Over the last month or so, I have noticed an increase in the local media writing articles or airing segments about the increase in homelessness across the province of New Brunswick. There has been a slew of different articles from different news agencies and across a variety of topics. The reasons for homelessness, the addiction epidemic, the increase in deaths, personal stories or the housing crisis to name a few. Then there are the ones on “who” is homeless, “why” they are homeless and the ways in which homelessness as a whole is impacting local businesses and individuals living in our cities, usually with a negative connotation.
And then of course, there are the comments… oh man are there a lot of comments. And the more I read, the more I fell into the rabbit hole, the more frustrated I became. People don’t have a sweet clue what the hell they are talking about. And these people are the ones spreading misinformation or judgements based on someone you know nothing about.
For those of you who do not know me personally, I work with individuals who are experiencing homelessness on a regular basis. It is challenging work, it is engaging work, it is meaningful work and it goes by unnoticed and usually without fanfare. Myself and my colleagues are perfectly fine with that. We don’t do this work for fanfare; we do it for the people. And as I read more and more stories, inaccurate stories, in the news these last couple months, there are a few myths I feel need to be addressed…
1. They are lazy.
This is a common one that I hear all the time. Why don’t they just go get a job? Can’t they work? They just don’t want to do anything. Well, consider this. An individual who is homeless, does more physical labor, creative thinking, strategic planning and crisis de-escalation than most of us combined. Actually think about it. Imagine moving carts, sometimes full to the brim, on a regular basis and the strength that must take. The motivation to move from place to place just to be told to move along again. To spend days on end accessing and navigating and creating ways to get yourself supplies, food or necessary medical care. Developing strategic and innovative ways to set up safe sites, secure sites and ones, that in this time of year, are necessary to stay warm for survival. And then try to do that with little sleep, with potential mental health issues or while trying to manage your substance use disorder. Not to mention if you have any physical health concerns. Try to do that when you are with others in the same situation with complex needs and trying to de-escalate or supports the people living around you. Do that and then see how it feels to be called lazy. They aren’t.
2. NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard
This one is brutal. “I don’t have a problem with homeless people, I just don’t them at my house, in front of my business, in the local park.” Okay, so where are they allowed to go? Where are they welcome? And if you don’t think they don’t know you feel that way, you sadly mistaken. Just because someone is experiencing homelessness doesn’t make them stupid. It doesn’t automatically make them unsafe. It doesn’t actually make them a criminal or an addict. Yes, there are going to be individuals who fit into some of all of this categories, but that is true for general population too. So, why are we annoyed they are there? Frustrated they are “bugging” us and can’t they just move along? Well, to where? Where can they go and be safe? The locations that allow for individuals experiencing homlessness is getting smaller and smaller. People judge, they assume, and then say they don’t want them. Well, maybe we should be saying, why is their no housing? Where is the warming centres for them to stay warm at? Why are we not offering more public bathrooms? Instead of shaming or judging for their circumstance, maybe the community should take a hard look in the mirror. How would you feel if you stopped by to see someone and they told you to go away? To stop outside a business to have the manager come out and say “you are not welcome here.” To go to the local Tim Hortons and find the bathroom locked so that you can’t even go pee. If you take a moment to consider that, you may notice, it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t for our folks either.
3. They did this to themselves.
Okay, I will give a little leeway with this one, because I will fully admit that most of us are a result of our actions. The choices we make and the ways in which we react to challenges will determine where we are at in life. However, what if you are limited in your choices to begin with? You were born into a low-income family who can’t afford the things you need. You were married to a man who you though loved you but who hurt you so bad you had to leave. You were a student going to university with a car accident led you to a pain medication addiction. You were born with a brain that struggled and left you feeling unable to determine reality. You lost a job, through no fault of your own, and couldn’t make that rent payment. You apartment building has been sold and you can’t find another place to live. You are disowned from your family because you are gay. You were injured and could no longer work. You have a health condition that limits your mobility or the housing you can access. The list goes on and on and on… and I know, you or someone you know, could fit into anyone of these categories. No one wakes up and decides that they are going to be homeless. It is a series of events, circumstances and challenges that lead them to that place. And then the challenges and steps to get themselves back out of it feel astronomical. We are all one step away from being in their shoes, so maybe, just maybe, that needs to be remembered when spouting what you think you know about someone who is homeless.
4. They are just a… junkie, addict, crazy person, dangerous…
This is the stuff that makes my blood boil the most. Yes, some of them struggle with addiction. Yes, some of them have mental health, or history of violence or any other personality trait that goes with them being human. But, that is not ALL they are. They are kind. They are loving and helpful and willing to literally give you the shirt off their back even if it is the last one they have. They are intelligent, educated and knowledgeable in a way that none of us could learn on our own. They have money management, mathematical and dexterity skills that I have never seen elsewhere. They are funny and sweet and just like anybody else. And most people are too absorbed in their judgements to see any of it.
And then, they will also forget that they are people. They are somebody’s someone. In one of the articles involving the passing of an individual that I read and moving past all the bs, there was a quote from his mother;
And that’s my point in all of this… they are all so much more than a homeless person. So next time you read that article, or get the itch to comment, remember that these individuals, who I gratefully spend almost every day with, deserve more respect that that.