Changing perspectives on homelessness in Seattle
Anne: There is clearly a great stigma attached to homelessness, and many believe that these individuals are dangerous or unstable but in reality many individuals are experiencing things out of their control. The biggest realization I’ve had regarding clients facing homelessness is there are numerous factors such as domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, physical disability, and more. Many are working hard to get out of a bad situation with the cards stacked against them and a little bit of compassion with an open ear can go a long way in understanding where others are coming from. It’s a tough thing to do, but it’s important to not make fast judgments based on the way people look or where they sleep.
Jessica: I used to see, but rarely interact with, people experiencing homelessness. I felt uncertain about how to interact with the people I saw, while simultaneously feeling like I need to “help” or “fix” their situation. I think a lot of people feel this way and it causes them to avoid those experiencing homelessness, for fear of feeling uncertain or uncomfortable. Having the opportunity to work with so many clients experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity has helped me have a better understanding of the factors contributing to this issue. More importantly though, it has allowed me to interact with people experiencing these issues on a one-on-one basis. After getting a glimpse into someone’s life, they suddenly become much more relatable, and homelessness seems not just like their problem, but something that can happen to anybody. People who live in my community and neighborhood who are experiencing homelessness are just as much a part of my community as those who have permanent homes, and it’s important to treat them with the same dignity and respect.
People tend to feel uncomfortable interacting with those experiencing homelessness, perhaps because it forces us to face our own vulnerability. Rather than shutting down at this experience, lean into the opportunity and engage with the person in front of you. According to King County’s One Night Count, 4,505 individuals lived unsheltered. With such high rates of homelessness, it is difficult to know how to contribute positively to the issue. Engaging authentically with those experiencing homelessness, seeing them as the moms, dad, brothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors that they are, can be one small way to help. You might be surprised at what you learn from those around you.