The other day, I was watching a wonderful follow up story on a guy by the name of Ted Williams. He was sort of homeless-viral-sensation ground zero. Long before ‘homeless guy who spent money on others’, ‘homeless guy getting beat by police for using restroom’, and the latest, ‘homeless guy playing piano will blow you away’, there was the ‘homeless guy with the golden voice’. Ted has a beautiful voice and used to work in radio, but fell on hard times. He was discovered by a random passerby who recorded him on their cellphone and an internet moment was born.
In this news video I saw of him, he discussed his struggles since becoming famous, dealing with his sobriety and gave a tour of his new home. He has a job, a house, and even a new relationship. If he had a case manager, they would be considering him a success story worthy of putting on their non-profit literature. However, halfway through the interview, Ted mentioned how nice his apartment was, pointed out his fireplace as his favorite feature, then remarked, “Not bad for a homeless guy.”
What struck me about the comment is that he said it with no sense of irony. Ted really thinks of himself as still homeless, even though he lives in a house. I can relate, which is part of why it took me so long to share my own story, even while actively working to help others move out of homelessness.
You need to listen to the voices of those who have suffered homelessness and you have to stop looking at them as somehow forever damaged.
There is a stigma that comes with homelessness, and if you aren’t careful it can stick to you like a tattoo, but one that doesn’t just penetrate the skin, that ink can bleed straight into your soul.
For me, I think that the greatest flaw in how homelessness is addressed would be that society isn’t listening to people who are currently on the streets, and those who have successfully graduated from them. You need to listen to the voices of those who have suffered homelessness and you have to stop looking at them as somehow forever damaged.
Just because one time you gave to a person on the side of the road and you think the person purchased beer with it, or that you have a third cousin who was homeless because of meth, does not somehow magically make everyone who has experienced homelessness the exact same, and it definitely doesn’t somehow make you an expert.
Whenever we discuss homelessness publicly, the comments are flooded by people who have never experienced it and believe that they have it all figured out, which is problematic. Just because one time you gave to a person on the side of the road and you think the person purchased beer with it, or that you have a third cousin who was homeless because of meth, does not somehow magically make everyone who has experienced homelessness the exact same, and it definitely doesn’t somehow make you an expert.
The reason I am telling my story, the reason I am moving my family into a more sustainable house and teaching others how to do the same, is because we have to shift the conversation. The tone has to shift from the homeless as a problem, with the occasional one who goes viral as the exception. I have been homeless, I have devoted my life to helping others rise out of homelessness, and I know that what will fix that problem is housing, but housing must be affordable and sustainable. That is the change I hope to bring through telling my story, and through our tiny house project. This is about changing the conversation, raising awareness, and creating a solution. Because having a house means you aren’t homeless anymore.
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