Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Top Ten Myths of Homelessness

A SkepTalk by Carrie Ellen Sager, J.D., Homelessness Program Coordinator, Marin County
14 December 2017Carrie Ellen Sager

An upbeat talk on homelessness? Well, the problem of homelessness in the Bay Area may border on intractability and underscores the failures of United States’ political economics, but Ms. Sager’s message, pace, tone, and even her smile made this a lively, enjoyable SkepTalk.

She organized her description of the challenges and successes of Marin County’s homeless program by…

using false statements concerning homelessness and then debunking those statements using the results of dozens of peer-reviewed studies and using colorful anecdotes from the frontlines. A number of the false statements were ones that i thought were true before Ms. Sager tore them apart with data from recent research.

An example: “(most of) These people aren’t from here, they just come for the services (and the weather).” The facts show differently. In Alameda County, 82% of homeless were living in Alameda County immediately prior to losing a place to dwell. In Marin County, 72%. In San Francisco, 69%. It takes nothing more than getting laid off, getting ill or injured, getting away from an abusive partner, etc. to become one of the local homeless.

Other false statements (paraphrased):
2. Some people just want to be (carefree and) homeless.
3. People are really happy once they get housed.
4. If we start housing the homeless, more will come here.
5. You can’t just put a junkie in a house.
6. We can’t solve homelessness because there’s not enough housing.
7. Let’s do what they do in Utah, I heard that’s really good.
8. With ‘Housing First’, people will get sober, get a job, and go on to live independently.
9. Tiny homes sound like a great way to house people.

What about statement number 10? We were promised ten myths! For number 10, Carrie Ellen Sager turned the microphone over to the audience for their questions and ideas. “Number 10” might have gone on until midnight with audience participation but Tucker Hiatt, a Board member of the Bay Area Skeptics, called a halt after allowing a long and lively interchange. As the crowd dispersed, i had the pleasure of chatting with two medical doctors who were attracted to this SkepTalk; and they were glad they came.


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