Behind the Shadows: A Side of Homelessness that is often Overlooked

Because it’s graduation season (congratulations, 2016 graduates!), I thought this story was relevant. It is a little outdated, having made national headlines in 2014, but I still think its message is applicable and inspirational today.

Before we get Started

Close your eyes for a minute and envision what an individual experiencing homelessness looks like in your mind.

What did you picture?

If you imagined someone like these individuals, you aren’t alone. A simple Google image search will turn up countless images like the ones below.

My guess is, unless you work with individuals experiencing homelessness, you probably didn’t picture someone like this:

Now watch this video (it’s just over 2 minutes long).

America Strong

Takeaways and Discussion

  • Unfortunately, due to Mr. Furlong’s adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), he is at a statistically significantly higher risk of experiencing another episode of homelessness. That does not mean that I think  he will certainly become homeless again (we’re all rooting for him to overcome the odds), but I do want to shed light on our vulnerable youth who have the deck stacked against them.
    • Additionally, children who are experience homelessness suffer higher rates of the following in comparison to their peers:
      • chronic and acute health problems
      • exposure to violence
      • stress
      • fearfulness
      • depression and anxiety
      • aggressive and antisocial behaviors
    • On any given day, it is estimated that over 200,000 American children do not have a place to call home (Greendoors, 2011).
  • Among industrialized nations, the U.S. has the greatest number of women and children who are classified as homeless.
  • Not all instances of homelessness are caused by mental health and substance abuse. Medical bills and the rising cause of healthcare are often cited as contributing factors of housing instability.

Call to Action

  • I’ve had the unique opportunity to get to work with and for individuals who are experiencing homelessness and those who are moving out of homelessness into transitional housing. If there’s one piece of knowledge I can impart on my readers, it would be the strength and resiliency of these individuals. Their stories are as diverse as they are and I find myself humbled and grateful that they are willing to allow me to play a little part in their lives. All that to say, get involved. You won’t regret it.
    • Volunteer to take part in the Point-in-Time (PIT) Count which happens every January across the nation. It is a coordinated effort to count those living unsheltered in places deemed unfit for human habitation (usually on the streets, behind buildings, and in parks).
    • Volunteer at organizations that serve this population. This could include donating your time working at your local food pantries, soup kitchens, street outreach teams, and anywhere that provides services to individuals experiencing homelessness.
    • Make “Blessing Bags” with essentials and resource information. Carry them in your vehicle and give them out in addition to (use your best judgment) or in lieu of cash to those in need.
      • Blessing Bags I’ve made include:
        • Sunscreen
        • Hand sanitizer
        • Chapstick
        • Deodorant
        • Menstrual pads and/or tampons
        • Meal coupons
        • Restaurant gift cards
        • Socks
        • Hats
        • Non-perishable food items (crackers, granola bars, beef jerky, trail mix, etc.)
        • Instant coffee packets
        • Bottled water
        • Resource guide (Tarrant County puts out a Pocket Pal each year and I carry them in my car. This is the 2016 Pocket Pal so you have an idea of something you could create for your locality.)
  • Confront your own biases and the stereotypes that you hold. Chances are, if you think “all individuals experiencing homelessness are…(insert your word here)”, you’re wrong. I encourage you to pause and use this time for self-reflection. Ask
and address
misinformation, and 
. Re-frame your thoughts,
 re-educate yourself, 
 be open to change.
  • Use person-centered and non-discriminatory language. Individuals experiencing homelessness rather than homeless people. A person is not defined by his/her housing status. Removing the labels allows us to connect on the basis that we are all humans. We are all worthy of dignity and respect.
  • Stay informed. Write your legislators and representatives. Be an advocate.

For more information about children and families experiencing homelessness, visit Greendoors 2011. The Pocket Pal was created by the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition (TCHC). Video credit to ABC News.

Have you made Blessing Bags before? If so, what sorts of items did you include? Have you volunteered with organizations serving the homeless population? How can others in your area get involved? Comment below.

Be the change,



2 thoughts on “Behind the Shadows: A Side of Homelessness that is often Overlooked

  1. Les says:

    200k children have no place to live?! That is really high!
    Of these 200k children, how many survive with a loved one by their side, and how many are completely alone???


  2. eroarkmurphyonline says:

    Thank you for your interest. Unfortunately, I do not have the data to answer your question. What I can tell you is that the 200,000 children is a conservative estimate. It is often cited that this number is under-reported.

    Of mothers experiencing homelessness, approximately 65% have their children with them. Of fathers experiencing homelessness, only about 7% have their children with them. I know this doesn’t directly answer your question, but I hope that it gives you a little bit clearer idea of what this population looks like. There are definitely children and families who are experiencing homelessness together and there are also those unaccompanied minors who are, as the term suggests, unaccompanied in their situation.

    I will update you if I find the information to answer your question. I apologize for not having the data onhand. Homelessness is a complex issue.

    Thank you for joining the conversation.

    Be the change,



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