Letter: Homelessness is not a ‘lifestyle’

Graphic by Lori Deaton

With great interest, I read the June 16 article about the new low-barrier shelter option for the homeless put forth by ANCHOR [“Come as You Are: Low-barrier Shelter May Fill Temporary Housing Gaps,” Xpress]. The need to meet people where they are and promote safety is integral to the harm-reduction approach when addressing the physical and mental health challenges of our homeless population. The more options available, the better.

What grabbed my attention in this otherwise informative article was the opinion of ABCCM’s executive director, the Rev. Scott Rogers. He expressed the opinion that a portion of our area’s summertime increase in the unhoused population comes from those who “choose a homeless lifestyle” for social or political reasons. Homeless lifestyle? I respectfully disagree.

Just as mental, physical and socioeconomic conditions are not lifestyles, neither is homelessness; it is an outcome of those conditions. While my own son was homeless and traveling the country for four years during the mid-2000s, a hallway conversation with him might have led one to believe that he was choosing a traveling lifestyle; a deeper interaction would have revealed the pain that drove his soul to wander, looking for relief. His untreated bipolar disorder resulted in unhealthy activities: train-hopping, hitchhiking and substance use.

Those who travel through our area during seasonal shifts are often just doing that, traveling. They seek out a climate where they can sleep out-of-doors without risking hypothermia in the winter or dehydration in the summer. They are often rootless, detached from family and dependent on the kindness of others. Dismissing this as a choice not only ignores the real-life struggle of the homeless individual, but also the anguish of the families who love them.

We need to lessen the incidence of homelessness by providing permanent, quality, supportive housing and medical services. Until that time comes, having shelter options that will meet folks where they are is a start.

— Anne Seaman

Editor’s note: Seaman adds that she is a community activist in Western North Carolina who advocates for the effective and compassionate medical treatment for those suffering from substance use disorder. Her son, Stuart, was fatally poisoned by opioids in 2017.


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7 thoughts on “Letter: Homelessness is not a ‘lifestyle’

  1. John Penley

    Did Rev. Rogers make this comment because he has adopted a ” Christian Lifestyle ” ? I am wondering if Jesus would agree with him about a ” homeless lifestyle ” ?

    • Enlightened Enigma

      I believe he is stating the obvious…that it is difficult to distinguish between travelling hipsters who have learned how to appear homeless so as to take advantage of all the FREE food and services that AVL offers 24/7, and those who truly ARE homeless with a true need for ‘permanent’ housing. Footloose tourists feed this situation.

    • Soothsayer

      Jesus lived a homeless nomadic lifestyle. Traveling around and hanging with lepers, homeless, and the like.

  2. Bright

    How right Ms. Seaman is. People who are well-set seem to think that others choose their lifestyles. They don’t, the government does a great job at that. For the politicians, there’s money in keeping a “caste” system operating, complete with for-profit prisons. ABCCM is a very helpful community of great volunteers and offers much help to low income persons. I’m sure Rev. Rogers meant nothing derogatory, and thank him for ABCCM.

  3. Shultz!

    Ms. Seaman, the Rev is correct and there is indeed a difference. There are many here in AVL that camp out in public areas to live the alternative lifestyle – they have places they COULD go, but don’t because choose not to for the adventure/excitement/coolness/politics of it. If you don’t believe me, come down from Montreat & head out to Azalea park & you’ll see what I mean in person. I was there yesterday to go fishing & there were more than a couple vagrants camped out w/their dog. These are not actual homeless that are looking to improve their situation, but those that WANT to live an alternative lifestyle as a wanderer. Perhaps you can’t imagine it, but that’s attractive to many people, especially the young. There IS a difference.

  4. LowerCrust

    Without getting into more philosophical debates over things such as whether “free will” really exists, suffice it to say that all of our “choices” are constrained in numerous ways. And for some (not all) of the homeless, things like mental illness, addiction, the lack of economic and other resources, etc., obviously become very significant constraints in their making choices. However, even then, different options and possibilities always remain, and constantly present themselves on a daily basis.

    If one retains the capacity to think, one retains the capacity to still pursue some options and possibilities over others. The choices made by some may at times make no sense to most of us. They may seem totally irrational and self-destructive – but they are choices nonetheless, and short of using coercion and institutionalization to bend these people to our will, none of us have the power to simply make people choose differently.

    We can, and I believe we should, provide a wide range of support, not just for the homeless, but for everyone needing it. But in the end, changing one’s circumstances still requires that the person be part of that decision, and sign on to moving their life in a particular direction. Absent that “choice” – our efforts are in vain, and our resources (which could be directed to others in various states of need) are likely wasted.

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