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Here is the opening from the call:
Hello everyone! I’m Lisa Hickey and this is our weekly Call with the Publisher that I have been hosting every week for the past 9 years. On these calls, we talk about topics discussed on other calls, what is being talked about on The Good Men Project website and what is happening in the world at large.
A few weeks ago — on one of the other calls — we talked about how there has been a push to change the way we talk about “the homeless”.
It was the first time I had heard of this, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
And there are two big concepts in “the way we talk about homeless people is changing” — and I want to talk about both of them.
One is to think about the way language is changing in all parts of society, and understand why.
And the second is to understand the way homelessness itself is changing. That is the actual, physical qualities of being without a home. Being “homeless” doesn’t necessarily mean you are curled up in a blanket on a NYC street — even though that is almost always the way the word “homeless” is depicted.
Let’s start with language.
The goal of changing language should always be the following: To highlight humanity — without minimizing the problem.
In this case, The AP Stylebook, which informs the way journalists use language in the media, states: “Do not use the collective noun ‘the homeless,’ just like we don’t use ‘the elderly’ or ‘the disabled,’ Instead, the stylebook recommends “homeless people,” “people without housing,” or “people without homes.” Other terms considered disparaging are “vagrant” or “derelict.” Also, mention that a person is homeless only when relevant.
So from a language point of view, it’s not a big change. But at The Good Men Project, we support all kinds of language changes that help 1) make people more human and 2) point out systems of oppression.
- On Wednesday’s call, we talked about changing the name of the Washington football team so that it didn’t include a racial slur. The name of the Washington team had used a slur in its name. NOT using that word — ever — seems like a good evolution of language.
- Calling people by their proper pronouns. This is another example that both makes people more human (by getting their identity right) and calling out how the gender binary often marginalizes and oppresses people.
- Also, when talking about relationships, moving away from herteronormativity.
- I remember being called out by a caller to one of these shows by a man who was a paraplegic for using the word “wheelchair-bound”. His point was that it was diminishing. His wheelchair was simply a way to get around from point A to point B. It was not his identity.
- Illegal alien used to be routinely used.
- An interesting example in the article about the AP stylebook is a move to change the word “accident” when talking about a car crash or collision. And “accident” implies that it was out of someone’s hands and that the deaths that result from these are somehow inevitable. But we talked about this on another call.
You can actually get the number of fatal auto crashes down to near zero by doing 3 things: 1) making road conditions better 2) making cars safer 3) making drivers safer (no drinking, no texting, better education).
When cars do collide and people get killed — it is not an accident.
So this gets back to the actuality of homelessness — not just the language. There’s no clear definition of when, exactly, a person technically becomes “homeless”.
Clearly, someone sleeping on the street is homeless. But what about people staying in shelters? What about someone couch surfing with friends and relatives but who doesn’t have a real address?
New York City has the largest homeless population of any city in the U.S., but a large percentage of those people are living in shelters or hotels. Los Angeles has fewer homeless residents overall but more people who are unsheltered, meaning they live in tents, camps, informal structures, or in vehicles like cars or RVs. In cities like San Francisco — because of growing wage gaps and high costs of living — there has been an increase in the number of people who are newly homeless. Here, one of the preferred terms is “unhoused,” which denotes that people are being pushed out of their dwelling units by inequitable housing policies.
Another point made: “With the proliferation of the “van life” movement, privileged people who choose to live in campers or RVs wouldn’t necessarily be called homeless — depending on their Instagram following, they might be better described as “influencers.””
But part of the reason this is so important to me is that I personally am in one of these gray areas. I had been renting a small apartment in the Los Angeles area for 5 years. My kids — who lived on the other side of the United States — needed help during the pandemic. So I bought a car (hadn’t had a car in 10 years) and drove cross country to stay with them a few months and help out. But I couldn’t afford a car AND travel AND paying rent on a place I wasn’t staying in, so I moved out of my Los Angeles place permanently. But the problem was — when I was staying with my kids, first of all, they didn’t necessarily want me to move in with them full time, and second of all — health care is a HUGE problem if you don’t have an actual address. I couldn’t get vaccinated, I couldn’t get a new primary care physician, I couldn’t see a dentist. And when I drove back to California, I found I no longer could afford rent there. I was looking for places within my budget, I’d look online. And when I saw someplace in my budget, I’d click on it excitedly. And it would be either a campsite or a hostel with shared bathrooms or — I kid you not — sometimes they would show me a photo of the outhouse.
Now — I am coming from a position of privilege. I have a job. I’ve worked my entire life. I don’t face housing discrimination. And yet I still can’t afford to rent a place in an area where I can get health care. I’m not saying “feel sorry for me”, because I will figure it out. But my point is — what about all the people who don’t have jobs, or who couldn’t pay rent during the pandemic, or got sick and are having trouble returning to work?
If you can’t afford rent, how do you get healthcare?
It’s just all harder than it should be and I don’t see people talking about it. And that is why talking about language helps — because it helps us really understand the issues.
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