This mythbuster was submitted by Michael Yoder, Executive Director of Associated Ministries.
Myth: People choose to be homeless.
Fact: This myth is dangerous and allows us to ignore the trauma of homelessness and neurobiological effects trauma has on humans. Being homeless is stressful, humiliating, exhausting, and dangerous. It is a hard day-to-day existence for men, women, and children.
Some people may choose to sleep outside rather than in a shelter because they fear having to leave their pets or possessions outside. They also may not want to leave their community of others living outside. They may also be living with serious mental and physical health conditions with symptoms that make it difficult to have the capacity and ability to make rational decisions. In addition, some shelters and housing programs have strict criteria that potentially “screen out” the most vulnerable people.
When we take the time to engage and listen to someone’s story, we often hear they are not “choosing to be homeless” but rather the other choices available are undesirable, have been tried or misunderstood. For now, their current situation is better than the alternative because they have become accustomed to living unhoused. Homelessness is traumatic and complicated and solutions are not a one-size-fits-all.