is probably one of the luckier homeless people in the UK.

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4. They may be homeless children.

We sometimes associate homelessness with the adult population. But the statistics tell another, rather harrowing story. Of the 600,000 homeless people on the USA streets every night, up to 25% of them are children or teenagers. They may be camping out in cars, parks, or other risky areas. The National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) estimates that there are about 1 million homeless children who are attending public schools. This figure includes those waiting for adoption or who are in transitional accommodation which is why it is such a high figure.

5. They may be victims of domestic violence.

We sometimes think that many homeless women are on the streets because they have lost their job, partners or housing. But the statistics tell a different story. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NCCHP) calculates that 90% of all homeless women are there as a result of domestic violence. It is heartbreaking to think that homelessness may be the only alternative when escaping from physical and sexual abuse.

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6. They may be on the streets because of climate change.

Like it or not, climate change is responsible for some major natural disasters. The NASA website provides us with some startling figures for weather related disasters worldwide caused by global warming. The figures point to an increasing number of deadly storms. Inevitably, this results in staggering numbers of homeless people.

7. They may not have been able to pay their rent.

We sometimes imagine that homeless people made a choice to abandon everything and live a carefree life. In many cases, nothing could be further from the truth. It is when people on lower incomes have to fork out more than half their salary for renting miserable accommodation that financial disaster looms. This is another reason why so many people are homeless today. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty estimates that the US needs 7 million low cost accommodation units to remedy this housing crisis.

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8. They may be regarded as criminals in some states.

You might think that a homeless person would be assisted by the state or some local authorities. The reality is totally different. In some US states, authorities are cracking down on begging, homelessness, and loitering by making these criminal offences. According to one report, at least 18% of US cities now regard sleeping in the open as a crime. This number is increasing.

9. They may be desperately wanting to get back into society.

Perhaps we think that homeless people never really want or wanted to work. In many cases, this is not true as many people sought jobs without success and were forced into poverty. The story of Colin in London is a heartening one. He went from travelling the world as a freelance photographer to ending up with 56 p and a few clothes, including a top hat! He was determined not to look like a homeless person and sneaked into hotels to wash himself. Wearing a top hat certainly helped! Being clean helped him to maintain his morale. With help from a street outreach team, he was helped with a subsidy to find accommodation. He began to work in Spitalfields Market and soon he was running his own stall selling veteran clothing, including top hats, of course!

10. They may be talented people.

There is so much stigma attached to the homeless that it is difficult to overcome it. One campaign has started to show homeless people with placards revealing their many talents, skills and handicaps. Speaking several languages, biology graduates, recovering from open heart surgery, being born deaf, the range of stories is surprising. The next homeless person you meet may not have a placard telling you their life story, but why not give them the benefit of the doubt?

Featured photo credit: Homeless man on the street is being cold via shutterstock.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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