Context is critical in order to understand what someone means when they make a statement. It is often missing when someone gives a very short answer to what could be a very complicated question.
I have spent a great deal of time getting to know many of my homeless neighbors. I ask them a lot of questions, and sometimes, I”m taken aback by their immediate answers. But I have learned that the short, immediate answers are often misleading.
These short answers are the answers that many people hear when they ask questions without taking the time to really get to know the person and their situation. Unfortunately, the short answers, without the context they require, often lead to perpetuating stereotypes about the homeless.
The following are some examples of questions I have asked, the short answers I was given, and then the real answer that would be discovered throughout a conversation or multiple conversations.
Why are you homeless?
I made bad decisions.
My dad abandoned me and my mom when I was a little kid. My mom struggled to keep it together and when I was a freshman in high school she was sent to prison. I ended up living in a shelter. My family was gone, I lost what little support system I had, and best online casino I made bad decisions. I hung out with the first people that would take me in. Those people happened to be meth addicts and I started using when I was with them. The addiction took hold pretty quickly and made my situation much worse, while simultaneously making it easier to cope with my downward spiral in life. I wish I would’ve never tried it.
Why are you homeless?
I choose to be homeless.
I”ve struggled with mental illness since I was a teenager. I”ve always known that I am a burden to the people I care about most. They would take me in, but I would ruin their lives. I choose to be homeless because at least this way I”m not a burden to them. They worry about me, but they can live their lives without my troubles if I am out here.
Would you go into housing if we could find something for you?
I won”t go [into housing] unless I can take my dog.
When I hit the lowest of lows, and no one was there for me, she was. She stayed by me 24/7. When I was hot, she was hot. When I was wet, she was wet. When I was hungry, she was hungry. And through all of that, she offered warmth when it was cold, protection when my eyes would close, and companionship when humanity wanted nothing to do with me. After all of that, how could I abandoned her so that I could have the comfort of a roof over my head and a bed under my body? I won”t go [into housing] unless I can take my dog. She deserves it more than I do.
The next time someone gives you a short answer that just doesn’t seem to stack up, I hope you will take the time to dig a little deeper and find the real answer.
Joshua C. Johnson is the Lead Advocate for the Rethink Homelessness campaign. Connect with him on Twitter @joshuacjohnson
The photographs in this blog are reflective of our homeless neighbors in Central Florida, but are not the people spoken to by Joshua for this blog.