At MCCH, we pride ourselves on creating innovative and successful solutions to end homelessness in our community. However, we know that in order to truly end homelessness, our programs and support services aren’t enough—systemic change is necessary. Advocating for our clients is an important part of creating systemic change, and we are determined to break down tired stereotypes that actively harm individuals experiencing homelessness.
Here are five common myths about homelessness that are simply wrong.
MYTH 1: People experiencing homelessness are just lazy.
FACT: People experiencing homelessness often want to work but face many barriers, including: gaps in employment history, disability, lack of identification, inability to access online applications, lack of transportation, and more. MCCH works with our clients to overcome these barriers and help them apply for jobs and prepare for interviews. To learn how MCCH helps empower clients for employment, check out this video interview with one of our volunteers in the vocational lab at our men’s emergency shelter.
MYTH 2: If people experiencing homelessness have cell phones, they aren’t truly in need.
FACT: It’s near impossible to exist in this world without a cell phone. People experiencing homelessness can be gifted phones, buy prepaid phones, or have a phone from before they lost their housing. It’s vital that people experiencing homelessness have phones so providers can contact them with housing updates and so they can communicate with prospective employers.
MYTH 3: Every person experiencing homelessness is an alcoholic/uses drugs.
FACT: Alcohol and drug use can be the cause or the result of homelessness. Some people turn to substance use to deal with the trauma of not having a home. However, it’s important to note that an overwhelming majority of adults experiencing homelessness in Montgomery County—72% to be exact—do not struggle with chronic substance use problems. To help those that do, MCCH practices a Harm Reduction philosophy to help our clients understand that harmful behaviors, including substance use, limit their lives and the ability to thrive.
MYTH 4: If people experiencing homelessness would get a job, they could find a place to live.
FACT: With the many barriers people experiencing homelessness face, it’s often difficult to be hired for a well-paying job. If you think flipping burgers would pay for housing, especially in Montgomery County, let’s go over the numbers. If a person is earning minimum wage of $11.50/hour, they can afford a monthly rent of $598. The average cost of a two bedroom apartment in Montgomery County is $1,623—almost triple the rent a minimum wage worker can realistically manage to pay. This is why establishing affordable housing in our county is so important to MCCH.
MYTH 5: It would cost even more money to house people experiencing homelessness.
FACT: Contrary to popular belief, it actually costs taxpayers more money for people to remain homeless than it costs to place them in permanent housing.
With frequent hospital visits, medical care, jail expenses, and the expense of homeless shelters, the cost of homelessness can add up quickly—
- The annual public cost per person for emergency shelter, medical care, and judicial services is $45,000 per year.
- Meanwhile, the annual public cost per person for permanent supportive housing is less than half of that amount at only $20,000 per year.
This is why MCCH uses the Housing First approach to ending homelessness. Based on the belief that housing is a human right, Housing First means that MCCH provides people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing as quickly as possible, and then helps them address the issues that led to their homelessness and provides ongoing support to ensure they never become homeless again. Housing First helps individuals address health issues, reduce police involvement, and reduce the likelihood of incarceration, all at a lower cost to taxpayers and municipalities.
BONUS MYTH: People who don’t have a place to live are called homeless people.
FACT: Homelessness is not a defining characteristic, it’s a moment in time. This is why we refer to people as “experiencing homelessness” rather than as “homeless people.” Experiencing homelessness is not about who you are as a person, it’s about a situation or circumstance. When people experiencing homelessness are referred to in general categories such as “homeless people”, it can strip away their humanity, leaving in their place negative stereotypes that keep them from seeking help. People experiencing homelessness are just that—people, like you or me.
Did any of these facts surprise you? Share this list of busted myths and encourage others to advocate for our community’s most vulnerable residents.
Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless (MCCH) is a non-profit with the mission to provide solutions in Montgomery County to ensure that homelessness is rare, brief, and nonrecurring. Learn more about MCCH.