All It Takes Is a Little Bit of Bad Luck in a Bad System
It’s all too common today for the average housed person to passively consider themselves better than the average unhoused person.
They don’t realize that they’re doing it, of course. But the fact remains that they see homeless people as a different type of person to themselves, someone to who bad things can happen, all the while believing that something like homelessness would never happen in their own life.
Wouldn’t it be a rude awakening for them to discover that unhoused people are just regular people, just like you and I? And that sometimes bad things happen even to good, regular people like you and me.
No matter where you’re starting from, all it takes is a few bad twists of fate – a divorce, a job loss, an injury, a foreclosure – to take you from your comfortable living room to a shelter or the streets.
But I Own My Own Home
Whatever you think you have in your life that protects you from ever becoming homeless, I’m sorry to say that it’s very likely someone else has had the exact same things and still ended up on the streets. Even if you own your own home free and clear, a natural disaster could always come through and destroy it, leaving you without a stable place to stay.
Most people don’t own completely paid-off homes, though, and are instead tied to a mortgage or the whims of a rental market. If your landlord decides to move into your rental or embark on some major renovations, you may find yourself evicted at no fault of your own. I hope you’ve kept your credit score up because you’ll need to find a new place to stay quickly and arrange to move all your things. That will be an extra headache if you have pets, kids, or an eviction on your record.
You Can Always Count on Family
If you think that you could always rely on family, many unhoused people on the streets today were relying on family members or friends who died, leaving them without a place to stay. Of course, many tragic events can split a family apart throughout a lifetime. And even if you remain on good terms with your living family members, they may simply be unable to take you in when you need it most.
My Job Is Stable
Job loss is an extremely common cause of homelessness, and it can happen to anyone at virtually any time. No matter how often your boss insists that your team is “like family,” employees are far more loyal to their jobs than employers are to employees. When it comes time for tough decisions to be made, cutting your salary entirely will be much more appealing than the boss losing that holiday bonus.
Even if you have a healthy emergency fund built up, how long can that really last you? A month? Three months? Six? What if you’re unable to find a job in that time? Or injured or otherwise unable to work for longer than that? Don’t count on any benefits being enough to cover your living expenses or even coming in the first place. Plenty of homeless people are still waiting on disability checks that may never show up.
I’m Immune to All Injuries and Disease
Ok, if you’re Wolverine or some other superhero, you’re excused from this one. But for the rest of us, injuries and illnesses are just as unpredictable and devastating as job loss.
Disabling events happen every single day, and people never expect them. It’s a very vulnerable time. You’re trying to recover and adjust to your new normal, and many things fall through the cracks. Some of them may even be important, like the rent check.
Realistically, how long could you hold on if the primary wage earner in your household could no longer work? Add in the cost of the medical bills you’re now racking up, and again, don’t count on any supplemental security income to show up any time soon.
Even if you have the foresight and cash flow to pay into private disability insurance, there will be a lot of red tape to cross before you can access those funds- which are still usually only a portion of the salary you’re used to. I hope you had plenty of wiggle room in the budget before!
This Is Not Designed to Scare You
You may be feeling a bit of anxiety right now. But I assure you, I’m not saying all of these things to scare you. I just want to foster a bit of understanding and compassion. The unhoused people you meet in your day-to-day life all have different backgrounds and stories of how they got to where they are now. They’ve all had things and lost things and found a way to go on without them despite the deck being heavily stacked against them.
We tend to conceptualize “the homeless” as a monolith rather than individuals. We think of them as more or less interchangeable – all thinking, feeling, and acting the same way. All having taken the same sad path to get to where they are, consciously choosing their destination every step of the way. We think we could never become homeless because we would never make such bad decisions.
Unfortunately, it’s not nearly so cut and dry.
The truth is there is no common personality trait or origin story that all homeless people share. They’re just as varied and individual as the rest of us because they are us. You don’t have to make any mistakes or immoral choices to become homeless. Sometimes, it just happens despite you doing everything right.
It doesn’t matter, though. You’ll still have to face the judgment of housed people as if you did everything wrong on purpose. So next time you meet someone on the street, remember that and treat them accordingly. Like the person that they are.
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