Who are the homeless? (Pt. 1)

pexels-photo-1060365For a lot of us who were raised in middle to upper class America, homelessness has a pretty negative connotation. And I don’t mean from their perspective, in that it’s literally not good to be homeless. I mean we usually view the issue from a somewhat elevated stand point, so to speak. We tend to look down on homeless people to a certain extent and think that they must not be doing something right if they find themselves in this situation. They must be drug addicts, they must not be working hard, they must be getting freebies from the government. (If you haven’t read our posts about homeless people and employment yet, head on over to find out our answer to the question “why can’t homeless people just get a job?”)

At The Dream Center, our goal is to reach people where they are, extend a hand and ask simply, “what do you need?” and “how can we help you?” We form relationships, and to do that we have to get to know people. We give them back the dignity and humanity that society has taken from them because they’re people and they have intrinsic rights to the pursuit of happiness just like the rest of us.

Part of understanding where to best meet people is understanding who you need to reach. The data on those affected by homelessness varies according to city, and the specific numbers ebb and flow. There are a few different ways to measure homelessness, both throughout the year and at a single point in time. The numbers paint a bigger picture of the people behind the problem, who need our help today and every day.  In this short series, we’re going to take a look at who these people are and some facts that tell us why they could be homeless, just to get a better understanding of this problem that affects our entire country. This week, let’s talk broadly about women, children, and men.

Women. On one night in 2017, 44% of the homeless population in Charlotte was female. Frequently, families that are classified as homeless consist of a single mother and at least one child. Domestic violence is a leading cause of women (and their children) becoming homeless. Abusive situations are extremely nuanced, and while it may seem like the obvious thing to do is “seek help,” for some women that’s just not a viable solution. Frequently, abusive men cut women off from their family and friends, so they feel isolated and perhaps actually are isolated from anyone who could help. Women are still paid less than men, on average, in most of the country. So if a woman leaves a man who’s abusing her, she may not be able to support herself and/or her children on just her salary. For women who are experiencing homelessness, sexual and physical violence are a much higher possibility than for non-homeless women. A high percentage of women say they’ve experienced at least one act of violence during their time currently being homeless, and many women talk about the necessity of trading sexual favors for a warm place to sleep during the cold months.

Children. There’s a theory in the field of psychology called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It discusses the priority of our needs in life, as humans, on average. According to this theory, our base need of physiological safety is the bottom of the pyramid; the supporting structure of our lives. That means we need food, shelter, water, sleep, clothing, etc., first and foremost. The next need is safety. Personally, emotionally, financially, we need to feel safe and secure. If these needs are not met, the possibilities of post-traumatic stress disorder and/or trans-generational trauma come into play. These are issues that carry on for years and lifetimes, and are not easily solved.

For adults, homelessness is tragic. Being unable to have the nutrition and food that you need to function, is tragic. Saying that one tragedy is more or less awful than another isn’t really something that can be quantified, but there’s something especially heart-wrenching about children being affected by homelessness. Malnutrition on a developing body and brain has serious long term consequences, both mentally and physically. Children require stability in their home lives before they can fully soak up the material they’re being taught in schools, and for that reason children in poverty or homelessness will tend to perform more poorly than their peers who don’t face these problems.  

As of Spring 2018, there were more than 4000 children in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools classified as homeless. These children have 4 times more respiratory infections than their non-homeless peers and are more likely to get asthma. According to a study conducted by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, children affected by homelessness are much more likely to have lower reading proficiency. Children who are black and classified as homeless are 50% less likely to be proficient in reading than non-black children experiencing homelessness. Exceptional students, meaning children with disabilities, who are homeless are 93% less likely to be proficient in reading than their peers who are non-exceptional but also homeless.

Men. On one night in 2017, 66% of people interviewed identified as male. During this same night (a point-in-time count) 85% of homeless people interviewed who were unsheltered identified as male. Men were more likely to be on the streets than in a safe house of some sort. Many men (and homeless people in general) are facing a criminalization of homelessness in some states as laws have been enacted banning panhandling, loitering, and sleeping in public or in cars. Laws have also been put in place in some areas that make it harder for homeless people to get food. Under the guise of protecting people from food that isn’t properly prepared, lawmakers have put in place regulations that prevent food prep anywhere other than a professional kitchen, and prevent food distribution in or around certain places.

The accusation is that these laws have been put in place to discourage the homeless population from simply being in public places and cities. People in positions of power think that homelessness deters tourism or business, so they don’t want to attract more homeless people to their cities. In fact the majority of homeless people tend to be those that previously lived in these areas, not people who have moved to the city specifically for their “homeless hospitality.” So these men who are already unsheltered are facing further criminalization, and by locking them up for these crimes, the government is spending more money than would ultimately be spent on housing and programs for the homeless. 

We could talk for hours about these people individually, and in the future we’ll dive deeper into what it looks like to be a man, woman, or child in homelessness. How did they get there, and what can they do to get out. More importantly, what can we as a society do to help them find their footing again.

Next week, we’ll deep dive into more of a breakdown of who are the women, men, and children that are homeless. We’ll look into low income households, people of color, the LGBTQ community, Veterans, the Mentally Ill, and people with disabilities. In the meantime, check out our post on what you can do to get involved and help out those in need in our city today!


The Gender Wage Gap: 2017 Earnings Differences by Race and Ethnicity, Institute for Women’s Policy Research

National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Simply Psychology

Thousands of Children in Charlotte are Homeless, WSOC-TV

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Family Homelessness Snapshots 2014-2015, UNC Charlotte Urban Institute

Data Snapshot, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing and Homelessness Dashboard

For homeless women, violence is a pervasive part of their past and present, report shows, The Washington Post

Ending Homelessness Today, National Alliance to End Homelessness

*Genesis 1:28