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Homeless Is Not Spelled LAZY

      Homelessness in America just isn’t what it used to be.  Today the number and variety of stereotypes which accompany the homeless phenomenon have grown by leaps and bounds.  Just a few years ago, with the exception of our large cities, one would rarely see a homeless person on the streets of mid-town America.  Now virtually every community in the country can boast its own homeless population.  But what are the facts beyond the stereotypes we have developed regarding this “hidden” part of our population? 


Stereotype:  They’re too lazy to work.

Fact:    Truth is, statistics show that the vast majority of homeless today WANT A JOB. However, after many months of trying again and again, applying at one place after another, and being turned away, it becomes demoralizing and some give up.  But think about it, if you have no permanent address, no place to wash your clothing, no place to take a shower/bath once a day, and no transportation . . . what jobs are left that you can seriously apply for and expect to be hired?  All too often being homeless becomes a self-fulfilling reality whether one wants to work or not.  In truth . . . HOMELESS IS NOT SPELLED L•A•Z•Y !!!


Stereotype:  It’ just a bunch of old men who like the freedom of being homeless.

Fact:    The image of the hobo riding the rails across America is as antiquated as the Model T.  Having gone the way of the Edsel so many decades ago, the homeless are now made up of individuals from every cross-section of our society.  While the majority are still men, they are no longer simply middle-aged or elderly men.  In fact, 41% of the men who are homeless in Lake County today are under the age of 30.

      In 2010, Project Hope, the Lake County homeless shelter, recorded a 100% increase in the number of families including children among their guests.  The ranks of the homeless now include degreed people with not only their associates and bachelors degrees, but also Masters and Doctorates.    

      Further, as the number of home foreclosures continues unabated, the ranks of the homeless grow by leaps and bounds.  Any of them will tell you, there’s nothing freeing about being homeless.  If anything, it becomes a reality which mires those it captures in a seemingly endless pit of despair, self-doubt and hopelessness.


Stereotype:  They like being homeless.

Fact:    Except for an extremely small group of individuals who genuinely love living outdoors, NO ONE likes being homeless.  No one likes sleeping in the rain, the cold, the snow, or 80 degree nighttime temperatures in the summer.  No one likes being rousted out by the police in the middle of the night because you fell asleep in the wrong place.  No one likes having to hide their children at night so they won’t be taken away from you because, in the eyes of society, you “can’t provide for them” anymore.


Stereotype:  They’re just a bunch of alcoholics and drug addicts.

Fact:    Current estimates put the number of recovering addicted individuals at approximately 17% of the estimated total of 12,407 homeless individuals at any one time in the state of Ohio.  The better question here is why is the percentage of homeless individuals recovering from addiction so high.  What do we, or our culture, do to find so many people lost on the edge of society?  And the fact here is that the number represents the RECOVERING addicted . . . those who have, or are, dealing with their demons in an attempt to return to what we perceive to be normal society.

               An even more revealing statistic is that it’s estimated that 55%-60% of the homeless in America suffer from one form of mental illness or another.  It’s a revealing part of the population which we seem to have simply brushed out-of-sight.  Some of the most fragile members of our society remain forgotten, wisked out of the public’s eyesight by a simple erasure in the federal budget some twenty years ago.  They didn’t cease to exist.  They simply disappeared into the ranks of the homeless.


Stereotype:  They’re a drain on the government’s budget.

Fact:    Of the current 2010-11 federal fiscal budget of $3.69 trillion, $1.9 billion is budgeted for programs related to the homeless.  That amounts to less than one-half of one percent of the total federal budget.  Note should also be taken that the vast majority of funds spent to assist the homeless originate at the Federal level even when spent on the state or local levels.


Stereotype:  They’re a blight on society who drag everyone else down.

Fact:    In the 2010 “Point in Time Count” required by the Federal government, and which attempts to count the number of homeless in America on a given day, approximately 130 individuals were counted as being homeless in Lake County.  Note that these numbers are not allowed to include individuals spending that single night on a family or friend’s sofa or floor, people spending the night at Project Hope (the Lake County homeless shelter) or Lake Countians who stayed at any of the Ashtabula or Cuyahoga county shelters, or even individuals who spent the night in their car. Currently the estimated number of individuals in the county who find themselves homeless has not changed. Furthermore, how many people do you sincerely believe would willingly be recruited into the homeless lifestyle?  Let’s be honest with ourselves.  NONE!


     The truth is, the ranks of the homeless have changed every bit as much as our society has changed since those early days of the wandering hobo and the prototypical Model T.  In this series of articles we shall explore many of the facts as well as the mis-beliefs which surround the “unseen” world of the homeless individual, their lives, and their lifestyle.


              Timothy P.  Mummaw

  (Homeless January 30, 2008 to October 31, 2009)


DISCLAIMER: The comments of those quoted in this series reflect their own opinions and beliefs and may or may not reflect those of the Continuum of Care or its member agencies.