“I speak four languages.”
“I’ve built robots.”
“I have a degree in biology from West Virginia University.”
These aren’t statements from renowned business leaders or well-known academics. These are truths written on cardboard signs by homeless people living in Orlando, Florida.
Their stories are highlighted in Rethink Homelessness, a campaign created by the nonprofit Impact Homelessness, to change damaging stereotypes about those living without stable shelter. The campaign — which also features stories from accomplished athletes, a computer geek and individuals grappling with serious illness — is taking on “a problem that has dogged Central Florida,” as the Orlando Sentinel’s Scott Maxwell noted.
And the facts back Maxwell up.
Florida has an estimated 47,862 homeless individuals, which is about 8 percent of the total U.S. homeless population, according to the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. What’s more, Florida was deemed the most dangerous state in the nation for homeless people last December, by the National Coalition for the Homeless — the third year the Sunshine State took the No. 1 spot since 2008. In 2012, Florida had more than double the number of hate crimes against the homeless as the runner-up California did.
But Impact Homelessness believes its message of compassion and understanding can prompt positive change.
“Since the recession began, the face of homelessness has been changing,” the organization’s Facebook page reads. “From school children to the elderly, from the barely employed to the victims of abuse … homelessness can affect anyone … unless we all come together to make a difference.”