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  • Writer's pictureD Lane

Is this a stupid assumption?

How many times have we read or heard about someone getting their stuff stolen and immediately assuming that it was a homeless person that stole it—even though the victim didn’t actually know anything about the thief.

There are at least two things wrong with this.

One is that it seems much more likely that the petty thief is addicted to drugs than that they are homeless. But wait, you might say. All those addicts are homeless, right? Nope. The federal agency tasked with working on substance use estimated there were about 20 million people in the US addicted to some substance last year. And, yes, while most were addicted to alcohol (as opposed to “drugs”) there were still 7 million with an addiction to drugs (this appropriately does not include cannabis). I know you can do the arithmetic but just in case anyone is experiencing a moment of stupidity... there are only about a million people experiencing homelessness right now so that leaves 6 million people addicted to drugs that live indoors. Seems like it might be stupid to assume every thief addicted to drugs is homeless.

The other is the assumption that people experiencing homelessness are likely to be thieves. I’m not stupid enough to suggest that there aren’t a good number of thieves among those living on the street. However, I will assert that those making assumptions about a direct link between homelessness and crime should consider this recent study in Seattle and Portland. It shows that many neighborhoods with sanctioned homeless encampments experienced a decrease in crime as the encampments became established. So it also seems stupid to assume homeless people are criminals.

Wrapping up..I think it’s safe to say:

1) Being homeless does not automatically make one become a thief.

2) Most people addicted to drugs are not homeless

3) There is no basis for assuming a drug-addicted thief is also homeless

4) It is stupid to assume that the person that stole something from you is homeless

Making assumptions about homelessness is one of the biggest barriers we have to intelligently addressing homelessness. Please join me in confronting stupid assumptions about homelessness and about people experiencing homelessness. There are so many opportunities!

(Yes, I know this post begs the question: “what about unsanctioned encampments?” I’ll try to get to that soon.)

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