Top Thirty Homelessness Myths, versus the Realities.




Myths are widely held thoughts or beliefs that are not generally true. Beyond just being misinformation, myths and misperceptions are born of ignorance and often create negative attitudes and prejudice. This is often the case when it comes to understanding the issue of homelessness.

For many persons experiencing homelessness, suffering from life on the street is just the beginning of their hardship. They are also subjected to alienation and discrimination by mainstream society. Stereotypes spring from myths and misconceptions that need to be countered with facts.

Just understanding the truth about homelessness and the people who become homeless can open the door to creating a community of people willing to help their fellow neighbors who happen to be experiencing homelessness.

​​Myths and stereotypes can be challenged by facts and broken down by those willing to take a fresh look at what they thought they knew.  Here I present some common homelessness myths, along with the facts that challenge them.

The following homelessness myths came from my reading of more than 2,000 individual comments from the public comments sections of the online edition of the Orange County Register. Common misconceptions regarding homelessness were sampled from more than 300 persons that contributed to the comments section of approximately 75 articles between February and September 2017. From the data gathered I was able to extract 30 of the top “myths” locally regarding homelessness. (These are not arranged in any particular order, by frequency or popularity.)

​Myth #1: All homeless people live in homeless encampments or parks.

Reality: People who are living in their cars comprise the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population, say homeless advocates and researchers. At least 30 percent of homeless people who aren’t in shelters live in their vehicles, found Graham Pruss, lead researcher with the Vehicle Residency Research Program at Seattle University. Those living in cars tend to be the newly homeless.

Homeless people living in their vehicles are often employed. The “working homeless” typically work at jobs that do not pay sustainable wages and the area where they work often lacks sufficient affordable housing. Before living in their cars, they may have experienced long commutes to their workplace that increased their expenses for fuel, vehicle maintenance and repairs. When someone is found living in their vehicle, it is an indication that they are one step from becoming visibly homeless and in the near future they may be living on the streets.

Myth #2: Most of the homeless have a severe mental illness.

Reality: There are relatively few people living on the streets who suffer from paranoia, delusions and other serious mental disorders. Homeless persons suffering severe mental illness often display behavior that they may be incapable of managing on their own. Sometimes the most extreme behaviors relating to their conditions come to the surface in view of the public, which in turn negatively influences public perception and creates an image of all homeless people as being somehow mentally infirm. This is an unfair misconception and further stigmatizes those individuals that are most in need of mental health services.

​Many homeless people suffer depression, anxiety and PTSD as a result of their homeless condition. While not as severe as paranoia or schizophrenia, these can be equally debilitating. The symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD are less likely to produce extreme behaviors publicly as seen in the more severe mental disorders and the effects can be greatly reduced when the individual becomes placed in permanent supportive housing.

According to the University of California Irvine Cost Study of Homelessness in Orange County (2017), 17 % of respondents reported issues with mental health as a factor of their becoming homeless. Among the much smaller group of single adults who are chronically homeless, however, the rate reaches 30% to 40%. For this population, mental illness is clearly a barrier to exiting homelessness.

Myth #3: Homeless people don’t need cellphones or to use the internet.

Reality: Free WiFi is one of the things that make life bearable for the homeless. In Orange County, many homeless people have a cell phone or maybe a tablet, and in some cases even a laptop. It’s their lifeline to civilization. From their phones, they can gain online access and apply for jobs, access news and information, and stay in touch with contacts through text, call or email. Cell phones and the internet are a way for homeless people to re-connect or stay connected to friends and family members and might likely contribute to an eventual re-unification with loved-ones as a means of ending the homelessness of the individual.

Myth #4: People are homeless by choice. Most homeless people choose to live on the streets.

Reality: No one starts life with a goal of becoming homeless. People are homeless for a wide variety of reasons, a good number of which are at least partly and often largely beyond a person’s control. Homelessness occurs when people or households are unable to acquire or maintain housing. Two major factors that account for homelessness are the lack of jobs that pay a living wage and the lack of affordable housing. Additionally, people lose jobs and then housing. Women run away to the street to escape domestic violence. Many people have experienced significant trauma and simply cannot cope with life. Others struggle with mental illness, depression or post-traumatic stress.

