How to bring compassion to the conversation
Words carry more power than we realize, especially when attempting to describe the nuanced and complex experience of homelessness. Using people-first language (i.e. ‘women experiencing housing insecurity,’ ‘students who are homeless’, ‘youth who are unhoused’) brings specificity to the conversation and shifts the thinking from a broad social issue to the variety of individual circumstances that impact people in many different ways.
Referring to “the homeless” as a blanket term is not humanizing, and it fails to accurately acknowledge homelessness as an experience rather than a personal trait or “fault.”
The language we use has the power to shift stereotypes and commonly-held ideas of what homelessness is. We may not always get the words exactly right, but approaching the topic with curiosity and empathy enables constructive thinking and actions. Choosing words with compassion can help change our minds.