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Homeless and houseless can mean different things

Confronting Homelessness

In today’s world, there is always pressure to be politically correct and say things in a way so that no one will be offended. This is a worthwhile goal but often impossible to achieve.

With this in mind, there is pressure from some to change the phrasing from home­less to houseless. If it were reversed and the common word was houseless, would the same people want the term to be changed from houseless to homeless? Houseless, homeless or maybe even another word — what is politically correct? There is much confusion around the correctness of it all.

I need to state that this is my personal assessment on the matter and doesn’t reflect the opinion of Maui Homeless Alliance.

Having thought extensively about this, I do not see the two words as meaning the same thing or as being interchangeable. The old saying “home is where the heart is” implies that it doesn’t matter where you live. A home is where you feel comfortable. For me, homelessness conjures up images of people who are without a home. While being houseless is living without a house, but it can still be considered someone’s home.

Let me elaborate on this. James (not his real name) is a man well known in the homeless community because he persistently asks me and others to stop using the word homeless and instead use houseless. James is perfectly happy living as he does on the streets and refusing the available services that will get him into a home. He is one of the people I do not consider homeless but would instead call houseless. For now, he is comfortable living as he does and is obviously at home living on the streets.

Why am I am making this distinction? Well, for two reasons. First, agencies aiding the homeless are already restrained in what they say; the work is difficult enough without the constant energy-wasting burden to be more politically correct.

And second, the Maui Homeless Alliance is working diligently to help people find a home, and the ones that I would call homeless are those they can successfully help. They are the ones who are not comfortable living a houseless lifestyle and realize that to thrive they need to be in the safety of a stable home. The ones who insist they are not homeless but houseless are the ones who (for the time being) are refusing help.

In May 2017, I wrote about how not everyone who lives a homeless lifestyle should be considered homeless. This can be found at www.mauinews.com/opinion/columns/2017/05/not-all-who-live-homeless-lifestyle-should-be-considered-homeless. Defining homelessness as: “Homelessness is caused when a person is unable to live in a permanent home because of circumstances that are out of their control.” This definition would eliminate some who we now think are homeless but in actuality are not. For example, these people who have control of their living situation such as those who are travelers, i.e., transients; those living off the grid; and those who are choosing to live a squatter’s lifestyle. My opinion on this has not changed.

For now, there is very little that the members of the Homeless Alliance can do for James and others like him. With that in mind, agencies of the alliance do not give up even when services are being refused. The case workers regularly and persistently keep going to where the houseless are living and encourage them to accept the “Housing First” options made available to them. These agencies and case managers rightly believe that the day will come when the houseless will also want a home in the safe and stable environment of a house with a roof, four walls and a door that locks.

Until that day comes, please support those who are doing this essential work. We need them! They are enduring through the rewarding but extremely difficult work of assisting the homeless.

* Joyce Kawakami is a full-time volunteer, founder, and CEO of Feed My Sheep Inc. As an active member of the Maui Homeless Alliance, she chairs the Awareness Committee. The alliance meets at noon on the third Wednesday of each month at Maui Economic Opportunity, 99 Mahalani St. in Wailuku.

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