Yes, poor choices can contribute to homelessness. But outside circumstances strongly influence those choices. According to the UCI Cost Study of Homelessness in Orange County (2017), 40 percent of homeless people said they were homeless because of employment/ financial reasons. 36 percent reported problems with finding affordable housing, evictions or foreclosures. 28 percent reported family issues including domestic violence, family dysfunction, dissolution,or a death of a family member. 22 percent reported that alcohol or drug use contributed to their homelessness. 13 percent cited medical/disability issues led to their homelessness.

Myth #5: If homeless people wanted to, they could pull themselves out of it.

Reality: Once an individual or family loses their home, getting back into housing can feel nearly impossible. Most people lose housing because of financial situations. They simply do not have enough money to provide housing for themselves or their families. Homelessness is often experienced after loss of a job or as a result of underemployment. Imagine trying to get a job when you have no address to put on a resume, no phone number, no shower and no clean-pressed clothes.

Imagine not having a safe or secure place to leave your personal belongings while going to a job interview or a doctor’s appointment. Often, things like physical, mental and emotional health, lack of transportation and outstanding legal issues hinder progress even more. Contrary to popular belief, the resources available in our community are not ample enough to meet the need to help every homeless person. Homeless people do not want to remain homeless, though some do ‘give up’ after months or even years of trying to access services that either they don’t qualify for or even in some cases the services that they need do not even exist.

Myth #6: Most homeless people are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Reality: While many homeless people do report having a substance abuse issue, most report that the addiction occurred AFTER they became homeless and was not the cause of their homelessness. Often times, people experiencing homelessness turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to dull the realities that come with living on the street. While it depends on the person, many people find that once they are off the street they no longer find that they need or desire to continue with their addiction. According to the UCI Cost Study of Homelessness in Orange County (2017), 22 percent of homeless persons reported that alcohol or drugs precipitated their homelessness. From my own personal experience, if a homeless person were to have a fifty dollar bill in his or her hand, it still would not afford them the cost of a motel room for one night of comfort. On the other hand, that same fifty dollars provides plenty of temporary comfort for someone with substance abuse issues.

Myth #7: Homeless people are lazy.

Reality: Surviving on the street takes more work than the average person realizes. Homeless men and women are often confronted with challenges that people with homes don’t always understand. Being homeless can often be physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausting. With no transportation and little money, one can spend all day getting to food and maybe an appointment before there is need to search for a safe place to sleep, all while trying to keep their personal possessions safe. It is not a life of ease. Though some help is available, they may have no idea where to begin navigating the maze of social service agencies and bureaucracy. In a 2016 study from the Journal of Children and Poverty titled The Family Options Study, it was found that 17 percent of homeless adults in families, who share different characteristics than homeless individuals, had paying jobs, and 55 percent had worked during the previous year.

Myth #8: Homeless people need to “just get a job”.

Reality: Getting a job is a challenge for many people these days, and incredibly difficult for a homeless person. Most lack clean clothes, showers, transportation, a permanent address and phone number. Others have a criminal past, learning disabilities and lack of education that holds them down. Some do already have a source of income through employment, disability and/or VA benefits, however their income is not sufficient enough to afford housing in our community. Many homeless are among the working poor and only a relatively small percentage receives government assistance. ​In Orange County, the hourly wage that a family or individual would need to earn to afford rent at the median market rental price (“housing wage”) is around $25 an hour for a one-bedroom apartment. Minimum wage is only $10 per hour. General relief is the primary form of cash assistance for indigent adults who are not disabled, and it pays only about $2 per hour according to an ACLU report in 2016 titled Nowhere to Live: The Homeless Crisis in Orange County & How to End It.

Myth #9: Homeless people are dangerous.

