Homelessness Myth #17: They Flock for Services

by on January 12, 2011 · 14 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Homelessness, Ocean Beach, San Diego

by Christine Shanes / Huffington Post / Originally posted Jan. 10, 2011

In my opinion, the popular myth that homeless people “flock” to any particular city to take advantage of its services is cruel. This myth is espoused by some housed people, including some people in positions of political power in certain municipalities. They argue that their city should not offer humanitarian services or add further services to what they are already providing to homeless people, because, if they do, more homeless people will be attracted to their city.

In essence, they rationalize that homeless people will “flock” to their city for its services. As a result, this myth is often perpetuated as the reason to avoid creating or increasing services for people in need.

First, people don’t “flock.” When using the word, “flock,” as a verb, we can say, “birds flock.” Or we can say the phrase, “a flock of birds.” People move.

Usually people who are housed or unhoused move individually or in family units. They move when it is convenient for them, often during vacation time so that their children avoid missing school. Or they move to accept a new job. Or to “start a new life” for whatever reason in a new locale.

Only the impact of a major natural disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina, forces numbers of people to leave their homes and move en mass because their homes have became uninhabitable.

Second, statistics show that when a person is housed and then becomes homeless, they generally stay in their own location.

For example, in 2005, the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) held “the single largest homeless enumeration effort ever conducted…using HUD-recommended practices for counting homeless persons” that was published in its 2005 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, “Executive Summary,” p. 3. LAHSA also reported in this same “Executive Summary,” page 8, that among the 88,000 plus homeless people residing in Los Angeles County, 78 percent of them were housed in Los Angeles County when they became homeless.

Obviously, these homeless people didn’t “flock” from another jurisdiction to become homeless in Los Angeles County. In The Daily News of January 13, 2006, LAHSA Commission Chairman Owen Newcomer acknowledged, “We do not have a situation where hordes are coming in from outside the county.”

In its 2007 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, LAHSA found that there were nearly 74,000 homeless people residing within the County of Los Angeles. At that time, LAHSA also found, but did not publish, that the percentage of homeless people who were housed in Los Angeles County when they became homeless increased to 84 percent. (Source within LAHSA)

Third, some people also say that homeless people “flock” to jurisdictions where there are services to help them. However, in its 2009 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, LAHSA reported that there were just over 48,000 people who were homeless in Los Angeles County. This number represented a decrease of 38 percent of the number of homeless people in Los Angeles County from 2007.

To what does the County of Los Angeles attribute this decline in the number of homeless people residing in the County? On November 13, 2009, I asked that question of a LAHSA employee who told me that the decrease in the number of homeless people was due to the cooperation between the City and County of Los Angeles and their programs that have been helping homeless people become housed. It would appear that providing effective housing programs does lead to a decrease in the number of homeless residents.

I asked several homeless people what they felt about this myth. I thank them for their responses that follow.

Jon, 47 years old: “I left East County because it was not making me happy and I have to be happy. Homeless people come to certain areas for the people. People are attracted by people. The services come after that. I didn’t know about the services when I came here. I only heard about them after I was here.”

Cosmic, 48 years old: “I wanted to come to Ocean Beach (OB). Someone told me about OB and I looked it up on the Internet. I didn’t come here for the City services. I am an OBcian.’

Cameron, 32 years old: “They try to keep services out of the beach communities because they don’t want to attract more people. But [homeless] people don’t come here for the services because there’re not many services or shelters.”

In conclusion, it is human nature that people move from one location to another seeking better opportunities for themselves or their families. Housed people move, why shouldn’t homeless people? However, if we are all kind to our neighbors, housed and unhoused, and provide housing programs for those people in need, there would be less homeless people in every city. What a wonderful way to put a myth to rest!

I look forward to your comments. Thank you.

Christine Shanes is a consultant and public educator on issues of homelessness and has recently joined the OB Rag staff.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane5150 January 12, 2011 at 12:34 pm

This is just one of the many myths that needs a thorough debunking. That the homeless want to be homeless, that they are lazy, and they are stupid. In my time on the street I met a former Olympic skater, who at sixty something was homeless and struggling with alcoholism.

