These are a few of the things you would likely assume about those living outside, if the only information you received about houselessness was from the media. While it’s true that there are journalists and media outlets that portray those living outside in a better light, by and large, since I have been paying closer attention the last few years, this is the kind of coverage I have seen.
For example, this morning I woke up to this on twitter:
I was going to rant more about how the media portrays those living outside (and indeed they often do an awful job), but I’m going to hold off on that. Because the thing is, if this was just a media issue, it would be easier to just dismiss. After all, my friends who live outside are by no means the only group that the media regularly shows in a bad light. But I see these perceptions just as much in the broader culture, and the media much more as falling in line with the popular narrative of those living outside, then orchestrating it themselves. Our society wants to believe that to end up on the street means you have some personal failing that brought you there. You were lazy. You were on drugs. You messed up. You are a criminal. We refuse to believe that someone who didn’t make poor life choices could end up on the street. We cling to the American Dream Myth that hard work = success = morality. We continue to see poverty as a moral failing. And this is much easier to do if we associate poverty and houselessness with tangible acts of social immorality.
Which is why we often don’t notice the media’s portrayal of those living outside. And also why we must. Because, as so many wise people before me have said, the opposite of homeless is not housing, it is community. It is relationship. And the way our society sees those living outside makes is incredibly difficult to find a community where they are welcome, and where they are seen as simply neighbors, rather than shunned. A community where low income housing is met not with fear, but opportunity for our neighbors to succeed.
The way our society sees those living outside continue to build barriers between us and those who live outside. So let us work toward bringing those barriers down.