10 Misconceptions of Homelessness

10 Misconceptions of Homelessness  Hero Image 10 Misconceptions of Homelessness  Hero Image

Many false impressions have developed around the issue of homelessness in our city, and the cycle of poverty can be fueled by misinformation. No matter how long these misconceptions have been a part of our thinking, it’s not too late to shift our understanding. Accurate information helps Christ-followers transform our cities, so we sat down with OurCalling, our trusted ministry partner in this area, to help clarify some common misconceptions about the unsheltered community:

People who are homeless can choose to get out of their lifestyle.

In their 15 years of helping people exit homelessness in Dallas, OurCalling has found that many resources are beyond the reach of this community. People experiencing homelessness often lack proper identification, might not meet residency or age requirements, and sometimes have backgrounds that prevent them from an easy way out of their situations. While some homeless friends might have a choice in where they sleep at night, the options available to them are often just as bad or even worse than the streets.

As you can imagine, no one wants to be homeless. The streets are uncomfortable, chaotic, and even deadly. For those who have access to resources, a warm place to sleep at night doesn’t solve the challenges that got them in their position in the first place and is often a temporary relief rather than a permanent solution.

Everyone on the streets is responsible for how they got there.

In many cases, people who are homeless have experienced various circumstances that influenced their situations for the worse. Some common causes of homelessness include domestic violence, sex trafficking, elder neglect, generational poverty, terminal illnesses, divorce, and both cognitive and physical disabilities. Many are victims of injustice, have experienced trauma, or were already living paycheck to paycheck when a job loss occurred. The common thread in most peoples’ stories is the following formula:

No money + no community + a crisis = homelessness

Drug addiction puts people on the streets.

In OurCalling’s ministry on the streets of Dallas, they have come across many people with substance abuse problems. However, issues with substance abuse often happen after they become homeless and rarely before. These neighbors have experienced significant trauma, abuse, and abandonment that precede any addictions. The drugs and alcohol are unfortunate coping mechanisms that numb their reality and are not typically the cause of their homelessness.

There is a right and a wrong way to respond to a homeless person asking for money.

We’ve found that people can often fall into one of two camps when it comes to helping our homeless neighbors: being too quick to give financial assistance or not knowing how to respond and, in their uncertainty, choosing to ignore the person entirely. But what does the Bible say? God tells us we should care for the poor (Proverbs 14:21; Deuteronomy 15:11). However, we also know there can be unintended consequences of blindly giving money to panhandlers, such as funding addictions and sex trafficking.

While no blanket solution exists for each person asking for help, believers should listen to the Holy Spirit and let their hearts soften with compassion toward the person in front of them. In most cases, giving money to someone we don’t know isn’t wise, but what can we do?

In every interaction, dignify the person before you with a smile and ask their name. If appropriate, talk with them and tell them how the Spirit has stirred you to help. When asked for money, it’s OK to say that you give to nonprofits that minister to people on the streets or that you don’t have any money to give them. Instead, having a Care Kit ready in your car with bottles of water and granola bars can be a tangible way to offer help and is a great Gospel conversation starter.

Keep the OurCalling app on your phone and share street interactions with the OurCalling street outreach team through the app’s Help feature. If financial support is an option for you, consider giving to OurCalling or other trusted ministry partners working in the specific impact areas of homelessness care and prevention.

There are enough shelters and support organizations to deal with the problem of homelessness.

Dallas is a rapidly growing urban area. On any given night, approximately 10,000 people might be living in homelessness, while there are only 2,250 shelter beds. As you can see, thousands of people have no choice but to sleep outside, and programs that assist them often have long waitlists. As of 2024, OurCalling is seeing record numbers of people experiencing homelessness.

People living in homelessness should just get a job.

While some homeless neighbors do have jobs, many of them aren’t able to work because they don’t have the capacity to meet the demands of steady employment. About half of the homeless population that OurCalling ministers to in Dallas consists of people who are not able to work due to various circumstances such as age and disabilities. Rather, OurCalling recommends that stability (i.e., being in a place of safety) and community should be prioritized over employment in the short term.

Everyone on the streets is a criminal.

On the contrary, many homeless neighbors are more likely to be the victims of criminal activity. Many people treat them inhumanely, and sadly, 90% of women on the streets report experiencing weekly sexual abuse or physical assault. The constant state of living in fight-or-flight can cause erratic behavior and is the consequence of a dangerous environment.

What you believe about the cause of someone’s homelessness should dictate how you respond.

Homelessness is complicated, and as we’ve discussed, there can be many misconceptions about its causes. An ER doctor’s first step is to “stop the bleeding” so they can treat a patient and find out what got them there. Similarly, Jesus didn’t stop to inquire how those he helped got into their vulnerable positions; He loved them enough to help and then ministered to their hearts.

Those who believe homelessness stems from a lack of money might give a panhandler a few dollars. Those who believe that homelessness comes from a lack of housing will be tempted to provide a night in a hotel. Someone who thinks a homeless neighbor is in their position because of their past poor choices might preach to them. But when we believe that we were all made to experience a relationship with God and others in a healthy community, we respond by building relationships founded on trust and helping our unsheltered friends restore any brokenness that exists in their lives.

People in the unsheltered community are all the same.

No two stories on the streets are the same. OurCalling ministers to those in chronic homelessness, and to those who have recently found themselves in that position; to families, and to single parents who have lost their jobs; to veterans, and to runaways who never finished high school; to addicts, and to elderly people with terminal illnesses. The stories are varied and diverse.

There isn’t anything I can do to help.

We hope that correcting these misconceptions gives you a renewed compassion for someone experiencing homelessness, and by seeing them as someone made in the image of God, you are stirred to be a part of the solution. We serve a God who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Homelessness relief requires patience, a commitment to the root cause, and the help of the Holy Spirit. Consider joining us for Love Our City this June and take a faithful step toward caring for people experiencing homelessness in Dallas.