In many cases, the best way to solve a problem is to look at it objectively. Emotional responses, biases and preconceived notions all muddy the water, so you must remain neutral, viewing the issue at hand in a detached way.
But that gets tricky when the problem we’re talking about is homelessness.
We’ve gotten into a bad habit as a society of thinking about “the homeless” as a homogenous, indistinct group. In a good-hearted attempt to solve one problem, we’ve created another — we’ve turned a group of diverse individuals into an object.
It’s not just the homeless — we talk about the 1 percent, the middle class, the super rich, drug addicts, criminals, career politicians and yes, “the media.”
It’s seductively easy to group people together like this, but leads us to depersonalize individuals — to stereotype entire populations based on the actions of a few.
At The Chronicle, we set out earlier this year to take a conscious step in the opposite direction. We wanted to tell the stories of individual homeless people in our community with empathy, showing the true diversity among those who struggle the most in Lewis County. We want to offer our readers the chance to look these individuals in the eye, person to person, purposefully avoiding preconceived notions.
The first of three editions of our finished series on homelessness, produced by the newsroom and freelancers Carrina Stanton and Paul Dunn, begins on the front page of today’s edition. We’ll continue the discussion in our next two Saturday editions.
Today’s stories focus on the most obvious cause of homelessness — a shortage of affordable housing — and how many of us are a paycheck, divorce, or medical emergency away from homelessness. We profile individuals who have experienced homelessness and who advocate for their peers.
Experts consider a 3 percent housing vacancy rate to be indicative of a housing shortage — Stanton reports that Lewis County’s vacancy rate is closer to 1 percent. And while rents rise, salaries have been stagnant for years.
Once homeless, individuals struggle to regain housing when they have no safe place to store belongings, shower or do their laundry. Some are able to sleep in their cars. The lucky few have family or friends with a spare couch. Many more end up in tents — a dangerous living situation as overnight temperatures dip into the 20s.
We’ve also included the transcript of an interview with a man describing his daily struggle to stay dry and warm. We hope you read his account of becoming homeless with an open mind — maybe you’ll find the two of you have tread common ground.