Tackling Misinformation: Strategies Advocates Can Use to Spread the Truth About Homelessness

Misinformation about homelessness

The article discusses the detrimental impact of misinformation in homeless education news, highlighting the prevalence of misconceptions regarding the root causes of homelessness and the resulting misallocation of resources. It emphasizes the urgent need to prioritize affordable housing solutions and offers insights on overcoming obstacles faced by advocates in dispelling misinformation, urging readers to join efforts in combating false narratives through informed action.

Dear Fellow Advocates, Your Work Is Important. Don’t Get Discouraged!

Many of our readers are well aware that the leading cause of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing. One lesser-known fact of equal importance is that misinformation is the leading cause of the perpetuation of homelessness.

Put simply, when the world is misinformed about the actual cause of homelessness, attempts to address the crisis are futile because many set out to solve problems that do not resolve the underlying systemic issues.

We Can Not Solve Homelessness Until We Admit That a Lack of Affordable Housing is Causing It

We see this in mass media all the time. Politicians stand behind podiums and announce their big plans to end homelessness once and for all. Inevitably, those plans rarely ever address the crisis of affordable housing. Even when they do, the blueprint is often bundled with buzzwords like addiction, mental health, and, increasingly, criminal imagery.

All of these serve a very different agenda, which is bent on painting homeless people in a negative light and subsequently suggesting that homelessness is the result of personal flaws over social system failures. Nothing could be more disingenuous or untrue.

Perhaps more importantly, nothing could be more detrimental to the cause. We must speak the objective truth about homelessness despite even the staunchest opposition.

The Harmful Effects of Miseducation in the Homeless Sector

Focusing on secondary causes of homelessness, such as addiction and mental health issues, instead of addressing the urgent need for affordable housing results in the misdirection of vital funding and awareness. This diversion detracts attention from the most pressing and immediate problem: the lack of affordable housing.

Prioritizing short-term interventions like incarceration and addiction programs over long-term solutions perpetuates homelessness, impacting crime rates, job opportunities, and education, much like an untreated toothache spreads decay.

This misinformation has led to dire consequences, including increased support for criminalizing homelessness, housing market imbalances, and misallocation of funds away from essential services. It’s time to address the root cause and prioritize housing solutions to combat the escalating crisis.

As it stands, the vast majority of the general public is grossly misinformed about the leading cause of homelessness, which has led to the following dire consequences:

  • Increased support for homeless criminalization
  • A huge supply and demand problem in the housing market
  • An overemphasized dependence on temporary fixes over permanent solutions in the homeless sector
  • Underbuilding
  • Overspending
  • The reallocation of funding away from housing and services and into the criminal justice system
  • The highest level of homelessness ever seen in the recorded history of the United States of America

Housing Advocate Hurdles and How to Overcome Them

We are losing the fight against homelessness almost entirely due to misinformation. Advocates who know the truth face many obstacles when attempting to disperse the correct information. Below are some of the most common obstacles, along with how to respond:

Problem 1: Gaslighting – When the most widely-held opinion is wrong.

One of the biggest obstacles housing advocates face when attempting to correct the homeless narrative is the general opposition from just about everybody else.

It is easy to feel like you must be in the wrong if almost everybody, from co-workers and neighbors to educators and architects, from family members and friends to random strangers being surveyed on street corners, disagrees with your so-called “point-of-view.”

In this case, take a deep breath and reflect on history. Remember how often it rhymes. There was a time when most people were in favor of chattel slavery and staunchly opposed North American abolitionists. There was a time when almost all of humanity agreed that women should not have the right to own land, to inherit money, or to influence political decisions. The majority no longer holds these once-popular beliefs, as popular opinions change, but one thing that doesn’t are the facts.

When presenting information to people who are misinformed about homelessness, you don’t have to get subjective or personal. Stick to the data, for the statistics, studies, and academic viewpoints are on your side. Point to the numerous scholarly studies that dispel these myths and let the data speak for you.

Understand, also, that if people on the other side of the argument start making things personal, they are doing so because they know the facts do not support their stance, even if the court of public opinion has been tainted with lies.

Problem 2: Media Influence – When the opposition has money, power, and political prowess.

Another major obstacle for housing advocates is the mainstream media’s bias and influence.

Shifty media tactics have cast an unjust and unfavorable shadow over the homeless community as mainstream media continues using negative language, biased rhetoric, and occasionally flat-out lies to support narratives that either thrust homeless people into obsoletion or portray them as inherently flawed.

The good news is that many members of the general public have detected this issue. As a result, more and more young people are turning to independent outlets to obtain accurate and objective news. Again, the language can be hurtful, but the facts are on your side.

Problem 3: Speed of information dissemination – Bad news might travel fast, but fake news travels at lightning speeds.

A study conducted by professionals at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology revealed that fake news outpaces truth on social media platforms such as X.

According to the study, news identified as fully or partially false was 70% more likely to be retweeted than accurate information. This results in false news traveling faster than trustworthy news, which can yield devastating consequences in our fight against homelessness.

The good news is that as more people become better informed, this statistic is likely to change. You can be a part of that push toward truth by simply sharing accurate information.

Problem 4: Echo chambers and confirmation bias – When facts people don’t like are being labeled opinions.

PLoS One study published by the National Library of Medicine concludes that echo chambers are primarily to blame for the widespread virality of fake news.

To quote the study’s authors directly, “The combination between opinion and network polarization, quintessential of echo chambers, results in a synergetic effect that increases the virality of narratives that resonate with the echo chamber.”

As with all modern dilemmas, acknowledging this phenomenon is the first step toward overcoming it.

Problem 5: Burnout – When even winning the battle still feels like you’re losing the war.

So, you’ve taken the time to present thoughtful, fact-based arguments, even in the face of ad hominem attacks and well-intended statements that stem from a misinformed source. You have won over a few inquisitive associates and gained a new perspective, but at the end of the day, you feel genuinely burnt out.

This is a normal human response. Homelessness is heartbreaking because it is an unnatural and inhumane state. Some people in positions of power wish to desensitize us to the homeless crisis. The fact that you experience emotional pain when discussing the subject only proves that their narrative has failed to settle into your heart. You still have a sense of empathy for your fellow human beings.

When you feel overwhelmed, take a moment to rest and recollect yourself, knowing that more people are waking up to the truth.

Sign Up for Our Newsletter and Learn How to Win the Fight Against Misinformation

Join like-minded advocates by signing up for Invisible People’s newsletters. These newsletters help illustrate the best ways to identify and combat misinformation. The fight against homelessness must start with the truth.

Subscribe for Exclusive Access to Our Misinformation Series

This is part 3 in our 4-part Misinformation Series. Learn more in part 1, Why Fact Checking Is Important, part 2, How to Identify Misinformation part 4, Join the Fight Against Misinformation.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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