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Why Words Matter: "Youth Experiencing Homelessness" vs. "Homeless Youth" | Blog #1

We are thrilled to welcome you to the Covenant House Illinois Blog, where we embark on a journey to shed light on the often unseen and misunderstood realities of youth homelessness. As we take our first steps into this digital space, we want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to you for joining us in this mission to create awareness, foster understanding, and inspire change.


At Covenant House Illinois, our commitment is unwavering: to provide sanctuary and support for young people facing homelessness. We believe that every young person deserves a safe place to sleep, access to life-changing services, and the opportunity to build a brighter future. But beyond our shelter walls and outreach programs, there is a wealth of knowledge, stories, and insights we wish to share with you.


We want to hear from you! Our blog is not just a platform for us; it's a space where we can all come together to raise awareness and advocate for change. If you have specific topics or questions you'd like us to explore, please don't hesitate to reach out to Rachel, our Development Specialist, at rachel.eliser@covenanthouse.org. Your input is invaluable in shaping the content that matters most to you.


Thank you for embarking on this journey with us. Together, we can be the change-makers, the advocates, and the voices that bring hope and opportunity to young people experiencing homelessness. Let's unveil the path to hope, one blog post at a time.


 

In the quest to create a more compassionate and inclusive society, the way we use language plays a pivotal role. Small changes in terminology can have a significant impact on the way we perceive and treat individuals. One such linguistic shift is the transition from saying "homeless people" to "people experiencing homelessness." This seemingly subtle alteration carries profound implications for how we view and engage with those in need. Covenant House Illinois, like many organizations, advocates for this shift in language to promote understanding, empathy, and ultimately, change. In this blog post, we'll explore the reasons behind this change and why it matters.


Humanizing the Individual

When we refer to someone as a "homeless person," we reduce their entire identity to their housing status. This dehumanizes them, emphasizing their circumstance over their humanity. In contrast, using "people experiencing homelessness" acknowledges that their current situation is just one aspect of their life. It reminds us that they are individuals with unique stories, talents, and potential, rather than defining them solely by their lack of a home.


Focusing on the Experience

The phrase "people experiencing homelessness" directs our attention to the experience itself, rather than making homelessness their defining characteristic. It emphasizes the transitory nature of their situation, implying that their condition can change. This shift in perspective encourages a more empathetic and hopeful approach to helping individuals find stable housing and support.


Reducing Stigma

Language has the power to reinforce stereotypes and stigmas, which can hinder efforts to address homelessness effectively. When we say "homeless people," it can perpetuate the misconception that homelessness is a permanent condition or that all individuals experiencing it are the same. In contrast, "people experiencing homelessness" challenges these stereotypes by recognizing the diversity within this community and encouraging society to view them with compassion and empathy.


Encouraging Empathy and Action

By using language that acknowledges individuals as "people experiencing homelessness," we create a more compassionate and inclusive narrative. This change inspires empathy and motivates people to take action. When we see someone as a person with dreams, aspirations, and challenges, we are more likely to support initiatives that provide housing, healthcare, education, and employment opportunities to help them rebuild their lives.


Promoting Person-Centered Solutions

The shift in language also aligns with a more person-centered approach to addressing homelessness. When we view individuals as "people experiencing homelessness," we prioritize their needs, aspirations, and personal goals. This approach is more likely to lead to tailored solutions that address the root causes of their homelessness and provide the necessary support to overcome it.


By recognizing the humanity in each individual and focusing on their experiences, we can create a society that is more compassionate, understanding, and committed to ending homelessness for good. This shift in language is a small but essential step towards achieving that goal.



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