Homelessness Misconceptions FAQs

Questions & Answers About Homelessness Misconceptions

Partners Ending Homelessness provides questions and answers to dispel homelessness misconceptions.

What should I do if I am homeless or at risk of becoming homeless?

Partners Ending Homelessness (PEH) provides no direct services. PEH leads the overall Continuum of Care through promoting best practices, delivering training, monitoring performance through data collection, and managing federal grant competitions.

If you are experiencing homelessness, please contact any of the emergency shelter agencies in Guilford County. If you at risk of losing your housing (throughout Guilford County) call the Housing Hotline at 336-691-9521. You may also contact 2-1-1, a FREE service of the United Way that provides information about many resources including housing. Dial 211, or visit online at www.nc211.org.

Aren’t people experiencing homelessness different from the rest of us?

One of the particularly common homelessness misconceptions is that individuals experiencing homelessness are different in some way from “the rest of us.”  Not so!  The only difference between a household experiencing homelessness and everyone else is a house to go home to at night. That’s it. We have financial struggles—often just a paycheck or two from financial destitution. We have health issues and sometimes struggle with mental/emotional well being. Or substances. Or life issues of all kinds- too many to list here. This happens to many, many people across the country. We, however, have a support network of friends or family and if something were to happen to us, we would turn there. Most often, someone who ends up on the street or in a shelter has exhausted their support network.

Homeless people like living that way, right?

Think about it. Who chooses to live in a place not meant for human habitation? What parent chooses to have to worry about whether they will be able to offer their child a safe place to lay their head at night? Contrary to this saddest of the homelessness misconceptions, no one wants to experience homelessness—sleeping under a bridge or on a cold park bench, not having anywhere to use the bathroom or take care of basic hygiene needs, wondering if they or their family will be able to eat that day, feeling disconnected from the world and alone.

Even if someone claims they want to be homeless, research tells us differently. If a person experiencing homelessness states they don’t want housing, there is typically much more to their very complicated story. Deep down, all people want a safe, affordable place to call their own and a peaceful dwelling to return to at the end of the day.

Don’t homeless people need to be “ready” before they receive housing?

Homelessness is first and foremost a housing crisis and can be addressed through the provision of safe and affordable housing. 
All people experiencing homelessness, regardless of their housing history and duration of homelessness, can achieve housing stability in permanent housing. Some may need very little support for a brief period of time, while others may need more intensive and long-term supports. 
Everyone is “housing ready.” Sobriety, compliance in treatment, or even a clean criminal history is not necessary to succeed in housing. Many people experience improvements in quality of life, in the areas of health, mental health, substance use, and employment, as a result of achieving housing.

Isn’t homelessness a long-term condition?

Research tells us that the majority of those who experience homelessness do so once in a lifetime, for a short period of time, and never experience it again. With the right support, individuals and families can exit homelessness quickly. Only a very small portion of the population experiences homelessness for a long period of time, such as one year. In Guilford County, as of January 2017, of the 573 homeless individuals, 21 (less than 4%) were considered chronically homelessness.

Doesn’t giving people blankets, hygiene kits, socks, hats, cash, etc. help to end homelessness?

These things are needed, of course. But it is another of the pervasive homelessness misconceptions that these types of small supports will have an impact on homelessness.  There is only one solution to homelessness: housing, along with supports—whatever those supports may be—to enable a household to secure and remain housed.

Should I give money to panhandlers?

That is a personal decision. The majority of the panhandler population is not experiencing homelessness. Use your head as well as your heart in deciding what to share with a person who asks for money claiming to be homelessness.

Isn’t homelessness always related to mental illness and/or substance abuse?

Traditionally, homelessness has been accompanied by or as result of untreated mental illness and/or substance abuse. But those living in RVs, vans and cars are more likely doing so because of economic hardship. Consequently, moving into the car is frequently a logical first step for people who lose their homes or are evicted from their apartments. Homelessness can also be the result of domestic violence, particularly for youth and women.

Aren’t most homeless people single men?

In Guilford County, of the 573 people who were homeless in the January 2017 Point In Time Count, 337 were adult men (59%). Families and children constitute a large and growing percentage of the population experiencing homelessness.

How can I help?

There are lots of ways to help.

The first is to be focused on the solution to homelessness which is housing. Identify ways you can support organizations that are following the Housing First Model.  These organizations are moving homeless households into safe affordable housing quickly.  They then work with those households for as long as needed to ensure housing stability. Support their work financially and by volunteering. For example, support PEH and Housing First by creating “Welcome Home Baskets.”  Or donate furniture to Barnabas Network who provides this furniture to formerly homeless households.

Second, support the development of affordable housing.

Third, Learn more about the solutions to homelessness by visiting our Federal partner like the National Alliance on Ending Homelessness or the US Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Finally, educate your friends and family. Encourage them to do all of these things as well.