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Homelessness: Why Inclusive Language Matters

Have you ever described a group of people who are unhoused as “the homeless”? Perhaps you’ve heard the terms “bum” or “vagrant” used in relation to this population and thought nothing of it – that they’re the best choice of words.

Recently, the negative connotation surrounding homelessness has been addressed by journalists and style books alike. Inclusive language is important in our rapidly evolving society. Whether it be gender pronouns or simply how we describe certain populations, the words we choose can have a lasting impact.

This is especially true when categorizing a group of people who have little-to-no control over their circumstances (i.e., people who are unsheltered). By shifting our language, we might begin to address the systemic issues which stigmatize this population.

Referring to an individual as “homeless” can be quite dehumanizing. It suggests that their homelessness is synonymous with their personhood; that they will always be different from those who are housed. To combat this, we might try wording that indicates homelessness as something an individual is experiencing, rather as part of their identity, and in a way, isolating them from the rest of society.

“People who are experiencing homelessness” or “those who are unhoused” are not only more accurate signifiers of the hardship this population is undergoing but allow a shift in blame from the individual to the system.

In a society where homelessness and poverty hold negative connotations, like laziness, those who experience such circumstances face a variety of hardships that are often difficult to overcome without a helping hand.

Whether it be a lack of affordable housing or the inability to maintain employment due to chronic illness, the vicious cycle of poverty can drag anyone down (socioeconomically speaking) no matter their prior circumstance.

Without steady employment, it’s hard to pay rent; and without steady housing or shelter, it’s hard to care for one’s physical and mental health. If an individual doesn’t have the means to take care of themselves, how can they be expected to maintain a job or a home?

At Family Promise of Morris County, it’s our mission to support families and individuals experiencing homelessness so that they might break out of this cycle. Through our programs and outreach, we educate and prepare those we serve for a life of self-sufficiency.

In the same way that inclusive language can make one feel like they belong, a helping hand can empower our guests toward maintaining a permanent place in their community.

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