Myths About Homelessness
Myth 1: People choose to be homeless
People don’t choose to be homeless, and they don’t prefer living in shelters or couch surfing to having a permanent home.
Homelessness has many causes. Some are outside of a person’s control, like the state of the economy or a lack of affordable housing.
An individual’s personal circumstances, like a chronic health condition, may also contribute to them being without a home. Youth aged 13 to 24 often can’t return home when their family breaks down or when they grow too old for foster care.
The causes of homelessness are complex. That’s why we partner with governments and agencies to create a system of care that addresses each person’s unique needs.
Myth 2: People experiencing homelessness just need to find a job
People without homes spend most of their time and resources trying to improve their lives. That includes looking for work.
But the barriers are high when you don’t have a home. Experiencing homeless makes you less competitive in the job market. It means you don’t have a permanent address to give to an employer, a place to shower, money to afford clean clothes, or access to a computer to find a job.
Even if people have part-time or full-time work, they may still be without a permanent home because of a lack of affordable housing. In Calgary, economic growth has attracted migration to the city, driving up the prices of rental accommodation and houses.
The challenge of job-hunting while experiencing homelessness is even greater for youth. Many have never had the opportunity to become self-sufficient – for example, learning to pay bills or grocery shop – and many have never had the chance to complete high school, which prevents them from gaining meaningful employment.
They may also have a deep history of adverse childhood experiences, or traumatizing events occurring before the age of 18 that lead to toxic stress. This can have a profound effect on brain development, which can create challenges in finding employment later on in life.
Myth 3: Only people who sleep rough are experiencing homelessness
Sleeping rough means living in public places like parks, or in places not intended for human habitation, like cars or tents.
The problem with this myth is that a person doesn’t have to be sleeping on the street to be experiencing homelessness. This is especially true of youth and women.
Youth and women tend to avoid the streets and shelters out of fear of violence. They are more likely to couch surf or to live temporarily with others. LGBTQ2S+ youth in particular, avoid shelters at a higher rate than the general homeless population, because of discrimination and violence.
You can read more about who experiences homelessness here.
Myth 4: All people experiencing homelessness are dealing with substance misuse issues
While the rate of drug and alcohol use is higher among those experiencing homelessness than the general population, research indicates that only 38% of people use alcohol, and even fewer (26%) use other types of drugs.
Substance use is only one of several factors that can put a person at risk of losing their housing. However, drugs and alcohol are never the sole cause of homelessness.
Not having a home may also contribute to a person’s use of substances. The stress of trying to survive without permanent shelter can lead people to turn to alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism.
You can read more about the connection between homelessness and addiction here.
Myth 5: All people experiencing homelessness are criminals
People without permanent homes are more likely to experience physical violence and sexual assault than to be the ones committing a crime.
While the homeless population does have more interactions with the criminal justice system, it is usually because the activities related to their daily survival have been criminalized. According to this research paper, people experiencing homelessness are more likely to be fined or to be arrested for minor offences like loitering, trespassing or shoplifting for food.
The situation is worse for young people, aged 13 to 24, experiencing homelessness:
[Credit: The Homeless Hub]
Youth who are involved in criminal activity tend do so out of necessity or to cope with the harsh reality of homelessness. Researcher Stephen Baron found that youth commit theft or sell drugs to obtain food, clothes, and shelter or to support an addiction they developed on the streets.
For more information about youth homelessness and crime, you can also read more about Stephen Baron’s research here.
Myth 6: Building permanent supportive housing will decrease the property value in my neighbourhood
Permanent supportive housing means an apartment building that is home to people who need income assistance and 24/7 support to keep them healthy and safe.
In a March 2020 online survey by Stone Olafson, 51% of the 606 Calgarians surveyed expressed concern that permanent supportive housing would lower the property value of the surrounding houses in the neighbourhood.
But, this isn’t true! In Calgary, researcher Avison Young looked at the prices of residential properties in close proximity to two of their buildings and found no negative impact on residential property values.
You can read more about the research here:
Further research can be found here.
Myth 7: Providing permanent supportive housing will make people dependent on the system
False. People who live in permanent supportive housing actually pay rent according to a rate based on their income level (typically 30%). Some also pay rent at the market rate to help agencies subsidize those who need more help. And if appropriate, agency supports can help a resident live independently over time.
While it’s true some people may never be able to pay market rent or to live independently because of personal challenges, permanent supportive housing generally encourages people to become self-sufficient, and individuals enjoy the autonomy that comes with living independently.
Myth 8: Housing people is a waste of taxpayer money
Housing people actually saves taxpayer money and allows governments to allocate funds to other initiatives.
On average, it costs $87,000 per year to support a person using hospitals, mails, courts, and emergency services, because they don’t have a home. But once that person has a home, the cost of their housing and supports decrease to approximately $30,500 per year, representing a 65% reduction.
You can read more about the cost savings of housing people here.
Myth 9: There is plenty of housing available – people just need to access it
It can often seem like Calgary is awash in new houses and shiny rental units. However, the reality is we lack affordable housing, or housing that suits the needs of low and moderate-income households and that costs less than those generally found on the market.
Calgary’s non-market housing supply sits at 3.6 per cent, which is considerably lower than the 6 per cent national average for other large Canadian cities. To match the affordable housing stock of other cities, Calgary would need to build 22,000 units by 2025. As a result, the amount of housing available to our most vulnerable citizens is much smaller than it seems.
Calgary Homeless Foundation
Rocky Mountain Plaza
Suite 1500, 615 Macleod Trail SE
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2G 4T8
Fax: (403) 262-2924