Once a person resorts to a stereotype in order to evaluate strangers, it can be extremely difficult to alter the mental file folder that has been created. If I can neatly categorize you and "your people," it makes my life easier and my worldview less confusing.
Stereotypical thinking, something we all do, enables us to dismiss folks and move on.
Unfortunately, none of us really enjoy dismissive people, even though we all are guilty of the crime we resent so much when we see it in others!
I have noticed recently how easy it is for us to dismiss people who have no homes.
In a radio message last week I heard Paul Harvey refer to the homeless in another American city as "bums." Fairly dismissive stereotype, don't you think? Maybe people like Mr. Harvey because he helps us iron out the wrinkles of inconsistency and complexity that life throws in our faces every day.
Let's be honest. Homeless people scare us. We don't understand them, nor do we know their stories. We don't know what to do about their problems. It is just easier to assume that they like their lives on the street or that most are mentally ill or strung out or both, or that they are paying for their personal mistakes, that there is nothing that can be done to really help, etc., etc., etc. I bet you can fill in another line or two here.
Research--hard, empirical evidence has a way of destroying stereotypes. Most people I talk to just don't believe that the homeless population here in Dallas could really handle having apartments of their own. This skepticism fuels the city's penchant for shelters and soup kitchens and bread lines.
The evidence shatters our misguided understandings.
The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducted a study of one of their programs that provides supportive housing for people who have no homes. HUD's study found that after a year 84.5% of disabled and formerly homeless tenants remained in housing. I guess if you just dismiss your commitment to a stereotype and give your common sense some slack you can see how that would be the case. Street vs. Home? Street vs. Home? Duh!
Or, consider the results of a four-year study by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. Almost eighty-four percent of formerly homeless mentally ill adults living in supportive housing--single room occupancy (SRO) apartments--remained housed after one year. Hmmm. Go figure.
In New York City, where city and state funding financed the construction or rehabilitation of over 8,000 units of supportive housing for homeless persons from 1990-1997, program evaluation found that approximately 80% remained housed after a year. Novel notion there, don't you think. Public money guided by enlightened public policy to solve a public problem that benefits everyone.
I guess people in Dallas will think what they want, leaders and service providers included.
But the facts are clear. Homeless people are pretty much like the rest of us. Like all of us homeless people need lots of things. And, like you and me, what they need most is a place to call home.
[For additional findings on homelessness in the United States check out this Congressional site:
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