Like many people, my views on homelessness have changed over the years. Growing up, seeing homeless people caused sadness and disbelief. As I became older, I came to see homeless people as lazy individuals who were unwilling to work for a living. It has taken much reflection and personal experience for me to realize those views were both ignorant and ill-informed. Homelessness is not black and white; it’s a complex issue that many people fail to understand.
My first personal encounter with homelessness was when I was 17 years old. My brother was in his early 20s and had just dropped out of college due to his struggles with mental illness (he was later diagnosed with schizophrenia). At first, he moved in with my older brother, but after a short time, he decided to leave.
After several months of searching for my brother, we received a call from him. We later found out that he had been hitchhiking and living on the streets all the way from Washington to Mexico City. It was at this exact moment that my entire perception changed regarding the homeless population. According to a 2015 assessment by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Of the 564,708 people homeless on a given night, 25% of these people were seriously mentally ill and 45% has some level of mental illness.” Almost half of the homeless people you see on the street currently suffer from some sort of mental illness.