Debunking Stereotypes About People Experiencing Homelessness

There are numerous stereotypes, misconceptions, and generalizations about the homeless population in the United States, a few of which might come to mind as you read this. These generalizations can alienate those in our community who need help the most, and create a fear amongst the general population that can be harmful to those who are just trying to survive. 

People Who Are Homeless Should Go to Shelters and Should not Be Sleeping on the Street  

Currently, in Washoe County there are only 30 empty beds across the four main shelters in the area, according to Washoe County’s Shelter Census Dashboard on their website. This may sound like a lot, but consider this: all shelters in the area are at least 97.5% full. While there are a few beds for folks who are homeless to claim, would most people want to live in a place that is so crowded? Many people would certainly struggle living in that environment, and try to find other options. On top of this, some shelters are not as clean as they should be, with mold in bathrooms and other unsafe issues. This is a problem that is caused by lack of funding, lack of staff, and lack of time, so while the staff and programs are not to blame the state of some of these shelters, neither are the people who are experiencing homelessness who choose not to stay there.  

Anyone Who’s Homeless is a Drug Addict and/or Alcoholic 

Most research shows that only around one third of the homeless population in the U.S. have problems with drug or alcohol use. While this is, in fact, higher than the overall population, empathy is warranted for these individuals who are suffering through homelessness and turn to substances to cope. According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in an article last updated in 2022, it is estimated that only 38% of homeless individuals abuse alcohol and only 26% abuse other drugs. It is also important to mention that alcoholism and other addictions are often classified as medical conditions, and should not be judged as a conscious choice, because these individuals are often experiencing overwhelming compulsive behavior to consume drugs or alcohol. Particularly for the age range that Eddy House serves, individuals turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism after they have become homeless. Substance abuse does not usually lead to their experiencing homelessness. 

All People Who Experience Homelessness are Mentally Ill 

According to SAMHSA, only 20-25% of the homeless population in the US are suffering from severe mental illness. Although it can be scary walking past the individual who is yelling or muttering to themselves, most individuals with mental illness are not violent. If they are, it is most often directed toward themselves. Dealing with mental illness can be tough, and it tends to get worse when times get rough, so again, empathy is key when thinking about these individuals, and it is important to recognize that not all homeless individuals deal with these issues.  



“It’s a collective effort, but it is possible to make a difference and to help those experiencing homelessness.”

Runaways Deserve it 

Many of the young homeless individuals who run away are running from something truly horrible, whether that is abuse, neglect, or a lack of acceptance that deeply affects their mental health. Often, those labeled as “runaways” have been kicked out of their homes for being gay, transgender, or in some other way not fitting with their parents’ idea of how their child would turn out, and have no other choice but to live on the streets or couch surf. According to, 3.6 million cases of child abuse are reported every year. Of our 209 new clients in 2022, 58.7% reported having been the victim of childhood abuse. This number is significantly higher than that of people in stable housing, which shows a clear connection between experiencing childhood abuse and becoming unhoused. Often, “runaways” have no choice but to flee because their life or safety is in danger. 

The Problem is Too Big and I Can’t do Much (if Anything) to Help 

Every little thing helps, whether that’s buying someone on the street a meal, donating to your local shelters and food banks, or volunteering your time to help people who are homeless. It’s a collective effort, but it is possible to make a difference and to help those experiencing homelessness. Eddy House’s goal is to end youth homelessness in Reno, and you can help make that goal a reality. Please consider helping to spread awareness by sharing this article, or make donations such as travel size hygiene products, donated meals and food, and monetary gifts that help us do what we do. 

Written by Hannah Buchell

Jillian, Zoie, and donor with clothing and home decor donations.
Jillian, Zoie, and donor with clothing and home decor donations.