How to talk about people struggling with homelessness

Sep 2021 | Homelessness

The language we use reflects our feelings, thoughts and opinions about the world around us. The words we choose also send a strong message to the people we’re communicating with. For those reasons, it’s important to consider how we speak about vulnerable people,  especially those experiencing homelessness. When talking to or about people who are struggling with homelessness, it’s important to understand why we use key phrases like “people who are homeless” vs.“homeless people”.

For people who are living on the street, it’s often a temporary situation. People in our community experience homelessness for a wide array of reasons, including job loss, unaffordable housing, disabilities, house fires, abusive relationships, addiction and more. For these people, homelessness isn’t part of their identity. It’s a difficult challenge they’re facing.

The 2020 Nanaimo Homeless Count reported the 3 top reasons that caused people to lose their housing were:

  1. Not enough income
  2. Landlord/tenant conflict
  3. Conflicts with spouses

Those who end up living on the street are also mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, entrepreneurs, artists, engineers, and much more. The language we use can strip a person of their identity and can bring shame and stigma to the individual. Demeaning a person by simplifying their identity to one experience can create even more barriers for them to overcome their situation.

Being aware of the language we use isn’t simply about being politically correct, it’s important for many reasons, such as mitigating stereotypes and avoiding the dehumanization of others. Using the correct terminology can also allow us to connect with people on a personal level.

Help end the stigma

As a society, we can put an end to characterizing, stigmatizing and objectifying those living on the street through the day-to-day language we use when referring to and talking to people who experience homelessness. Use the guide below to make a difference today.

How to talk about people struggling with homelessness

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