Reality: Homelessness is often associated with drugs, alcohol, violence and crime. Life on the streets can be perilous for homeless men and women, but very few crimes are committed by homeless people against those of us who try to help them. There is however, a disturbing trend of hate crimes and violent attacks perpetrated against homeless victims. The numbers show that homeless men over the age of forty are most often the victims of violent death and the perpetrators are usually men under the age of thirty and mostly in their teens. 25% of all violence-related deaths to homeless people occur in California which leads the nation in this category. It is also reported that one in four attacks end in the death of a homeless person. This comes from a study titled: No Safe Place: A Survey of Crimes and Violence Committed Against Homeless People.

Myth #10: There should be conditions of sobriety met before housing homeless people.

Reality: Many well-intentioned people have genuine concerns about offering permanent supportive housing to homeless people suffering alcoholism, drug addiction or mental illness. It is a common public sentiment that housing should be dependent on their willingness to undergo psychiatric examinations or to get sober before given the opportunities that come with housing. Yet, there is strong evidence that shows otherwise. Housing First and Rapid Rehousing programs provide access to housing without requiring participants to use other services such as mental health care, addiction treatment, education, job training, etc. as a pre-condition. The “Housing First” model has demonstrated widespread success in ending homelessness for even the ‘hardest’ to reach.

Myth #11: There are already sufficient services available to help homeless people.

Reality: While there are many organizations and programs in the Orange County community that provide housing and services for homeless individuals and families, the current level of resources do not meet the need. This unfortunately means that not everyone can get help. Our community is not alone in this reality. However, we have learned that the communities that are doing more than simply managing the need are those that have a coordinated and common strategy that meets the needs of homeless people as prescribed in the “Housing First” approach to ending homelessness. In turn, those communities are enjoying the greatest success and are reducing visible homelessness as a result.

Myth #12: If more services are provided to homeless people in OC, homeless from other places will continue to migrate here.

Reality: Homeless people who move to new areas do so because they are searching for work, have family in the area, or for other reasons not related to services. According to the UCI Cost Study of Homelessness in Orange County (2017), 68% of all homeless people surveyed here were residents of Orange County for ten years or longer before becoming homeless. 90% were born in the U.S.

Myth #13: I would never become homeless, it will never happen to me.

Reality: Homeless people never intended or expected to become homeless. They never thought they would become homeless. Many of them have had solid jobs, houses and families. But at some point, life fell apart. Even people in relatively sound financial footing are not immune to a series of unfortunate events that can lead to homelessness. Since the homeless population varies in so many ways, it’s much more easy than you’d think to become homeless.

Although homeless people do live in extreme poverty, that is not always the sole cause of homelessness, so there are other factors to consider.  As previously mentioned, domestic abuse is a risk factor, especially for women with children. Children in foster care are also at a high risk because resources aren’t always guaranteed.  Other factors include not having a strong support system, dealing with mental or physical health problems, and drug use.

Myth #14: Providing food and shelter only enables people to remain homeless.

Reality: Food and shelter are essentials for life. When the most basic life-sustaining needs of chronically homeless people are provided along with permanent supportive housing according to the “Housing First” model for ending homelessness, better outcomes have been proven to be successful. Once the living conditions of homeless people are stabilized with housing, then they can be more willing to participate in their own recovery through counseling, addiction services, mental health interdiction, education, life skills and job training.

​Myth #15: Homelessness is a problem mostly in big cities.

Reality: While homelessness does appear to be a city problem, rural areas have been hit hard in recent years by homelessness, often due to economic factors.

The problem with representation here lies in what we consider to be homeless. While in the city, it’s easier to come across homeless people, whereas homeless folks in rural areas may be living with relatives or may experience homelessness for a shorter period of time compared to those in cities. Homeless people in rural areas often must travel long distances in order to connect with services while those living in large cities, particularly on the west coast, face severe shortages of affordable housing and permanent supportive housing that would end their episodes of homelessness.

Myth #16: Most homeless people are older, single men.

