There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about homeless people. People assume because of social-economic status homeless people are criminals. There’s the perception that homeless people are uneducated, homeless people want to be homeless, and homeless people are unemployed. The list of negative stereotypes goes on. Exposure to homeless people is the key to changing these perceptions.
Before going to college in Kansas, I use to see a homeless man outside the library drawing in a neighborhood known as the Central West End. I read in the Riverfront Times that man had a family and was very smart. He had worked for Boeing (formerly Mcdonnell Douglas). He suffered from mental illness. After reading the article, I was not compelled to help the homeless or learn more about the homeless.
The next time I focused on the label ” homeless,” it was during a discussion in Dr. Wilgers’ class, my freshman year of college. Dr. Wilgers asked the class if we thought a homeless person could become a millionaire. One of my classmates suggested the homeless person could be an inventor. As I listened to the discussion, I thought, I am glad I am here at college. I will never have to deal with being homeless. After hearing the debate for a while, I spoke up and said, “I don’t think it is possible because the homeless person wouldn’t be able to focus. They would be focused on things like food and shelter. ”
Six years later, I realized I was wrong. After graduating college, I was trying to find a job to support myself and my daughter. I lived with a family, but that was not working out well. My Godsister suggested for weeks that I go to a shelter. I refused until there was a confrontation at home. Then I was forced to go to a shelter. Well, there I saw homeless women who worked to support their children. I saw unemployed women, who were working to better themselves by getting their GED. I saw women battling mental illness.
After the experience was over, I still didn’t think much about the label ” homeless.” My next homeless experience was caused by domestic violence. Approximately 63% of homeless women have experienced domestic violence in their adult lives (National Network to End Domestic Violence). During my third homeless experience, I realized shelter and food are things that homeless people focus on. It was too difficult to focus goals and dreams. My last homeless experience in 2003 was life-changing. The label “homeless” was attached to me now. At the time, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta had filmed the documentary “The New face of Homelessness.” They were working to educate people that homeless were not just men, with mental illness. Homeless had become an epidemic that was impacting families.
I was shocked at how it seemed homeless people were treated with disrespect and second-class citizenship. I thought it needed to be exposed. I figured if America knew, they would make sure people were treated better. I started writing about experiences in the midst of being homeless hoping to publish them and expose the treatment homeless people face. In the movie, “Pursuit of Happyness”, I was excited about Chris Gardner. I thought- finally a story that would expose the conditions homeless people dealt with on a daily basis. Next, Tyler Perry went from homeless to media mogul.
Social media has definitely helped give a voice to the homeless. They can share their experiences, strengths, hopes, and life lessons. Mark Horvath- Hollywood formerly homeless-has done an excellent job of going around the country using his media knowledge to allow the homeless to tell their stories through Invisible People. Brianna Karp author of The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness. An individual like Chris Gardner, Tyler Perry, Mark Horvath and Brianna Karp have proven that homeless people can be smart and educated. Not to mention Liz Murray (Homeless to Harvard).
I know the some of the themes I see through my experiences and other homeless people are to continue to have hope and perseverance. Currently homeless and formerly homeless people have lessons to share. I think enabling people to share lessons from being homeless would be beneficial in increasing awareness about homelessness and sharing inspiration.