The Language Around Homelessness Is Finally Changing
From “the homeless” to “people without homes,” a new style manual recommendation could transform how Americans view the crisis.
In a rapidly changing society, where gender pronouns have become more inclusive, style manuals are being rewritten to reflect a broader range of people and identities. In recent years, many major style manuals’ guidance around subjects like race, disability, and sexuality have been increasingly informed by input from advocacy groups, reflecting a shift in our culture.
We no longer use the collective noun ‘the homeless,’ just like we don’t use ‘the elderly’ or ‘the disabled,’” said Paula Froke, editor of the AP Stylebook. She announced changes in a session at the 2020 American Copy Editors Society conference. Instead, the stylebook recommends “homeless people,” “people without housing,” or “people without homes.” Other terms considered disparaging are “vagrant” or “derelict.”
Perhaps we can all embrace more compassionate terminology when choosing language to represent marginalized identities. Using terms like “the homeless” is reductive and purposely isolates a specific group, making it seem like the needs of that group are not representative of the whole of society. People without housing must overcome stereotypes, get routinely harassed by law enforcement, and are often the victims of violent attacks. More humanizing language might make their neighbors who live in homes more understanding of their plight.