“No Fixed Address,” an exhibit currently on display at The Leonardo museum in downtown Salt Lake City, aims to educate patrons about the truths of homelessness.
Approximately 58,000 college students are considered homeless in America. This number is merely an estimate, because the only way to track whether students have a permanent address is if it is recorded through FAFSA. While some students may become homeless post-adolescent, most of them grew up without a stable home.
“When you’re homeless and going to college you’re not worried about whether you’ll get enough sleep before an exam, you’re worried if you’ll be able to find somewhere to sleep at all,” says an anonymous Salt Lake Community College student. “Trying to focus on biology is incredibly difficult when you’re worried about when you’ll get to eat next.”
This student was homeless from 2012 until 2014 when she was able to afford housing with a group of friends. “I have somewhere to sleep now, but it’s still up in the air and for how long. There isn’t any certainty,” she says.
According to the “No Fixed Address” web page, an estimated 13,621 Utahns were without a permanent residence in 2014, which means statistically one in every 213 people have experienced homelessness at some point in the past year.
Despite booming job growth and a seemingly strict moral standard, Utah is not immune to homelessness; the numbers reveal that poverty is prevalent throughout the United States.
Homelessness in the first world carries with it a degree of prejudice and judgment. The typecast face of the homeless tends to be single men, likely substance abusers, who undoubtedly lack the motivation to change their lot. A closer look at the demographic of the homeless population curbs some of these myths.
According to a 2013 Workforce Services report, 44 percent of all homeless people are parents and children, not single men; and 73 percent of homeless people have experienced mental illness, domestic violence or other factors that prevent them from maintaining a permanent residence.
A host of reasons may contribute to why an individual becomes homeless.
While substance abuse is a frequent issue among the homeless population, it is inaccurate to assume it is the preceding factor; A does not always cause B. The stereotype of drug and alcohol use and laziness can result in the mistreatment of homeless people.
Additionally, mental illness and domestic abuse are roadblocks that are often too big for people to overcome on their own. Without adequate care or a stable support system, many ill people end up isolated and homeless.
Understanding the barriers many homeless people face can help us begin to put systems into place to alleviate the unnecessary suffering.