Five Things You Always Wanted To Know But Were Too Afraid To Ask
Let’s be honest: at one time or another you’ve thought these things. And that’s OK! If you’ve met our clients, then you probably wouldn’t know much about them. Totally expected!
So today we’re going to go through our most embarrassing questions and give you the real, honest truth :)
Are homeless people lazy?
Sometimes. Sometimes not! Many times, laziness and unemployment are mistaken for each other. Most of the time, though, unemployment comes from personal demons like substance abuse or depression. When you’re homeless, things can appear hopeless. It’s understandable that when your life is crashing down it’s hard to bounce back.
One example: we have a client who lost his wife in tragic circumstances. It sent him spiraling into depression and substance abuse, and he ended up on the streets after giving up on life. Finally, he came to us and we were able to help him put his life back together with housing, a full-time job, and supportive community.
So we absolutely have some clients who have “given up,” which can look like laziness. It’s part of our mission to give them hope and confidence again. As their attitudes improve, so can their drive and determination.
Not all clients are in the same position. For example, we also have clients working the night shift, or juggling a part-time job and an internship, or people who want to work but can’t because they don’t have their GED. There are a lot of different people we serve, and a lot of different situations.
There are also times we see people lying on benches or sleeping on the sidewalk and think “laziness.” But honestly, while shelters have a bed to sleep in (if you can get in one) there can often be very little sleeping going on. Things are noisy, other residents can be dangerous, and there is a constant worry about your belongings being stolen.
And if you’re not sleeping at night, sleep has to catch up with you somewhere.
Are homeless people uneducated?
Fact: 30% of our clients have not graduated from high school. But! 35% have at least some college experience, and we’ve had great conversations with clients who have either Master’s degrees or PhDs.
Education is not a predictor for homelessness. We once had a teacher who became homeless, but were able to help him out with emergency services and a new job. He bounced back and is now making over $60,000 in DC.
Many of our clients do, however, struggle with computer literacy. That’s why we have an open computer lab from 10 AM – 5 PM Monday through Friday and volunteers to help clients navigate unfamiliar technology.
Are homeless people dirty?
Some of our clients are very dirty. The rules to using showers at shelters or day programs vary from place to place. We had one client who had a skin condition and needed a shower so that she could apply her medication. But no one would let her because of her condition, that is until she found us!
Thrive DC is just one of five places in the city that offers both free showers and free laundry services. Over 8,000 homeless individuals have to compete for these limited resources and that makes it hard to stay clean.
Some of our clients do arrive early every day just to make sure they can take a shower. Some you would never know are homeless by the way they look. But whether someone is homeless and dirty is more a reflection of their circumstances and/or mental health than it is their general cleanliness.
Are homeless people mentally ill?
46% of our clients have needed mental health services in the past. 37% currently have a mental health diagnosis. Mental health is a significant part of our work at Thrive DC, but it’s not the only aspect, and for most people, not even the most important.
Many homeless people suffer from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress disorder. However, regardless of a client’s mental health state, we believe in treating everyone with equal dignity and respect. Our main goal is to make sure that all clients feel welcomed and safe.
For those clients struggling with internal issues, we offer therapy programs like art & music therapy for all clients. We can also help some clients pay for prescription medication. No matter what, we encourage all of our clients on medication to follow their doctor’s instructions, even if they feel like they don’t need it.
Are homeless people addicted to drugs or alcohol?
Some members of our community are addicted to drugs and alcohol, without question. That’s why we have a substance abuse counselor leading weekly support groups in both English and Spanish. For some clients, rehab will have to be part of their path back to a normal life.
But, in the city, only 30% of the homeless population have a substance abuse problem. It’s a significant part of our population, but it does not represent the majority of our clients or the problems that they face.
What’s the take home message?
Everyone is different! Our clients are dealing with significant issues. Some people will look like confirmation of stereotypes and some won’t. But it will be hard to know for yourself until you meet them.
Also, can homeless people be lazy, uneducated, dirty, mentally ill, and addicted? Sure. But so can people who aren’t homeless. These things aren’t unique to homelessness and our clients but can be found in all walks of life.
If this was good information for you, and you want more, consider inviting a member of Thrive DC to come talk to your community. Our staff is available for presentations at churches, “lunch-and-learns” at companies, and neighborhood meetings. We would be happy to talk about homelessness in general and put your experience into context.
If you’re interested in a presentation, email our Community Relations Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more information!
Thrive DC Communications Intern