Streets of Misconception

Last year, as part of my uni application, I spoke to a friend who had spent time living on the streets, through not fault of her own…

Being homeless is a consequence of life’s many hardships. It’s often a temporary and unavoidable situation that anyone can fall into. In 2006, Beth Jarrett, a journalism student living in Toronto, Canada, was unhappy at university after enrolling at 18. This unhappiness prompted her to drop out after six months and as a result, became what is known as homeless.

As an inactive student, Beth was disqualified from receiving student support and housing. On return to her parents house, where she grew up living with her grandfather, parents and her two sisters, she found herself at a closed door. Her parents simply refused to let her back into their home. It was their belief that because she was an adult, they would no longer deliver the support they gave her as a child.

From January-March 2006, Beth drifted from shelters, friend’s couches, and bus shelters. Cold winter days were spent in public libraries reading books and searching for full-time jobs that would pay for an apartment deposit. A few weeks into her new life on the streets, Beth found herself unable to find a bed at a homeless shelter for a night. With friends unable to help out her only alternative to staying warm was riding the subway until it closed in and eventually camping out in a bus shelter until daylight.

Homelessness never exists without stigma to those who are considered to be homeless. Those without a fixed address are viewed as a different population entirely; a population of criminal addicts unwilling to work for a living. Beth did not fit this mould. She simply was going through a tough time and was living a life that didn’t turn out the way she expected. Although never suffering any hostile acts from the public, she was aware of the discrimination homelessness receives. The reality is that many whom experience homelessness are likely to have suffered from a personal tragedy, mental illness, or domestic abuse. It is important for each situation to be regarded as distinct and for the individual not to be branded by the situation.

Holding this view, a friend of Beth’s raised concern to his parents and because of this they invited Beth into their home toward the end of February. They were willing to help her out until she could afford a deposit for an apartment of her own. By March, Beth was offered a job in a café and was able to rent out a bed-sit. She lived there until September before returning to University via student loans to study English Literature and Creative Writing.

Beth does not dwell of her past. Growing from the experience, she gained the life resources and independence most people gain after graduating University. Being responsible for her own finances and repayment of student loans gave Beth the meaning of a dollar which she values today. The experience forced her to live outside her comfort zone giving her the tough skin she needs today as she takes on a new chapter in her life, working as an English language teacher in South Korea.

Not everyone suffering from a consequence of life’s hardships has a friend readily available to lend a hand. The general public can donate clothing and raise money, yet these donations can only stretch so far. The best donation a person in this kind of situation can receive is an open-minded public that is aware of the contributing factors leading to homelessness. After all, any one of us, one day, may live on the streets of misconception.

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