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Square One shares myth-busting facts on people experiencing homelessness

Square One Community, Inc. is a Moose Jaw non-profit dedicated to the ideal that everyone in the community should have the opportunity for their basic housing needs to be met.
Homeless person begs for a home (Chanin Wardkhian-Moment-Getty Images)
A homeless person begs for housing. Housing First is the principle that every other problem is easier to solve if a person is safely and permanently housed - the reverse is also true

Square One Community, Inc. is a Moose Jaw non-profit dedicated to the ideal that everyone in the community should have the opportunity for their basic housing needs to be met.

At their recent Empty Bowls fundraiser, Square One shared facts from that contradict common beliefs about people experiencing homelessness.

“We encounter these misconceptions about people whose housing is unstable all the time,” said Della Ferguson, chairperson of the Square One board. “So, we decided to share these facts at our fundraiser, and people have been very interested. There’s been a lot of questions, and it’s really sparked interest. Several people have asked if they can (share the myth-busters), which of course they can.”

Myths and stereotypes about homelessness bring further harm to a population that is already marginalized by definition.

Myth 1 — people choose to be homeless

Homelessness is a complex situation for most individuals experiencing it, with many stress factors contributing to their difficulty in maintaining housing. Often, they have exhausted every other option they have.

Some of those factors include:

  • Eviction
  • The affordable housing crisis
  • Coping with mental illnesses or substance abuse disorders

Myth 2 — people experiencing homelessness are lazy

People experiencing homelessness lack the most basic stability in life. In order to survive, they are constantly in search of necessities such as food, shelter, and sources of income.

Therefore, many people experiencing homelessness do not have the option of laziness and stagnation. They are also more vulnerable to criminal behaviour, making constant vigilance and anxiety another aspect of their existence.

For example, more than 75 per cent of youth experiencing homelessness were the victims of at least one crime over a year-long period, and nearly 40 per cent of female youth experiencing homelessness are the victims of sexual assault.

Myth 3 — all people experiencing homelessness have substance abuse issues

Many people who experience homelessness do not struggle with substance abuse. The effects of trauma, brain injuries, and mental illness may also be a factor of their experience — or they may simply have fallen on hard times, been kicked out of their home over a disagreement, or be fleeing violence or abuse.

Myth 4 — people experiencing homelessness should just get a job

In fact, people experiencing homelessness may already be employed. They may be unable to afford housing despite being employed due to the high cost of housing.

Homelessness also makes finding a job more difficult. Without a permanent address, reliable access to bathing and laundry facilities, a phone, or reliable transportation, it is that much harder.

Myth 5 — There are plenty of adequate services and supports and they just aren’t using them

Many of the supports for people experiencing housing instability due to poverty are focused on emergency services such as shelters and food banks. Even if these emergency services were adequate to the need — they are overwhelmed Canada-wide — they can focus only on survival.

To solve homelessness, there needs to be enough affordable housing, and barriers such as the criminalization of homelessness need reform.

Myth 6 — Property values will go down if we allow a shelter into our neighbourhood

Downtown Toronto is a concentrated area of support and services for people experiencing homelessness. Despite the large numbers of people who enter the downtown core to access these services, housing prices remain high.

This common misperception and attitude is referred to as “not in my backyard” (NIMBY).

Myth 7 — Only people sleeping rough are experiencing homelessness

Sleeping rough means surviving in public spaces such as parks or lobbies, or sleeping in a car or tent.

People do not have to be sleeping on the streets to be experiencing homelessness. Especially vulnerable populations such as 2SLGBTQ+ persons, youth, and women avoid streets and shelters for fear of violence. They may couch surf or live temporarily with people they know.

Many of these situations are transactional, forcing vulnerable people without stable housing options to barter for survival.

Myth 8 — providing housing for people experiencing homelessness is a waste of taxpayer dollars

Keeping people safely housed is cheaper by far than supporting them through emergency services.

On average, it costs $87,000 per year to support a person experiencing homelessness through hospitals, jails, courts, ambulances, police, and other emergency services.

The cost of housing and supports for that person — keeping them out of emergency rooms and police station lobbies — is approximately $30,500 per year.

An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

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