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25 Aug, 2022 20:12

City tries to cancel use of the term ‘homeless’

Public officials in Los Angeles have called for instead using such labels as “people living outside”
City tries to cancel use of the term ‘homeless’

America’s most populous county, Los Angeles, hasn’t yet cracked the code on solving homelessness, but local government officials have come up with a way to change conversations about the crisis: canceling the term “homeless.”

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) argued in a Twitter post this week that such labels as “the homeless” and “homeless people” need to be replaced by more “inclusive” terms, including “people living outside” and “people who are unhoused.” The idea is to get rid of the “negative stigma” around homelessness and “emphasize personhood over housing status,” the authority said.

“Our unhoused neighbors are human, and the language we use should reflect that,” the LAHSA added. “Let’s abandon outdated, othering and dehumanizing terminology and instead adopt people-centered language.”

Part of the idea is to use terminology that “acknowledges a person’s individuality,” according to the agency, but it’s not clear how “people who are unhoused” carries more individuality than “homeless people.”

“With respect, I often interview people on the street,” said filmmaker Glen Dunzweiler on Twitter. “They don’t care about euphemisms. They care about being looked in the eyes and being afforded dignity. I think the word salad just makes housed people feel better.” 

However they might be labeled, Los Angeles has enough people living on its streets to populate an entire small city. The county’s homeless population jumped to 66,436 in early 2020, up 13% from a year earlier. Since then, the LAHSA has stopped counting.

The authority was scheduled to release new figures by May or June, but the update was pushed back to September. The new homelessness count is expected to show another large increase, given that rising rents and other inflationary pressures are pushing more people into the streets.

Los Angeles reportedly accounts for about 20% of the US homeless population, and an average of five such persons die each day. Large tent communities have sprung up along city streets and in public parks. City officials have been criticized for forcibly clearing out some of the encampments without providing a place for the occupants to go. Earlier this month, the Los Angeles City Council banned homeless camps within 500 feet of schools and day care centers.

The LAHSA oversees more than $800 million annually in local, state and federal government funding for homelessness programs. Heidi Marston, who resigned as the authority’s director earlier this year, lamented that even as an average of 205 homeless people in Los Angeles County were finding housing each day, 225 were losing their dwellings. “Homelessness is a crisis we made,” she said. “We can unmake it if we only have the will.”