Men's Shelter of Charlotte

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Convenience Hurts

I admit, I’ve done it.  I will probably do it again.  I’ve used the phrases “homeless man”, “homeless family”, “chronically homeless”, “the homeless.”  I do it out of convenience, it’s just easier than saying “a man who is experiencing homelessness.”  But being easy doesn’t make it right.  Turning someone into a label out of convenience, or for any reason, is hurtful.  In almost every other aspect of life we are very careful not to use labels because labels are insensitive, labels devalue people, labels hurt.  I don’t want to be defined by my afflictions, much less any one of my many life experiences.  I’m not “Carson, he’s got high blood pressure.”  I’m not “Carson, Wake Forest dropout.”  Homelessness isn’t a disease, it’s an experience; an experience I cannot do justice trying to describe because I’ve never personally experienced being homeless.  Yet, that’s how we too often, sometimes innocently, sometimes maliciously, describe our fellow human beings who are or have experienced homelessness.  “That’s Tony, he’s homeless.”  “That’s Betty, she was homeless.”  “What are we doing to help the homeless?”  “Who is that homeless man?”  A few weeks ago, I asked my staff to lead by example, me first.  I asked them to strive to use fewer labels and, therefore, extend more respect to the men – the fathers, Veterans, sons, mechanics, college graduates – who we serve because at the moment they are experiencing homelessness.  So forgive me if I take a few extra seconds to forego “homeless men” to more appropriately say “men who are experiencing homelessness.”  Words matter.  I don’t want to be labeled and I bet you don’t either.  So let’s stop labeling those in our community who are experiencing homelessness; such labels don’t define who they are, not by a long shot.

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Carson Dean

In September 2008 I became the Executive Director of the Men's Shelter of Charlotte. I've spent almost 15 years working to end homelessness in North Carolina. After working with homeless and runaway youth in Raleigh, I served as the Director of the South Wilmington Street Center (men's shelter) in Wake County and then worked on Orange County's 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. I am a former board chair for the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness and former chair of the Homeless Services Network in Charlotte. In 2014 I served as the partner agency representative on the United Way Central Carolinas board of directors.

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