Stereotypes in the media often focus on the actions of a person who is homeless instead of explaining the structural causes of homelessness. In examining the cycle of poverty we, as media professionals, can begin to acknowledge that public policies and structural issues are largely responsible for the increasing populations living in poverty and experiencing homelessness in the U.S.
Journalists often emphasize and rely on common stereotypes of the homeless community to characterize individuals. Media professionals should work to humanize the people living in poverty. By neglecting to address problems that lead to homelessness journalists are telling a one sided story of an entire population. For example, media coverage will often use negative characterizations such as substance abuse, aggressive, unruly, homeless people flooding the streets.
Instead of discussing issues such as: “lack of affordable housing” – “lack of shelters” – “lack of facilities for the mentally ill” – “lack of substance abuse centers”
In the KGW article, “Who Are Portland’s Homeless?” the reporter explains the homeless demographic in Portland Ore. by providing current statistics while also giving context. This article is a great example of how reporters should discuss marginalized groups. The language throughout the article is descriptive, and unbiased and gives real context as to how the homeless community is impacted by structural issues.
“Many of these homeless are families with children and individuals working to overcome unemployment, high housing costs, health-related issues, domestic abuse, mental illness, or substance addiction.”
Media representations have the power to shape the public’s interpretation of entire communities. Thus, journalists must be mindful of their use of language, and work to provide news stories that give context to lived experiences, instead of providing stereotypical narratives.
By: Candace Johnson