They're lazy. They're smelly. They're drunks.
Stereotypes about homeless people are never flattering. But a group of University of Utah advocates for the homeless hope that will change in the future.About 40 students and supporters gathered at the Union Plaza Wednesday for a National Homelessness and Hunger Awareness Week Sleep-Out and forum, featuring dinner, a movie and speakers addressing this socially debilitating problem.
A dozen people spent the night at the plaza in sleeping bags - not to replicate a homeless experience, but to show support of homeless people, said Jonathan Jensen, director of the U.'s Homeless Advocate group. Participants collected pledges for spending the night outside, with proceeds going to local charities such as Crossroads Urban Center and Traveler's Aid Society.
"If the crisis of homelessness is going to end, we must participate in our communities as advocates of people who are homeless," Jensen said.
"There is a stigma that makes homeless people less than human," said Patrick Poulin, director of Utah Issues, an organization that works on long-term solutions to poverty.
Poulin, who also teaches a social work course at the U., encouraged the gathered to help remove that stigma by discussing homeless stereotypes with at least five friends.
"There is no such thing as homelessness. But there are economic refugees in our country," he said. "The way to end homelessness is to end poverty."
Poulin said the majority of homeless people are women and children, with a disproportionate percentage belonging to minority groups. And about 8 percent to 10 percent of all homeless adults have college degrees.
"Getting your education isn't going to get you out of poverty," he said.
Glen Brooks, a 28-year-old social work graduate student from American Fork, said he could relate to the speakers, not because he has ever been homeless, but because he grew up in a single-parent household that benefited from receiving public assistance.
"I like not to stigmatize social programs because we all may need to be on one someday," he said.
Judy Johns, an employee with Traveler's Aid Society, was on hand to relate her struggle with finding a home in Utah. After living is Salt Lake City for two years, she put all her belongings in storage while helping to relocate her mother in Alabama.
She returned with two children, ages 10 and 13, about two years ago. But despite daily efforts to rent an apartment or a house, she said nothing was available.
"I looked at 27 apartments in three weeks and filled applications," she said. "It was a nightmare."
Meanwhile, she and her boys had to sleep in their car and use public restrooms. "We got real familiar with every 7-Eleven in the valley. I had a job, a savings account, a checking account, a car, all my furniture, everything I needed." Except a home.
Finally they qualified for the homeless shelter and then for transitional housing. Three months later, she found an apartment, and today she owns a house.