The homeless are up before the crack of dawn because they have to move to avoid being hasseled by law enforcement. Those homeless persons who pick up cans will work twelve or more hours a day collecting.

I’ve met people who are college educated who have been wiped out by either mental illness, major health issues, or struggling with an addiction. These people are far from lazy or stupid.

They are human beings who often find themselves caught up in forces they can’t control and merely respond the best they can.

We live in a world where humans are disposable, like plastic razors. Anyone can face homelessness at any time. If you think it can’t happen to you, think again.


Christine Schanes January 19, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Hi, Diane5150,

Thanks for your comment. I could not agree with you more on all counts! I am amazed by your insights.

Would you kindly share where you went to become so educated, so inspired, so compassionate?



Diane5150 January 19, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Christine, I merely paid attention during the experience of living.


Christine Schanes January 21, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Hi, Diane,

Thanks for your comment.

I’m smiling and amazed. You learned all of this knowledge and gained all of this wisdom by paying “attention during the experience of living.” Amazing.

Whatever I know has come through the experience of hard knocks. I just wish I could have learned some other way.

However, your method of learning gives me hope that I and others can learn without challenges in the future.

Please stay in touch. I look forward to your comments on other things I write.


Diane5150 January 22, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Christine, I apologize for giving you a smart ass answer. I too have experienced hardship in many forms. Although it is true I did pay attention. I credit Socrates for inspiring me in that direction. I came across his words when I was a young child and they have stayed with me and guided me to this point in time.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates


Christine Schanes January 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Hi, Diane,

No apology needed. For the past two+ years, I have been pondering the concept of “mindfulness,” paying attention to what is happening. I thought/think you are a very mindful person. I think it’s a great goal to be mindful.

Hardships are amazing, aren’t they. Who wants them? Nobody. Who needs them? Many of us. I think that when we learn from hardships, we can really grow, as in evolve to better people. Hardships without reflection, in my opinion, are pretty much a waste of time.

I love your quote from Socrates.

Who was it who said, “Know thyself”?

I think that homelessness and thinking about homelessness can enable us to ponder some pretty deep questions about ourselves. I am sorry that people are homeless and that most of us are at risk of being homeless. But I am grateful to everyone for the wisdom we’ve learned from these hardships.



Diane5150 January 22, 2011 at 5:37 pm

I always have a tent.


Diane5150 January 22, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Ahhhh, that Socrates gets around.


richard February 1, 2011 at 11:30 pm

You took a picture of my cousin who had been missing for 8 years, she passed away last August in San Diego, Karen Lee Creeden. I would like to know more. Thank You


Christine Schanes February 2, 2011 at 9:45 am

Hi, Richard,

Please know that I am so sorry for your loss.

I would be pleased to speak with you about your cousin, Karen Lee Creeden. She was a good friend of mine. I knew her for the last 27 days of her life, the last 24 of which she spent indoors for which I am very grateful to a host of people and programs.

Please feel free to contact me directly by email at chphp@earthlink.net and leave your phone number. I will be sure to call.



Richard February 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Thank You very much for your reply, Its difficult to explain my feelings, and also those of my mother and sister. I will always remember Karen as a caring,kind person, that endured many hardships in her life. The pictures you took, were difficult to see after not knowing where she was for so long, We all cried.


Mary July 11, 2012 at 10:25 am

I would also like to obtain more information about Karen Creeden. Other members of her family were not aware of her death. We have appreciated your posts are grateful that you were able to assist her. Please contact me.


Christine Schanes July 11, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Hi, Mary,
Thanks for your kind words.

I can be reached at chphp@earthlink.net. Please leave a phone number and I’ll call.

Best Wishes,


radicaluterus February 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Hi Christine, I saw catboy today, spoke with him and met Chaos his beautiful black cat. If Chaos loves him that’s good enough for me. Will he seek help, he’s not interested. I gave him the info, he had no interest in me and I quickly changed my focus to his cat. I left after a word and a pat, Chaos was heavily interested in my Personal Mobility Vehicle, I can guess because it held the smells of the cats which use it as a cozy home out of the rain.


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