When we think of the homeless in America, we are most likely prone to imagining what we call “bums” who panhandle and often have drug or alcohol problems. While this stereotype of homeless people is sometimes correct, more often than not, the reasons behind the state of homelessness are far more complex and require a nuanced and sensitive perspective. There are more myths about the homeless than there are truths that are universally understood and accepted, and in order to have a greater understanding of what being homeless means and what the causes are, it is necessary to examine a few of the myths about the homeless in America. While poverty is a part of the problem of homelessness in America, it is a self-perpetuating cycle.

Despite the fact that America is by far one of the most prosperous nations on earth, there is a great disparity between the wealthy and poor, between great surplus and poverty and this perceived greater sense of equality based on the American system creates one of the myths about the homeless that is most prevalent. Even those who actually hold jobs in this country can face homelessness, and this is just applicable to those working for minimum wage where absolute poverty is one lost paycheck away. Life events and circumstances such as medical, family, employment, or other problems can create a condition of almost instantaneous poverty and it can be very difficult for someone suffering from a financially draining circumstance to rise back up. With the rising costs of necessities such as health care and insurance as well as more general higher costs of living nationwide, being able to escape poverty and homeless becomes more difficult. In short, it is our economy that helps create the conditions for homelessness and that it is entirely one’s fault yet another of the myths about the homeless.

As a result of this problem crawling out from poverty or difficult circumstances, many people remain homeless due to poverty. It is of the utmost importance, however, to recognize that few people ever choose to be homeless or simply settle for it. Most homeless people, despite public perception, are not too lazy to find work or support themselves, they simply have fallen behind and are having difficulty climbing out of their circumstances. Unfortunately, the very conditions associated with poverty simply perpetuate the problem. Homeless people do not have money to pay for adequate health care or insurance and are more likely to suffer from problems as a result of being homeless since their level of poverty has no ladder with which to climb out with. As it is discussed here, this is a self-perpetuating problem rather than one that is the direct result of laziness or vagrancy as many think homelessness to be associated with.

There are many myths associated with homelessness and a majority of public opinion about the issue comes from the limited viewpoints offered by the media and other parties that do not fully understand or wish to communicate vital information about the underlying problems that contribute to or cause homelessness. In a country that is so driven by notions of work and careers, there is an even greater stigma against homelessness, particularly considering the image associated with the issue of the lazy bum who begs for change while he is obviously quite able-bodied. This is one of the stereotyped images that must be overcome before something can be done about public perception of homelessness in this country.

In short, it is far too easy to look upon this country as the symbol of great wealth. We are surrounded by luxury, even in its almost undetectable forms (running water, clean clothes, wide supplies of food, etc) and it must seem as though everyone shares in this. For those who have unfortunate circumstances and have been caught up in the wheel of poverty and homelessness, however, the constant reminders of wealth in this country must seem like an unending series of cruel jokes. With such a wide gap between rich and poor, the best step we can take as a country is to get over our perceptions of homeless people and focus on solutions so that we can even out the divide.