A homeless man sleeps below the entrance to the Ocean Beach Pier. Photo by Chris Stone

The Regional Task Force on the Homeless has changed its name to the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, intended to signify the difference between who a person is versus the circumstance in which a person may find themselves, it was announced Tuesday.

“`The homeless’ sounds like an identity. Homelessness is a circumstance,” said Tamera Kohler, CEO of the task force, the regional authority charged with establishing a community vision and goals to prevent and end homelessness.

“This is a small, almost unnoticeable change in our name, but the meaning is very deep, very powerful, particularly for the people we work to serve, those we work with and who’s dignity we hold dear,” she said. “It is important for our name to truly reflect that homelessness is most often a brief situation in someone’s life: it’s not an identity, it’s something people are experiencing.”

Such phrases as “the homeless” or “homeless person” help to mischaracterize homelessness as a character trait, as opposed to a difficult, unexpected life event, according to an RTFH statement.

“They are dealing with the trauma of circumstances and are mothers, fathers, families, veterans, students, teachers, seniors, a friend or family member,” the statement reads. “The RTFH’s mission is to ensure that person’s homelessness experience is brief and non-recurring, and reducing any misconceptions of the experiences helps create clearer pathways to housing with better public understanding.”

The RTFH promotes and funds solutions to the homelessness crisis, oversees the area’s homeless and housing system, collects strategic data, supports and trains community agencies and advocates for effective homelessness policies.

Many in the organization have felt uncomfortable with the name for some time and have advocated to make the change.

“One of the challenges we face in the work of ending homelessness is that often times people assume that those who are experiencing homelessness are in their situation by choice,” said Ray Ellis, chair of the RTFH board of directors.

“We want people to understand that homelessness can and should be a brief experience in someone’s life,” he said. “We’re working to address the complex issues many of these individuals face so that they get through their period of homelessness.”

The RTFH name change has been registered with the county as a “doing business as” operational change.

For more information about the Regional Taskforce on Homelessness, visit RTFHSD.org.

–City News Service

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