What is meant by “domestic autonomy”? Simply stated: To have a lease or mortgage and the resources to cover it. Anything else is not domestic autonomy; you either have it or your don’t.
No matter what term is used, the fact is the unhoused are our children, grandchildren, grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters to some 1; part of someone’s family.
What they are not is the stereotype associated with the word “homeless.” This stereotype reflects only the “chronically homeless.” The chronically homeless comprise only 15% of the unhoused population but they represent 100% of the stereotype.
In fact, today the largest growing homeless segment are the families with children who might have lived in that foreclosed house right down the street from you. According to HUD, since the downturn in 2008, the number of families with children living on the streets and in the shelters is up 30%. That’s right, children on the streets. It makes you shudder.
Those living on the streets, in shelters, in cars, or — if they are lucky enough — doubled up with friends or relatives all have lost their respective domestic autonomy. Another large group of Americans are precariously housed in unfit housing, or in the process of foreclosure or eviction and on the cusp of losing domestic autonomy.
To realize self-sufficiency and attain domestic autonomy, one must have financial autonomy. Whether through employment, unemployment aid, or other assistance, it’s a fact of life that there must be money to pay the rent or cover the mortgage.
Therefore, we at 1Matters choose to use words that best convey this reality. The unhoused in America (and in the world) are those who do not have domestic autonomy. We are promoting this concept in the media as well as interviews and public services announcements with national artists.
It’s not our intent to make these terms ”politically correct,” nor do we care who uses them. We use the words we use simply because they are more accurate, more realistic. Just the same, we admit in advance to some hypocrisy as there are, indeed, occasions when we need to use this term, albeit sparingly. At these times, we need them to help people draw the focus of their thinking in an effort to transition their understanding of the issues that need to be confronted.
We know many will continue to use the older terms, laden with those stereotypes, and we are totally okay with that. We do not believe in the futility of debate so, rather than try to “convert” an opinion, we prefer to use that time and energy to bring together those called to this cause to help people.
We recently asked a group of students to enumerate the typical stereotypes of the “homeless.” We then asked, “OK, so how many of you know a student who is smelly, mentally ill, or who drinks or does drugs?” Hands went up on every one. The point we were making is that those stereotypical attributes of the so-called “homeless” are not specific to those without domestic autonomy.
Think about i:, what is the difference between those on the streets who are mentally ill, and your really wacky, alcoholic aunt Beatrice who lives in a house? You get it: one is housed, one is not. One is housed, the other exposed and vulnerable.
“To most people the “homeless” are nothing more than vague faces of poverty reflected in the mirror of a society that is afraid to even look, much less help.” – Ken Leslie
For most, it’s only after personal contact that they do look and react. When confronted by a drunken panhandler they react with revulsion. When confronted by their father or mother who lives on the streets they often express amazement that most people don’t seem to care. And for those of us who were forced to live on the streets through internal or external failings, we react with understanding….