​Reality: Although there are many single men among the homeless, the fastest growing population of homeless is families, and one out of four homeless people in the United States of America is a child. ​One in three homeless people were 24 and younger in 2014, and 37% belonged to a family, HUD’s survey found. One in 45 US children experiences homelessness each year, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness.

Looking at the intersections of homelessness and gender, national reports claim women with children make up 60% of our homeless, which is often due to domestic abuse, compared to 41% of men with children. The 2017 Orange County Point-in-Time Survey indicates that 15% of all emergency shelter beds were occupied by families making up 36% of the entire homeless population in Orange County.

Myth #17: Faith-based and nonprofit organizations will take care of the homeless.

Reality: The growth of the homeless population has far exceeded the capacity of charitable groups. Homelessness is a societal problem that requires a partnership between government, nonprofits, education, business and faith-based organizations along with active public support. In FY 2016-17, The County of Orange, dedicated $94,384,224 to ending homelessness out of $692,097,118 in available resources that could have been used to reduce visible homelessness. This information can be found on the last page of a 2016 report titled An Assessment of Homeless Services in Orange County.

In an Orange County Voters Survey conducted in July 2017 by Probolsky Research, 61.2% of respondents said that the County should be responsible for addressing the needs of the homeless. In the same survey, 43.2% said nonprofits and 37.8%t said faith-based organizations should be responsible for addressing homelessness. 76% of those participating in the survey said that homelessness was a problem in Orange County.

​Myth #18: More shelters are necessary to end homelessness.

Reality: When homelessness became a national epidemic in the 1980s, reformers responded with emergency shelters that were meant to be temporary havens. But as homelessness became more entrenched, so did shelters: Their capacity more than doubled by the late 1980s, then again a few years later. Along the way, shelters became institutionalized way stations for lots of poor people with temporary housing crises, including those avoiding family conflicts, leaving prison or transitioning from substance-abuse treatment.

Not much has changed over the years, and the living truth is that shelters aren’t always inviting places for the homeless (although they were never intended to be anyway.) Large shelters are notoriously overcrowded, the conditions often unsanitary.  They may lack sufficient security and many homeless people complain about privacy issues. Some shelters in older facilities are not always friendly (ADA compliant) to persons experiencing disabilities.

Some shelters have rules that frustrate homeless people. They must abide by a curfew or they can’t sleep beside their partners or bring their pets. Forced to choose between a roof and their closest companions, many choose their companions.  Shelters may be the final safety net, but perhaps the need for more shelters needs to be re-evaluated and the needs of homeless people may need to be re-evaluated as well.

One fact remains: To be in a shelter is to still be homeless, and the more shelters we build, the more resources we divert from the only real solution to homelessness: affordable and permanent supportive housing. The real homeless solution is the “Housing First” model as adopted by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) in “The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness” also known as “Opening Doors.”

Myth #19: Homelessness is usually a long-term condition.

Reality: Actually, the most common length of time that someone is homeless is one or two days, and half the people who enter the homeless shelter system will leave within 30 days, never to return.

Long-term homelessness is relatively rare. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, about 2 million people in the United States were homeless at some point in 2009 (meaning they stayed overnight in a shelter or in a place not meant for human habitation). But on any given day, only about 112,000 people fit the federal definition of “chronic homelessness,” which applies to those who have been continuously homeless for a year or more, or are experiencing at least their fourth episode of homelessness in three years.

Nearly all of the long-term homeless have tenuous family ties and some kind of disability, whether it is a drug or alcohol addiction, a mental illness, or a physical handicap. While they make up a small share of the homeless population, they are disproportionately costly to society. According to the UCI Cost Study of Homelessness in Orange County (2017), there is an estimated cost savings of approximately $42,000,000 per year if all chronically homeless were placed into permanent supportive housing.

Myth #20: Homelessness will never end. These “poor you will always have with you.”

