By Gabriela Godinez Feregrino
When we talk about homelessness in America it is easy to go into the stereotype of a man, likely a veteran, on the streets panhandling since he doesn’t have a job. While that narrative of homelessness if far too common and can be true, it is not the only experience.
Though there are people living on the streets, we have to recognize the other versions of homelessness that are not immediately visible. Many people experiencing homelessness do in fact have jobs, but don’t have their own place because of a surplus of luxury apartments and lack of affordable housing. This can lead to people doubling up, meaning two families live in one home where they would otherwise be living separately. Similarly, some people experiencing homelessness might be couch surfing, where a person might have a place to stay with friends or family but not have a permanent home to call their own.
It is important to identify the different stories that come from experiencing homelessness in America, and being able to see how they manifest in our society. People experiencing homelessness can be and are of all genders, races, sexualities, etc. Ignoring the intersectionality within homelessness will only hurt the issue further.
Homelessness is a race issue. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “African Americans make up more than 40% of the homeless population, but represent 13% of the general population.” Since the United States is still largely segregated, people of color are more likely to live in areas that have fewer resources including proper education and job opportunities. Institutionalized racism still affecting our American society causes people of color from under-resourced areas to end up experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives.
Homelessness is an LGBTQ issue. According to the UCLA School of Law, about 40% of youth experiencing homelessness is LGBTQ. Children who come out as queer, or are outed against their will, are likely to either be kicked out of their homes or run away if they live in a homophobic community. Many communities in America still don’t largely accept the LGBTQ community, which results in a lower life expectancy and a higher risk of experiencing homelessness for LGTBQ folks.
Homelessness is an accessibility and health issue. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reported that “on a given night in 2017, 20 percent of the homeless population reported having a serious mental illness, 16 percent conditions related to chronic substance abuse, and more than 10,000 people had HIV/AIDS.” They also reference the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reporting, “People living in shelters are more than twice as likely to have a disability compared to the general population.”
Homelessness is a complex, multifaceted issue. Unfortunately, the list goes on and on. When we stick to only one version of a story, we only attempt to mend that version. People of privilege, whether inadvertently or not, end up putting folks into easy to understand boxes that all look exactly the same. That not only makes it difficult for us as a society to address the issue, but also strips people of their identity. To tackle the issue of homelessness we have to tackle all social justice issues. While this might sound exhausting, it is necessary. Homelessness does not come at the fault of a single person, but at the fault of a society made up of individuals that would rather look away when others get knocked down.