Empowered By Orange County United Way

Myth #2: People Choose To Be Homeless and Most Decline Services When Offered

Author: Chelsea Bowers, Director of Public Affairs, City Net

There is a common myth made by society that people choose to be homeless. This misconception causes us to look at homelessness without empathy, and allows others to ignore the trauma of homelessness. According to the County of Orange, 2019 Point in Time Count, 6,860 individuals are experiencing homelessness in Orange County and 2,899 individuals are sheltered. City Net has had opportunities to connect with many of these individuals in the field through our street-outreach and case management services.

Our street-outreach program strives to connect unsheltered homeless neighbors with emergency shelter, housing, or critical services, and providing urgent, non-facility-based care. These activities are intended to help homeless neighbors obtain appropriate supportive services, including permanent housing, medical health treatment, mental health treatment, counseling, and other services essential for achieving independent living; housing stability case management; and connect with other Federal, State, local, or private assistance available.

In our experience, we’ve learned that at minimum 82% of those we engage with, at the street-level, are interested in getting connected to the support that they need. However, it is common for many of our clients to desire not to leave their community that they have deep connections in, even when a shelter is available outside of their city. They also desire to bring what little possessions they do have, along with pets, to a shelter but not every shelter program has the capacity to support individuals with those needs.

According to the Homelessness In Orange County: The Costs to Our Community, the three major factors precipitating homelessness are: securing or retaining jobs with sustainable wages, finding or retaining affordable housing, including evictions and foreclosures and family issues, which include domestic violence, family dysfunction, relationship dissolution and death of a family member. In most cases, the experience of homelessness is not a choice but a series of life events and complicated moments in time that lead to living on the streets.

Being homeless is stressful, humiliating, exhausting, and oftentimes unsafe. Daily, men, women, and children who are victims of homelessness live vulnerably and are commonly found in dangerous circumstances. When we take the time to learn someone’s story, we likely will hear they are not “choosing to be homeless”, but rather there are barriers to them getting housed. It is our responsibility as a community to address the conversation of homelessness with an attitude of empathy, compassion, and servitude.