Reality: ​Researchers and policymakers are newly optimistic about the prospect of ending homelessness. For two decades, the goal of our homeless programs was to first treat people for their myriad afflictions (substance abuse, say, or illness) and hope that this would lead them out of homelessness. Now, the attention has shifted to the endgame: Get people back into housing as quickly as possible and the treatment for everything else can quickly follow, with greater benefits. Many U.S. cities have established ambitious goals with 10-year plans to end homelessness.

People who haven’t had a private residence in years have succeeded in these new “Housing First” programs, which place the homeless directly into their own housing units, bypassing shelters. Rent is subsidized and services are provided to help these tenants maintain their housing and be good neighbors.

While these plans to provide housing and better centralized services to homeless people are important in reducing the scope and duration of homelessness, they will not completely eliminate it everywhere for all time. But homelessness does end—one life at a time. With your help, we continue to restore the lives of hurting men, women and children every day. See the Orange County Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness.

Myth #21: Fighting homelessness is expensive.

Reality: Studies show that simply housing people can reduce the number of homeless at a lower cost to society than leaving them without homes. According to the UCI Cost Study of Homelessness in Orange County (2017), an estimated cost for homelessness in the county during a 12 month period in 2014-15 was $299M. Key findings in the study found that cost could be reduced to $42M if all chronically homeless individuals were housed. Additional findings indicated the the average cost for each chronically individual to taxpayers was $100,759 per year. That amount was reduced to $51,587 when the individual was entered into permanent supportive housing. This amount includes the cost of housing, counseling and drug treatment services.

Myth #22: Homeless people should only get housing if they prove they deserve it first.

Reality: In debates about homelessness, the topic of whether homeless people deserve resources is common.  It seems society is more comfortable providing housing and other resources to people who have jobs, have received treatment, or have done something to prove they’re somehow “deserving” of basic human necessities.

This isn’t helpful at all because by questioning whether they deserve help, we’re perpetuating the stereotypes that homeless people are careless and uneducated. This implies they haven’t already done what they could to get help in the first place.

Without first attending to basic necessities, it’s difficult to focus on other goals like finding work and receiving treatment for drug use or mental illness. We must focus on providing our homeless population with housing and other necessities that will help them become stable enough to continue to improve these conditions. The only method of reducing homelessness that has been proven successful over time is the “Housing First” model.

Myth #23: Homeless People Are Taking Advantage Of The System.

Reality: This myth assumes that all the homeless are on the dole, yet in fact, a relatively small percentage of homeless people receive government assistance. The largest part of government assistance includes either disability benefits in the form of Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, or welfare benefits in the form of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF. What are the facts? Although over 40 percent of homeless persons are eligible for disability benefits, only 11 percent actually receive them. Most homeless families are eligible for welfare benefits but only 52 percent of them receive them. Moreover, when individuals do receive benefits, they rarely receive enough to afford housing. The current maximum TANF benefit for a single mother of two is 29 percent below federal poverty level. In 1998 a person on SSI had to spend an average of 69 percent of their monthly income just to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

​MYTH #24: Government benefits are enough to keep people from becoming homeless.

Reality: Occasionally you’ll hear stories of people who take advantage of government assistance, but the reality is that government assistance is very limited. Let’s take a look at what’s available for people living under the poverty line in Orange County – that’s about 21.5 percent (CPM) of the county’s population.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for a single individual in Orange County is $889. For a person that is homeless and has no cooking facilities, that amount increases by $84 for a monthly total of $973. Qualified SSI recipients are not eligible for CalFresh benefits (food stamps).

The maximum benefit from County Social Services (SSI recipients are ineligible) in General Relief is $355 monthly for homeless persons with no other income. The maximum benefit for CalFresh (food stamps) for a homeless person is $194.

The Fair-Market rent in OC for a one-bedroom apartment is $1324. Information is from “An Assessment of Homeless Services in Orange County” presented in 2016.

Myth #25: Homeless people are all criminals.

