Our partners at Firesteel announced the winner of their Spark Change Essay Contest  last week. Read on for high school student Hannah Cheung’s take on how we stereotype people experiencing homelessness and why the most common sterotypes are wholly unjustified. We’re all guilty of making these quick judgments at one time or another, but it’s important to take a step back, learn the facts, and change the conversation.

Originally posted by Firesteel on June 13, 2014

We have a winner from our Spark Change Essay Contest for high school students! It was tough to choose among the great submissions; all the writers had clearly worked hard to expand their understanding of the complexities surrounding family homelessness. Hannah Cheung’s effective use of data, as well as her consideration of structural causes of homelessness, made her essay stand out. Congratulations to Hannah, and thanks to everyone who submitted essays!

Here’s Hannah’s response to the question, “What are some stereotypes about homeless people? What are some arguments against these stereotypes?”


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Hannah Cheung chose this image to accompany her submission. Image found at change.org.

Written by Hannah Cheung, Shorecrest High School student

Homelessness is a very important issue that must be brought to the general public. However, much of society around me thinks that homeless people don’t deserve to find homes — mostly because people have heard false, alarming, and even hurtful stereotypes. We need to break these stereotypes because they aren’t true, and we need to make progress with this issue happening to thousands of people in the United States. Homelessness can happen to anyone, sometimes without warning.

The first stereotype that many people believe is that homeless people are lazy and don’t look for jobs. However, 44 percent of homeless people have either been employed or paid to work, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Also, homeless people are at a disadvantage in the job market because of lack of technology, lack of previous job skills, no transportation to get to and from work, and other barriers. And in this tough job market, homeless people find it even harder to get a job. Getting out of homelessness is almost impossible without finding work, and if a homeless person can’t find a job, the person often remains homeless. I think it is very important to raise awareness about the challenges a person without a home faces, because most of them aren’t lazy. It’s the stiff job market that is keeping them out of work, and therefore makes them look “lazy” when they are actually trying very hard to get employed and drag themselves out of the situation that they are in.

The second stereotype that much of society believes is that homeless people are addicts or criminals. Though one of the reasons that a person becomes homeless is addiction or past criminal records, it does not make up all of the reasons a person can become homeless. A person can be stranded without shelter because of many reasons: lack of affordable housing, poverty, dearth of employment opportunities in the current economy, domestic violence, and others.

Read the rest of Hannah Cheung’s essay on our partner Firesteel’s blog.