The simple truth is that most of the homeless are simply people who are down on their luck. They did not choose this lifestyle; it found them. Our constituents are as young as 20 and old as 60. Most are in their 30’s. They grew up in this area and could be your neighbor’s child—or your own. About half dropped out before graduating high school.
About a third of the women are escaping an abusive relationship; even more people fell into homelessness after a serious auto accident after which they lost their health, their job, then their home. Overwhelming medical bills introduced even more people to homelessness. Several people lost their homes to fire and could not recover.
Several of the homeless work full time at minimum wage jobs in the $8/hour range, yet the current minimum “survival level” income is $10.50/hour for a full-time worker. They may be working, but they do not make enough to escape homelessness.
No one chooses to be homeless: exhausted, hot, hungry and afraid.
In a word, No!
The US government says that 20% of the homeless suffer from mental illnesses including PTSD, anxiety, and depression. By comparison, the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 18.5% of the US population has a mental illness –a small statistical difference between “normal” people and the homeless population.
As an aside, if you lived in a fetid infection-ridden swamp with poisonous snakes and spiders as your neighbors, had no access to safe water, were dive bombed by a Luftwaffe of hungry mosquitos all night and by the hostile looks of judgmental neighbors by day, and you were OK with living like that, then maybe you would be crazy.
And still the misconceptions keep coming.
Nationally, only 16% are chronically homeless because of drug or alcohol dependency., but nights can be particularly terrifying, and drugs help. And having a protective dog doesn’t hurt, either.
Most of the homeless we work with enjoy a little marijuana from time to time, but it is expensive, and they often don’t have money. Cigarettes are ubiquitous, and everyone smokes. When they have the money, they buy cheap cigarettes; when they don’t, they scrounge butts off the pavement. Several people we serve drown their sorrows in beer, but even a beer habit is often prohibitively expensive for every day use.
Pets are a lifeline for the homeless. Often estranged from their families, about half the homeless population has a pet because pets provide unconditional love, companionship, and protection. Pets also give them a reason to live, a reason to get up in the morning. Pets listen without judgement and snuggle without asking. They teach caring and responsibility, and are comfort animals in every sense.