Spark Change Essay Contest Winner: “Homelessness Can Happen to Anyone”

We have a winner from our Spark Change Essay Contest for high school students! It was tough to choose among the great submissions; all the writers had clearly worked hard to expand their understanding of the complexities surrounding family homelessness. Hannah Cheung’s effective use of data, as well as her consideration of structural causes of homelessness, made her essay stand out. Congratulations to Hannah, and thanks to everyone who submitted essays!

Here’s Hannah’s response to the question, “What are some stereotypes about homeless people? What are some arguments against these stereotypes?”

Written by Hannah Cheung, Shorecrest High School student

Homelessness is a very important issue that must be brought to the general public. However, much of society around me thinks that homeless people don’t deserve to find homes — mostly because people have heard false, alarming, and even hurtful stereotypes. We need to break these stereotypes because they aren’t true, and we need to make progress with this issue happening to thousands of people in the United States. Homelessness can happen to anyone, sometimes without warning.

The first stereotype that many people believe is that homeless people are lazy and don’t look for jobs. However, 44 percent of homeless people have either been employed or paid to work, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Also, homeless people are at a disadvantage in the job market because of lack of technology, lack of previous job skills, no transportation to get to and from work, and other barriers. And in this tough job market, homeless people find it even harder to get a job. Getting out of homelessness is almost impossible without finding work, and if a homeless person can’t find a job, the person often remains homeless. I think it is very important to raise awareness about the challenges a person without a home faces, because most of them aren’t lazy. It’s the stiff job market that is keeping them out of work, and therefore makes them look “lazy” when they are actually trying very hard to get employed and drag themselves out of the situation that they are in.

The second stereotype that much of society believes is that homeless people are addicts or criminals. Though one of the reasons that a person becomes homeless is addiction or past criminal records, it does not make up all of the reasons a person can become homeless. A person can be stranded without shelter because of many reasons: lack of affordable housing, poverty, dearth of employment opportunities in the current economy, domestic violence, and others. Even our veterans can be homeless as well! Due in part to mental health issues like PTSD, an estimated 144,000 of our veterans are homeless on any given night. Not all people are homeless because of substance use or past criminal history, as there are many more contributing factors to homelessness.

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Hannah Cheung chose this image to accompany her submission. Image found at

The third stereotype is that homeless people are also beggars on the street, and the image that pops into people’s heads when somebody says “homeless” is an old man on the street with a cardboard sign. This is not true, and I need to change this image. Many people who are homeless are not men. In 2003, children accounted for 39 percent of the homeless population – that’s a big portion of the population without a roof over their heads. Many families are becoming homeless, mostly due to poverty.

Though some people think of homeless people as disgusting, dirty, and not interested in finding a job, most are quite the opposite. Many homeless people are hard workers and doing everything they can to rise and be employed while having a roof over their heads. If you look at the facts, most homeless people are none of the negative things the relentless stereotypes suggest. You and I – we need to raise awareness and get people to stop believing the negative stereotypes.

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