The media is a powerful tool. More powerful even than an army in many cases because regimes can only infiltrate a war zone. Reporters, on the other hand, have the power to infiltrate the mind.
Vulnerable minds are everywhere. Not only are they open to negative subliminal messages, but they’re also often unaware of the fact they’re receiving them. Furthermore, recent research proves when it comes to homelessness, public perception is intrinsically tied to government action and available resources. As such, negative catchphrases have long fuelled the false narratives some politicians use to build a growing opposition to homeless people, rather than homelessness.
For as long as homelessness has existed, negative terminology that fosters a sense of justification for perceiving and portraying homeless people in a negative light has been prevalent.
In the past, terms like beggars, squatters, transients, loners, addicts, and mentally ill individuals have been used to paint an unfair portrait of the homeless population. These terms were created and circulated to make homelessness appear to be the consequence of individual actions. In fact, it is the consequence of society’s inaction. Therein lies a distinct difference.
According to a recent study conducted by Simmons Research, at least 46.1% of the United States population perceives media outlet CNN to be a reliable source for their news. This percentage is quite high in an era where the phrase “fake news” has become popular. In fact, with a 46.1% trust rate, CNN ranks in the top 20 most trustworthy of all major national news networks. Yet, here is a direct quote from CNN discussing homeless people on Skid Row:
“They are facing resistance – not just to new structures in neighborhoods where residents fear more crime and blight, but also from some within the homeless community, who insist they would rather continue living independently on the streets in their tents.”
Crime, blight, fear, substance abuse, untreated mental illness and an even more horrifying phrase, “tent culture” are most notable.
For news skimmers, (and statistics tell us that would account for most people since the average reader only views about 20% of an article’s content) this is all they really need to know about unsheltered homeless people. After reading an article suggesting people really just want to live in tents, homelessness seems like the result of poor decision making and little else.
The real reasons people are homeless on the streets is the lack of housing that is affordable and the realization, often firsthand, that temporary shelters are often unsafe.
When you see a tent city in the background of the American landscape, understand the people living there do not view tents as their culture. They are not the “service resistant” vagrants they are wrongly depicted as in the media. They are human beings, hard on their luck, hoping to do something you do every day: live in a house.
Media’s Use of Harmful Words Exacerbates Homelessness
by Cynthia Griffith
Special Thank You: This piece was heavily influenced by a @ProfSaraRankin Twitter thread. Everyone at Invisible People would like to personally thank Professor Rankin for dedicating much of her time and life to the cause of homelessness and to the advancement of human rights.