On Stereotypes of Homeless People

A little over two months ago, four homeless people were brutally beaten to death in New York City—Lower Manhattan, to be exact.[1] More recently, one of the local television stations in New York City, which is where I live, profiled these four victims of the brutal attacks.

One thing that became apparent to me, as I was listening to the profiles of these homeless individuals, is that we need to address some of the stereotypes about homeless people.

The National Coalition for the Homeless, which is one of the most prominent homelessness advocacy organizations in the United States, had a piece that succinctly mentioned three of the most prominent stereotypes about homeless individuals: that they are viewed as lazy, crazy, and/or drug addicts.[2]

Yet, Chuen Kwok, an 83-year-old man who was the oldest of the four victims beaten to death, was considered the “uncle” of the neighborhood, and only became homeless after falling on hard times during his sixties.[3]

Yet, Nazario Vazquez Villegas, who was also beaten to death in his sleep, worked a number of odd jobs over the years, and doesn’t exactly fit the stereotypical profile of a homeless person, either.[4]

Yet, Florencio Moran, the 39-year-old who was the youngest of the four who were killed, was someone who, at the time of my writing this, didn’t have much information to his name.[5] Therefore, there’s nothing to show that he fit the homeless stereotypes, either.

Yet, Anthony Mason, 49, was a blogger, just like me and just like some of my readers.[6] He founded nonprofit organizations in Mississippi to help the homeless and was a preacher too.[7] Mason’s story is actually quite extraordinary.

The only person involved in all of this who fits those homeless stereotypes (even when you include David Hernandez, the one person who was beat up but survived[8]) was the attacker: Randy Santos, a homeless man with a reported history of violence and mental illness.[9] That fact should be, by itself, a cause for reflection on the stereotypes our society often has about homeless people.

This story out of my hometown isn’t an anomaly, either. The people I know who’ve done work with homeless populations can often point to people they have encountered (sometimes, many people) who don’t, by any means, fit within the “lazy, crazy, drug addict” stereotype about being homeless. Personally, I can even say that I’ve encountered homeless individuals over the years who are every bit as talented as Anthony Mason, or every bit as well-regarded as Chuen Kwok, and that’s even though my work with homeless individuals has been much more limited than those who have dedicated their volunteer and/or professional lives to work with the homeless.

So, next time you see someone who you think is homeless on the street, the sidewalk, the bus, the train, don’t assume that the person is some lazy, crazy bum. That homeless individual you see may have more in common with you than you realize.

I dedicate this post to the memories of Chuen Kwok, Nazario Vazquez Villegas, Florencio Moran, and Anthony Mason.


[1] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/10/05/homeless-men-beaten-death-manhattan-police-say/3879039002/

[2] https://nationalhomeless.org/tag/stereotypes/

[3] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2019/11/06/chuen-kwok–why-an-83-year-old-man-found-himself-homeless-in-the-twilight-of-his-life

[4] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2019/11/04/homeless–not-nameless–a-look-at-the-lives-of-the-four-men-who-were-beaten-to-death-found-nazario-vazquez-villegas-chinatown-

[5] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2019/11/07/murdered-while-sleeping-on-the-street–a-family-still-not-found

[6] His blog is here: http://anthonythepriestlyartist.us/?fbclid=IwAR2K985QbOxguzHc1AYfQuIP5lfQwnuqxIE_d49PTKo7twUVJQeLU_Kjhew.

[7] https://gothamist.com/news/wanderer-victim-homeless-attacks-kept-detailed-online-diary

[8] I’ve heard hardly any information on Hernandez, so I don’t have any information to confirm that he fits the homeless stereotypes.

[9] https://gothamist.com/news/wanderer-victim-homeless-attacks-kept-detailed-online-diary

12 Replies to “On Stereotypes of Homeless People”

  1. Excellent post, Brendan. The same can be said for people who receive food stamps or housing assistance … it is typically assumed they are too lazy to work, but that is rarely the case. Things happen and people fall on hard times, quite often through no fault of their own. I was homeless once, albeit for less than a week until friends gave me a much-needed hand up, and it is a scary thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jill!

      There is often an assumption that people who are homeless or are in need of assistance are lazy. But things happen. Life happens. People experience hard times for reasons outside of one’s control. Which, from what I know you’ve said, was what happened to you for a time (that things were not really in your control).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sometimes we make decisions, or choose a path that has unplanned consequences. I figure we shouldn’t judge people either way, for you never know how they ended up where they are. Sadly, there are many in the world judge others by their own circumstances.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Maren.

      Homelessness is difficult but also very much misunderstood. Goodness, there may yet be misunderstandings I still have about homelessness. But, I hope that this post has addressed at least a few such misunderstandings.

      Like

  2. Thanks for bringing attention to this issue, Brendan. So important that we practice compassion for homeless people while also addressing the systemic injustices that lead to homelessness. Even if a homeless person uses substances or has a mental illness that shouldn’t mean we ignore them or cast them aside either. Appreciate your voice on this topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Thomas. I absolutely agree that we need to practice compassion on this issue AND address systemic injustices. Injustices such as the lack of supports for people with mental illnesses, the lack of economic supports for people going through hard times, increasing cost of living, etc.

      Like

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