Myths About Homelessness

Misconceptions Surrounding Homelessness

It is a tragic aspect of our culture that people experiencing homelessness, in addition to suffering the physical and emotional hardship of their situation, are often subject to alienation and discrimination by many areas of our society. Unfortunately, this alienation and discrimination often springs from myths and stereotypes that we at the Simon Community have found to be unfair and incorrect. The Dublin Simon Community advocate for these most vulnerable in our society whose voices may otherwise go unheard. The following is a list of some of the most common of these misconceptions.

MYTH: People experiencing homelessness are more likely to be violent than those in the wider community

The fact is that rates of violent crime amongst those experiencing homeless are no different from those in the wider population. Some research from other countries even suggests they are a lot lower. Those who are homeless are far more often the victims of violent crimes than they are the perpetrators. When it comes to petty crime such as theft it has been demonstrated that, while rates are high amongst those experiencing homelessness, they more often arise out of need rather than the desire for personal gain. Also the criminalisation of street life with the introduction of laws against public drinking, tapping and “Loitering” further inflates the “crime rate” amongst those without a home.

MYTH: People are homeless because they want to be, there are enough services available if they need help

The majority of people experiencing homelessness are stuck in some form of emergency accommodation. There is currently a lack of move on accommodation available for those searching for a path out of homelessness. In a recent study surveying those experiencing homelessness over two thirds reported being on local authority housing waiting lists. Also, for those who have acquired alcohol or drug addiction, there are few places and large waiting lists in rehabilitation clinics. Many experiencing homelessness want and need help that simply isn’t available to them.

MYTH: All those homeless are single men

While most of those experiencing homelessness are single males, females and families constitute a large and growing percentage of the homeless population. Research conducted in 2008 showed that there were 746 women experiencing homelessness and 247 families with children U18 in Dublin alone, up from 220 in 2005. (In addition, while women who are found sleeping rough on the streets will be prioritised; it can be a little more difficult to find them appropriate accommodation). The average age for all homeless services users is 39 years. The average age of death has been reported as being as low as 42 years.

MYTH: All homeless people are mentally ill or drug dependent

Reports suggest that approximately 30% of the homeless population suffer from some form of mental illness. Studies highlight that the social isolation, stigmatisation and lack of opportunity associated with homelessness play a major part in contributing to these mental health problems. Similarly with substance abusers, while drug dependency ranges from between 25% to 45%, the isolation and stigmatisation of homelessness is reported as a major contributing factor. Many assume that homelessness is always a consequence of drug use but evidence suggests it is often a consequence; a means of adapting to life on the streets and coping with such a difficult situation. Alcohol remains the primary drug used amongst the dependent group. As reported above, large waiting lists in alcohol and drug clinics make it much more difficult for those homeless to effectively overcome their dependencies.

MYTH: It’s their fault there homeless, they should get a job

While it’s true that some people can make bad decisions in their lives that can lead to homelessness many factors outside the control of the individual can play a huge role. Structural factors like the availability of affordable housing, availability of employment, levels of poverty and a lack of services available for those leaving care also contribute. These factors, as well as family breakdown, poor physical/mental health and institutionalisation, are largely out of the control of the individual. As for getting a job, this is often not a realistic expectation for someone experiencing homelessness. Even if one could secure a job, being able to maintaining it without secure housing, transportation and other support is next to near impossible.

MYTH: Those experiencing homelessness are a fixed population who have been homeless for some time

Homelessness can affect anybody of any age and from any background. Research has demonstrated that there is great variation in terms of the length of time one is experiencing homelessness, how long they remain homeless and the area of their last permanent address. In a recent study 33% of those experiencing homelessness reported being homeless for less than 6 months and almost half were homeless for under 12 months (outside Dublin this figure rises to 75%). Within Dublin the largest portion of those homeless reported their last permanent address as being in the suburbs (17%) with 14% reporting an address in the north inner city and 14% reporting one in the south inner city.

 

 
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Dublin Simon Community offers 13 services throughout the stages of homelessness. These range from emergency and treatment to supported housing and settlement.  » »