Read the Homeless Alliance’s “Myths and Facts About Homelessness” Pamphlet here
Myth: “People are homeless because they don’t want to work”
Fact: According to a survey conducted by the Homeless Alliance in 2008, 11.4% of homeless individuals residing in emergency shelter, transitional housing, or permanent, supportive housing have a full or part-time job. 19.7% of low-income and/or homeless individuals accessing services from various providers such as food pantries have a full or part-time job. Another 4% were in an educational or training program. While many still lack employment, those who are employed cannot afford housing with their wages. The average affordable rent for a median wage family in Erie County is $457, which is almost $247 lower than the fair market rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in the greater Buffalo area ($704).
Many must decide between paying for food or paying for housing and remain one emergency away from homelessness. The National Low Income Housing Coalition identifies an hourly wage of $13.54 as necessary to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in Buffalo, yet the average hourly wage locally is $9.91.
Additionally, 42% of homeless and very low-income individuals surveyed by the Homeless Alliance stated that they had to turn down a job in the previous 6 months because there was not a transportation route (metro rail, bus line, etc.) to get there.
Myth: “Those who are homeless choose to be homeless”
Fact: The greatest need identified by those experiencing homelessness was permanent housing. Transportation and education/training were also cited as important needs. Shelter allowances provided by the Department of Social Services ($214 per month for a single parent with children) fell far short of the fair market rent for a two bedroom apartment in the greater Buffalo-Niagara Falls metropolitan area ($704), often leaving safe, adequate, and affordable housing out of reach.
Myth: “Everyone who is homeless is mentally ill or addicted to drugs”
Fact: The majority of homeless individuals do not suffer from mental illness or chemical addiction. In fact, only 30% of homeless people residing in shelters cited mental health as one of many reasons for their homelessness and only 22.9% cited substance abuse as a reason. These numbers are significantly smaller for the larger population of individuals accessing mostly supportive services. In addition, many of these individuals experience a “dual diagnosis”, meaning that they experience both conditions concurrently, so there is significant overlap among the aforementioned groups.
For most homeless individuals or those precariously close to homelessness, the loss of a job was the most common reason cited for homelessness. Family problems, like domestic abuse, as well as unemployment were also major reasons. In addition, 60% identified multiple reasons for homelessness, indicating that there are number of contributing factors to homelessness.
Myth: “There aren’t many homeless people on the streets of Buffalo, so it isn’t a big problem.”
Fact: The homeless are not only those we see on the street. The homeless that are on the streets make up a small percentage of the local homeless population. About 58% of recently homeless individuals have spent time in transitional or emergency shelter, not on the street. About 25% of individuals who are accessing supportive services are doubling up with friends or family. Additionally, monthly shelter counts collected in Erie County report an increased demand for emergency housing for families, indicating a rising incidence of family homelessness. Currently, one-third of those experiencing homelessness locally are families.
Myth: “People become homeless because they can’t manage their money.”
Fact: There are a variety of reason that members of our community become homeless. For example, an illness can lead to job loss and debt, which can in turn lead to rental arrears, resulting in eventual eviction. Other causes of homelessness include domestic violence, loss of public assistance, physical disabilities that are a barrier to employment, or unsafe housing conditions.
Myth: “There are a lot of people who just want to rip off the system and live off the government.”
Fact: In a study of homeless and very low-income persons frequenting soup kitchens and food pantries conducted by the Homeless Alliance, those receiving public assistance such as Food Stamps and Medicaid at the time of the study were less likely to be homeless. However, the grants available for public assistance have not been raised significantly in many years and the cost of basic necessities such as food, housing, transportation, and health care have risen significantly.
Myth: “Some people will always be homeless”
Fact: 23% of the homeless population nationwide are identified as chronically or long-term homeless. While this population has been difficult to serve in traditional service models, new models are emerging around the country that are assisting the chronically homeless in becoming self-sufficient. Safe Haven programs that offer—but do not require—supportive services to residents, and Housing First models which place homeless families and individuals directly into housing units (offering services once housed) are showing promising results around the country to assist the chronically homeless.