Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How Does One Look Like A Bum?

My friend Styxx once said, "It's okay to be a bum, but don't look like a bum." This article I found reminds me of that:

You’re Crazy, You Smell, You Must Be Homeless
By admin on Oct 31, 2008 in Homeless Stereotypes

I pass people in the street every day and not one of them would know that I became homeless over seven months ago and am still legally registered as such. They wouldn’t know because I do not appear to fit the homeless stereotype.

I have been using twitter to study the public perception of homeless people. The following are all comments from twitter’s public time-line posted during October. They may be positive or negative reflections but all have one thing in common. See if you can spot what that factor is.

Some homeless guy is screaming “Enter Sandman” at the top of his lungs right outside my apartment.

I just saw a homeless guy skateboarding. I love this city.

Creepy homeless woman chanting something in Latin in front of a defunct protestant church. What?

Just saw a homeless crack ho with a bloody nose on the train.

A homeless man chased me and tried to steal my bike.

There is some homeless black dude in a huge wedding dress on north ave. Wtf.

Just walked past a homeless guy talking on a cell phone near wall street.

Just saw a homeless man getting beat up by a Chinese gang….welcome to san fran.

Saw the sweetest thing: Older homeless couple acting like newly weds. Lady sitting on the man’s lap just enjoying one another’s company. wow.

A band is playing outside Starbucks. There is a drunken, bearded homeless man dancing animatedly, much to the delight of patrons.

This morning on the bus, a homeless guy who smelled like dead fish sat down next to me.

I locked the bathroom door, apparently the lock was broken. On venice beach. Homeless man walked in on me.

Some crazy homeless dude at the bar keeps flicking my arm. Wicked crazy Wicked rude.

Chased by a homeless man yesterday. Scares me that I understood his insane ranting.. Strange that he showed no interest in the pizza I held.

The homeless man on roller-blades outside the venue made my night.

I just watched a homeless guy try and hurtle a barricade. I love orlando.

Creepy hooded homeless man on tram rubbed up against me. Aaaa.

All these relate to something which someone has witnessed and none give any indication that any actual conversation took place. So the question is, how can they know that the person they saw was homeless? Of course it is possible that they also witnessed this individual sleeping in an alley on a previous occasion but I doubt it. In most cases they have made an assumption based on the individual’s appearance, odor or behavior.

I did come across some statements where terms such as potentially homeless, possibly homeless or homeless-looking were used but it was a small minority. It comes as no surprise but it seems there is a general consensus that if someone in the street appears to be a combination of either drunk, dirty, smelly or behaving erratically they are often assumed to be homeless people.

There is of course a possibility that these individuals were indeed homeless but none of the factors used to make this determination are relevant. Most people will know of alcoholics who are housed. Many will know people who are often dirty or smelly but are housed. Many will also know people who are eccentric or mentally imbalanced but are housed or in care. The only real factor that determines if someone should be classed as homeless is whether or not they have a home to go to.

The problem lies in that the average person has little awareness of what constitutes homelessness and the issues homeless people face. These myth-busting homeless statistics demonstrate that the common held homeless stereotype is clearly flawed and as a result assumptions that someone must be homeless based on their appearance or behavior are regularly misplaced.

In case you still don’t think a housed person could be mistaken for homeless here are some twitter comments which demonstrate it can and does happen.

This cute little old lady thought my brother was homeless..gave him $10.

Went to Jewel in my pajamas to buy a tomato and some bitch thought I was homeless and tried to give me change. Wtf?

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