The stigma of homelessness

By Nicki Vogel and Jacob Hieter

Nicki writes, “The stigma is deep when we talk about homelessness and what it looks like to people in our community. Being poor often comes with blame and shame as if the person asked for this life. Homelessness doesn’t discriminate like people do. It has no boundaries. Walk down these streets and into the shelters and you will witness this reality.”

Jacob writes, “when I first encountered the homeless, here in Boise, I was bus-hopping to get to my many appointments downtown. As I was passing through the skate park and in front of Corpus Christi, my first reaction was that they all were dirty, lazy and mean. All I saw were people sleeping under the overpass, cars stuffed full of garbage and trash littered on the streets.

What I felt was a sense of uneasiness and fear as I passed by them. It felt like they hated me, be- cause I was an invader from the outside. I did not feel safe, because I felt their eyes upon me and I felt their breath upon my skin. It was a very uncomfortable experience. Now, since I am homeless myself, I see them differently, because of who I see everyday in the shelter. Many who live at Interfaith Sanctuary are clean, friendly and continue to have jobs and go to school.”

Behind the Wall image
A depiction of breaking through the barriers of homeless and striving for a dream of a brighter future by Jacob Hieter

Nicki writes, “You will hear stories of mental health causing one to lose their job, and then los- ing everything they own. Many can’t escape the felony that haunts them from ten to twenty years ago, unable to get a good job, or a place to live.”

Jacob writes, “In the shelter I have met a few people who have gone to prison, some of which want to change their lives. I have met some who are struggling with substance abuse and can’t es- cape their temptations. They easily fall back on their addictions but a few people are trying to seek a life of sobriety.

Many are stuck because they can’t do anything. They have tried time and time again but they get knocked down by government red tape, the constant rat race of jumping through metaphorical hoops and by untreated mental health issues.”

Don’t be blinded by the stigmas that are put upon them. Extend an open hand and mind. Listen to them, for they have a lot to say. We can understand if we try to comprehend what has befallen them.

Then, and only then, will we begin to understand the plight of people who are homeless.

Tyrone Pitman

Nicki writes about Luther, a Case Manager at Interfaith Sanctuary, he stated that “having a simple photo ID can be a huge barrier for the home- less population.” She continues by writing “There are barriers that many of us don’t even think about, lack of health care, lack of treatment options, no photo ID, and the lack of affordable housing is a huge issue. Many people who live in the shelters get up everyday and face their battles head on. They have to think about things that most don’t have to think about. Where will they get their next meal? Where will they go when the shelter closes for the day? Where will they rest their head when they are sick?”

Jacob writes, “I see people who are stuck and cannot move forward with their life. Many have become comfortable and are unwilling to better themselves. Some have lost hope, while others have remained strong. Some have received their GED’s and others have finished their college degrees. Some have put aside their past and moved on to fulfilling careers.

While some of them seem like beggars flying signs on the street, a few would give you every- thing that they own, if they knew that you needed it. Some seem lost, due to mental health issues, but a few have found help through Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and the homeless shelter staff.”

Nicki writes, “They are not that different from you or I. They are artists, musicians, teachers, producers, electricians, mechanics, college students, and graphic designers. They have hopes and dreams, goals for their future, and aspirations, but the many barriers hold them back.”

Jacob writes, “We have built a unique community, one that is strong, ever growing and ever changing. We protect each other, we support each other and we rise and fall together. There are many of us who see past race, economic status and physical limitations. Many accept you for who you are and not what you do. I have met a few individuals that I have become great friends with. I have never had this many people tell me how smart I am, in my entire life, and that means a great deal to me.

People spend their lives tearing each other down destroying each others careers, reputation, and metal health. Society creates an expensive world with sky high rents, pricey automobiles and services that not all can afford. We live in a world where how much you earn is more important than treating another person fairly. If I can learn some- thing from the homeless it would be money does not make you happy.”


Word on the Street is a collection of personal narratives, artwork, and poetry published by guests at Interfaith Sanctuary and Shelter in Boise, Idaho. It addresses the stigma of homelessness in and its material consequences for the population. Word on the Street represents the voices of Boise’s homeless community as a counter narrative against misrepresentations of themselves and a call for connection.

Its purpose is to bring awareness to the voices of homeless individuals and hope for motivating others through change. This paper is compiled and maintained by Project Well-being, a day program, at Interfaith Sanctuary and Shelter.

If you have a story about how homelessness, mental health and lack of resources affect you, please feel free to send them to wordonthestreet@interfaithsanctuary.org. If you would like to help the homeless, or fund this paper, please feel free to contact us.