It Can Happen to Anyone…sort of

If you are not familiar with TED Talks, they are basically an opportunity for anyone who has something interesting to say, to share it with the world.  The following talk is from last year:

There are a lot of things going on in this video that are worth reflecting on, but most importantly, I thought that it’s a good lead off to talk about the idea that homelessness can happen to anyone.  This is a conceptualization that I hear often, and the idea is that it enhances empathy in public perceptions if we can see that we are all at risk of experiencing life circumstances that would cause us to be homeless.

I believe that this is a helpful idea, and with my students I do share some stories that illustrate how even the wealthiest and most popular can lose it all.  However, I also believe that this can’t be our only narrative, as it hides the larger story.  For most people who experience homelessness, it is simply a step onto a lower stair of a life of poverty.  If you were to chart of curve of highest lifetime income and homelessness, there would be exponentially more people who have experienced homelessness on the lowest levels of lifetime income.  And, this isn’t just for the individual themself, but often reflects family histories of poverty, experienced as a cycle.

Becky’s story is meaningful, to show the limitations of our ‘social safety net’, but her former skills were a means to assist her rapidly out of homelessness.  Few who are homeless have access to the same resources.  So, the ‘it can happen to anyone’ narrative is helpful for creating empathy, but we can’t stop there.  We also need to confront poverty head-on of we are to confront homelessness.

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