Reality: Targeting this population as a group of individuals to be feared has no basis in fact. Homeless people are more likely to be victims of crimes (including hate crimes) than to become criminals. In fact from 1999-2010 there were a total of 1,074 reported acts of violence against the homeless population that resulted in 291 deaths. The crimes that the homeless do commit tend to be related to non-violent crimes, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless in a study titled No Safe Place: A Survey of Crimes and Violence Committed Against Homeless People.

Most homeless people are not criminals and many of those who are technically criminals have only committed what are called status crimes. Status crimes include getting arrested for loitering, sleeping in public, or trespassing. Those are called status crimes because they are things impossible to avoid doing if one does not have a home.

This stereotype is one of the most harmful because it creates an unreasonable fear of homeless people – those who spread it can’t or don’t distinguish between people who got a ticket for sleeping on a bench and violent criminals. It makes many who would probably help people afraid to do so. It prevents people from getting hired or from renting a place to live. This misconception also makes it difficult for charitable organizations to open or expand facilities that provide services for the needy due to objections from nearby residents who fear for their safety.

Myth #26: Homeless people don’t have the daily living skills to have an apartment.

Reality: Even chronic homeless individuals have the living skills and experiences to quickly resume a regular lifestyle in permanent housing. Some skills, habits and coping mechanisms learned during longer periods of homelessness may take a short time to fall away, but the advantages of permanent housing vastly outweigh the difficulty of life on the street.

It is important to remember that most homeless persons were permanently housed in the recent past.

​Myth #27: Arresting and punishing the homeless is the best way to solve the problem.

Reality: Law enforcement is necessary, and our police officers do a praiseworthy job of protecting us and maintaining order within our communities. However, criminalization policies are costly and consume substantial state and local resources. In today’s economic climate, it is important for state, county, and local entities to invest in programs that work, rather than spend money on activities that are unlikely to achieve the desired result and which may, in some cases, open the jurisdiction to liability. In addition to the increase in public resources used to carry out these criminalization measures, individuals who are arrested or fined for “act of living” crimes in public spaces now have a criminal record, resulting in barriers to work, and difficulty in receiving mainstream services and housing that often bar individuals with criminal histories.

Nevertheless, some communities have tried to utilize the legal entities of government in an effort to solve the problem of homelessness. They have arrested people living on the streets, they have criminalized the lack of a suitable domicile, and they have persecuted those who cannot seem to keep a roof over their heads. Yet all these legal approaches have proved to be only failures.

The 2009 HEARTH Act charged the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) with “developing alternatives to laws and policies that prohibit sleeping, eating, sitting, resting, or lying in public spaces when there are no suitable alternatives, result in the destruction of property belonging to people experiencing homelessness without due process, or are selectively enforced against people experiencing homelessness.” One of the strategies of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness is to reduce criminalization of homelessness by defining constructive approaches to address street homelessness and considering incentives to urge cities to adopt these practices.

Crime can be effectively controlled by punishment, because criminal activity is a choice. But homelessness, as I have clarified, is not a choice. So those efforts that are geared at punishing the homeless for the circumstances they face is hollow and senseless. You cannot manipulate human behavior if the person you are punishing has no ability on their own to get off the streets. For more information regarding the criminalization of homelessness see USICH: Searching Out Solutions.

Myth #28: It’s just wrong. It goes against my values of hard work and earning your way.

Reality: The vast majority of homeless persons are victims of events beyond their control. It is an important duty and measure of society to care for our neediest members. Food, housing, medical care are no longer privileges, but the minimum aspects of a life that we should be assured of receiving at times when we cannot provide for ourselves. And who among us has not needed a “hand up” from time to time?

Myth #29: Many homeless people refuse services, they WANT to be homeless.

Reality: The truth is that almost all homeless people want to be safely housed, but most face difficult barriers, such as inability to work or secure employment, no family support and the lack of sufficient quantity and accessibility to affordable and permanent supportive housing. Some homeless people may be difficult to engage because of untreated mental health issues or negative experiences in their past, but persistence by trained outreach workers will usually lead to success.

