Frame Two

Perceptions of Homelessness

How We Frame Issues Affects How We Solve Them

The stigma and discrimination faced by people experiencing homelessness makes them more isolated and vulnerable. Widespread public attitudes about homelessness can also lead to hopelessness and inaction.

By changing our perceptions of homelessness, we can end it.

Wendy faced a lot of stigma from her own family.

They viewed her as the “problem child, the alcoholic”. It wasn’t until much later in her life that she understood the link between anxiety she describes as “paralyzing” and her alcohol use.

As a nurse she felt a lot of shame when she couldn’t control her drinking- “nurses don’t ask for help.” And even when she sought support, she felt chastised when she relapsed.

Wendy wishes people understood that using drugs and alcohol sometimes isn’t a choice- it’s to escape unbearable pain.

The memories of the abuse he suffered at a residential school still haunt Sim.

He was stripped of his name, his language, and his family and beaten when he didn’t comply.

As an adult, he quickly got the message that what had happened to him was shameful. He knew the same thing had happened to many of his friends and family, but no one talked about it.

This shame led to problems with alcohol, then homelessness, which each came with their own stigmas.

Sim wishes people understood the courage it takes to share your story.

Chadd walks through each day with uncertainty.

Uncertainty about where he will sleep, where he will eat but also how he will be treated. Chadd sometimes wonders if things like cashiers taking a long time to wait on him have anything to do with the clothes he wears or because they see a track mark on his arm.

He wishes they knew that he used to be like them- he’s a father and a grandfather, he’s owned homes and went to college. He also went to prison for 10 years and uses intravenous drugs.

Chadd wishes people understood that it’s possible to be more than just one thing.

Language Matters

The language we use when talking about people and issues we care about is powerful.
Language can demean or empower, stigmatize or support and humanize or dehumanize.

Instead of...

1. The homeless, street people, hobos.

2. Mentally ill, crazy, insane

3. Addict, junkie

Try this!

1. People experiencing homelessness.

2. Person Living with a Mental Health Problem / Illness

3. Person with a substance use disorder

Myths About Homelessness People choose to be homeless.

Not true. Mental illness, addictions, lack of affordable housing, employment, cost of living, eviction, pandemics – these are some of the factors that lead to homelessness. It is not a conscious choice to experience homelessness.

Myths About Homelessness It will never happen to me or someone I know.

Might be true. You may never know someone directly experiencing homelessness. However, it can happen to anyone and is often due to a mixture of individual, family, societal and policy factors. Job loss, precarious housing, intimate partner violence, and mental health crises are just a few of the things that could cause homelessness.

Myths About Homelessness People experiencing homelessness are lazy. They should just find a job.

Not true. Those experiencing homelessness are resourceful and motivated. They are constantly in search of basic necessities – food, shelter, income. Their search for meaningful work can be hampered by their lack of an address, a phone, a computer, access to transportation, hygiene facilities, and fresh clothes.

Myths About Homelessness People experiencing homelessness are all addicts.

Definitely not true. Only 25% of those experiencing homelessness say addiction or substance use is the reason for their housing loss.

Myths About Homelessness There are plenty of services and supports for people experiencing homelessness.

Not necessarily true. This very much depends on an individual’s experiences and needs. While there are a lot of organizations doing great work in Ottawa, we need more systemic solutions to homelessness such as accessible and affordable housing, income supports, eviction prevention, and rapid-rehousing initiatives.

Myths About Homelessness Homelessness can’t be solved.

Unequivocally not true! Homelessness is a complex problem. However, the data, resources, and decades of best practices are all there right now to eradicate homelessness in our lifetime. While emergency services may always be necessary, by helping prevent homelessness in the first place and by rapidly rehousing people who already are facing it, we can – and will – end homelessness together.

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Action Step Learn More about the Power of Stigmatizing Language

Click the link below to access four language guides and “cheat sheets” to further enhance your knowledge.