There are not many fake homeless people, but they do exist. These people actually have access to homes but for whatever reason, they choose to not stay in them. Let me qualify this and say that I’m not talking about people whose homes are toxic – the woman with an abusive husband who would gladly take her back into the house, or the kid who could live with his parents if only he would stop being gay. Those people don’t have a realistic option to stay in a home. That is what really makes a person homeless, that they have no other option but to live without a home.
The guy who decides he wants to wander around the country while sleeping in the back of his car and playing his guitar for traveling money isn’t homeless. Kids who are bored with life and are looking for a little excitement and stories to tell their friends at home are not homeless. The young lady who can’t afford tuition and housing at college so lives in a shelter while she attends classes is not homeless. The homeless advocate with a “big heart” for the homeless who travels around the country visiting homeless destinations, so to learn what homelessness is all about, is not homeless. All of these people have homes to go to, they have the option to live inside somewhere, and eventually, when their tour of homeless life is over, they’ll go back to living in a home. They also have that special luxury, if things don’t work out right, to leave homelessness at any time. Truly homeless people do not have that privilege.
It may seem strange that these people would decide to live among the homeless, they all have their reasons, but I’m not sure that they are justified in doing so. Have you ever been to an AA meeting? Often times the addicts will tell war stories about how bad their lives had gotten, each one trying to out do the other with horrendous stories, like old war veterans sharing stories about the battles they fought. They wear their experiences like a bad of honor…”man, if you think that’s bad, one time I got so drunk that…” Well, for the fake homeless person, it’s kind of the same thing. To declare themselves as “homeless” or to say that they were once homeless, somehow increases or validates their personhood, their identity, or character. Supposedly, it give them credibility, a type of hero status.
“Joey, he did two years in Iraq – that must have been tough. I’m glad he’s back”
“Billy was homeless for a while – that must have been tough. I’m glad he’s back”
Worst of all are the people who have decided to become homeless advocates, thinking that there could make a living for themselves as such – and some have actually done just that They spend a bit of time on the streets, declare that they have experienced homelessness, then they study up on homelessness on the internet, and go on speaking tours, or business ventures, using homelessness as the hook. They create an income for themselves off the backs of the homeless. It just seems so unethical.
I’m not the churchy type. Heck I’m about as atheist as they come, but there were a couple homeless advocates who really did it right. They did it for churchy reasons, but they never thought it necessary to identify themselves as homeless, but only they they were living like homeless people do. They wrote a book about their experience called “Under the Overpass,” and it’s on my recommended reading list.