Experts say it often takes weeks or months to persuade a person who’s been on the streets for years to take up the offer of housing, let alone shelter.  Moreover, shelters aren’t always inviting places for the homeless. Many are uncertain that the resources being offered there will work for them.

Some shelters have rules that frustrate homeless people. They must abide by a curfew or they can’t sleep beside their partners or bring their pets. Forced to choose between a roof and their closest companions, many choose their companions.

Often times persons experiencing homelessness have suffered trauma in one way or another and it may be difficult for outreach workers to establish “trust” with homeless clients in the beginning stages. The longer amount of time our client has spent being homeless, the more difficult it is to establish that relationship with him based on trust.

When I hear people say, “the homeless people don’t want help. They prefer life on the street.” it’s a strong indication to me that not enough effort has been spent building that trusting relationship. There are three critical steps to restoring the path to a better self-sustaining future for our homeless clients and they are: outreach, engagement and case management.

When these steps are followed with sufficient effort, lives can change.

Myth #30: Providing taxpayer-supported housing to the homeless is pointless.

Reality: This is a common reaction to the “Housing First” philosophy, which suggests that it is more effective to provide housing for the homeless than focus on shelters or rehabilitative services. But opponents think that giving away homes is a perilous proposition.

In their minds, helping the homeless acquire housing prior to being “fixed” appears only to enable them to continue to “use drugs and alcohol.” This mindset, however, is based purely on stereotypes and misconceptions — and not actual reality.

Indeed, a national campaign called 100,000 Homes, which has provided housing to 100,000 homeless people over four years, has had an 80% success rate keeping people off the streets. The organization was founded on the principle that it is too difficult for individuals to combat addictions, mental or physical health problems, or find steady employment while simultaneously being homeless.

What if you heard it would cost taxpayers MUCH LESS to house the chronically homeless than to leave them in the streets?

​Well, according to the UCI Cost Study of Homelessness in Orange County (2017), the average annual cost to taxpayers for each chronically homeless individual on the streets is $100, 759. That cost is reduced to $51,587 when that same individual is placed into permanent supportive housing. That includes the cost of the housing and all services including drug treatment and medical costs. A savings of half the amount.

Homelessness within our communities is a very complex problem. The causes are diverse, but the effects of homelessness and the ways that it negatively impacts our communities should cause much more concern than it they seem to. Given the current rate of increasing visible homelessness, the expectations should be to assume there will be even greater increases in the future unless something is done now. Homelessness is not only a moral issue but, much more, an issue that compromises the quality-of-life in our communities.

​Perhaps the biggest myth that needs to be dispelled is that the homeless problem will go away on its own or that someone will magically snap their fingers and all of the homeless people will disappear. The reality to this is that visible homelessness will continue to increase exponentially unless we are able to come together as a community and work together to solve the problem in a manner that benefits the lives of homeless people as well as our own lives and the lives of those we love and care about most. Together we can solve the problem of homelessness and preserve the quality-of-life in our communities so that no person ever that we love or care about will become homeless in the future.

Despite the many differences in opinions, I think that most can agree on one thing; no one wants sprawling homeless encampments along our Santa Ana River Trail or in our County Civic Center any longer. To look around and see such widespread despair and do nothing about it, bespeaks nothing towards the greatness of our society. The time has come to say, “What we have done in the past has not worked.”

That being said, now is the time for solutions. Hatred and contempt focused on persons experiencing homelessness is not focusing on solutions.

The common misconceptions have all been addressed, there is no longer need to stereotype or categorize homeless people by putting them all in one box and labeling the entire box as unworthy or undeserving. Homeless people have been alienated by and discriminated against enough by mainstream society, but to what end has alienation and discrimination done to reduce the numbers of visibly homeless that we see in our communities?

It’s time for everyone to re-think homelessness and seek solutions that work for everyone. We can do this.

Tim Houchen is an Orange Juice blogger, Anaheim Housing Commissioner, and co-founder of the Civic Center Roundtable.  This article first appeared on his website,, last week.

About Tim Houchen