on the Record
Experts Respond to Questions about the Biggest Misperceptions among the General Public about Homelessness
The Media Hurts, But It Can Help
Perdomo tells UNCENSORED that many myths result from “stereotypes of homeless seen in the media. The homeless alcoholic or schizophrenic that [people] may see on the street, so they believe ALL homelessness is due to drinking, drugs, and mentalhealth [issues].”
“I don’t think the general public is fully aware that one in 45 children is homeless throughout America.
Voegtlin expressed a similar opinion, saying, “On shows such as 60 Minutes or Dateline, it makes for a more interesting story to see a family living in a car and eventually making their way out of it, rather than a person that got evicted and has to move in with a family member until they get back on their feet. The reality of homelessness is not always the interesting story, but the story that needs to be told to bring more awareness to the issue.”
But just as television and other sources of public information can spread inaccurate views, they also have the potential to educate. What are needed, Grassette says, are “more media stories. The media is quick to get things out there, but we need more stories in the media, such as the 60 Minutes piece that was done on homeless children in Florida.” Perdomo recommends that other avenues of public information—such as commercials, billboards, flyers, inserts in newspapers, and the Internet—be used to tell the real stories of homeless people in America.
While our interviewees felt unanimously that the media needs to spread the right messages about homelessness, they also pointed to efforts that are already underway to combat myths. Voegtlin reports, “In our county, we provide training and professional development to many staff members on the issues of homelessness and what homelessness may look like in our school system. This is an effort to dispel any myths and to create more sensitivity to the impact of homelessness on education.”
“I think many organizations are trying on a regular basis to change [misperceptions],” Grassette says, “and I also believe that in light of our economy and the mortgage crisis over the last few years, many people are starting to see
"I certainly didn't wake up one day and decide to be homeless."
homelessness in a different way because if they have never been touched by it in the past, they may now know someone who has lost a home or who is having a difficult time making ends meet, so they are in jeopardy of becoming homeless.”
Achre says, “I think the … National Center on Family Homelessness’ recent publications on child homelessness as well as the work of the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness have done an effective job at advocacy on a federal/national level. I think providers, like ours, support the work on a national level and communicate that work on a local level. This allows the opportunity for policy to drive best practices.”
Still, Achre concluded, “Until all communities throughout the country develop a plan to best address the needs of family homelessness, we still have work to do in ensuring the false ideas are not perpetuated.”