Meaning of the term "homeless"

Posted in Politics at 11:34 am by ducky

I see people using the term “homeless” when they really mean “living on the street” (which is in turn, often a euphemism for “smelly unattractive poor people” or “panhandler”).

It bothers me a bit when they are used as synonyms.  Not all of the people who are homeless live on the streets; many live with friends, in shelters, in cars, and in RVs.  I have known personally a working family who ended up in a homeless shelter; my unemployed nephew is currently sofa-surfing; wealthy friends of ours are cruising the US in a converted bus.

I would really rather that we find another way to describe the people living on the street, and use it when we mean people living on the street than to lump everybody together as “homeless”.

Why does this matter?  Because demographics of “homeless but sheltered” and “street people” is vastly different.  Many people think of people living on the street as lazy, irresponsible, criminal, and/or drug-addicted and thus undeserving of assistance.  In short, poorly functioning.  (We can argue whether that is a reasonable belief or not, but it doesn’t matter: that’s what they think.)

If you lump in the highly functional but poor people with the poorly functioning street people, then I worry that when you go to voters for support “for the homeless”, they are going to turn a deaf ear to any pleas — including voters that would help the highly functional.

It might be that those who advocate for people living on the street pushed for the change in terminology from “street people” to “homeless” in order to get some of the status of the highly functinoal homeless to rub off onto the street people.  Well, nice idea, but it didn’t work — it brings the highly-functional’s status down to the status of street people.

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