A homeless encampment in downtown on Nov. 11, 2022.
A homeless encampment in downtown on Nov. 11, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

DeForrest (DeDe) Hancock is a senior native of San Diego and currently resides in City Heights. A member of Voices of Our City Choir, Voices of Dignity, HEAL-Homeless Experienced Advocacy Leadership, UCSF-Benioff Homeless Housing Initiative Lived Expertise Advisory Board and UCSD-HEAL Research Collaboration. 

Has anyone ever said to you, “When I grow up, I want to be homeless.”  

Homelessness is not a new issue but unfortunately a rapidly growing population in the United States today. Research shows that some of the top causes of homelessness are loss of a job, money issues, cost of housing and disability. 

This isn’t just a statistic, though.  

I was raised in the Valencia Park community from the age of 5. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC San Diego Revelle College in 1977. I worked at a company for 10 years before getting terminated in 2006.  

Throughout those years, my work was consistently evaluated as above average and outstanding. But for reasons beyond my control, my cause of termination denied me access to unemployment benefits.  

This led to me losing the home of eight years that I purchased as a single mom. I also lost a separate investment property. Around that time, my mother passed away. My 13-year-old son and I moved into the family home which had been mortgage free for over 25 years. Believing that my unemployment case would be resolved within a year, I secured a loan to cover living expenses. I was unable to find an attorney who would accept my wrongful termination case. The result was, I lost my family home of 50 years and my 13-year-old son, and I became homeless by foreclosure-eviction on Nov. 10, 2009. My journey ended with my early social security retirement income following my 62nd birthday. 

During the period that I was homeless, 2009 to 2016, I came to believe that we are all ordinary people simply each living out the scripts of our lives. Some of our scripts include life-challenges which provide lived experience to build the expertise and skills for survival.  

There are several myths about the causes of homelessness and the characterization of homeless individuals. But, I have yet to know of any human being ever saying:  

“When I grow up, I want to be homeless; I want to have an addiction, medical or physical issue which makes me vulnerable; I want to live on the street where I am not welcome or wanted. I want to be a burden to my family, friends, and society.”      

These myths are debunked by the reality on the ground. The fact is, drug use and addiction follow traumatic experiences as coping mechanisms and are not necessarily a cause of homelessness.   

Survey research presented during a forum held on April 28, 2022, by the San Diego Housing Federation’s HEAL (Homeless Experienced Advocacy Leadership Network) identified the primary causes of homelessness.  

The top six causes are: Loss of job (24 percent); money issues (17 percent); other (14 percent); cost of housing (12 percent); Disability (9 percent); loss of family member (7 percent). Alcohol & Drug Use is 7th on the list at only 5 percent. And homelessness caused by jail or prison time is 10th on the chart at 2 percent.   

In terms of absolute numbers, California has more than half (53 percent) of all unsheltered people in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released in 2020, nearly a quarter of all people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity live in either New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Jose & Santa Clara and San Diego. That number continues to rise locally. Unlike New York City, California’s homeless people are said to be sleeping rough. Research found that an estimated 71.1 percent of the homeless in California are unsheltered, compared to just 4.4 percent in New York City. This data clearly indicates that there are workable solutions to end homelessness if we care enough to pursue those solutions. 

I dream and believe all things are possible. My dream today: In my lifetime I will witness the end of poverty and homelessness. 

The truth is we may never hear anyone say: When I grow up, I want to be homeless. But today I believe there is a spiritual calling for some of us to “serve the least of them!” And with honor, I am blessed to know I am among those chosen to serve them by growing up to be one of them!