Homelessness — neurodiversity hidden in plain sight

US homelessness is highest in Blue States

A strange pattern has appeared in Western countries: homelessness is on the rise, while at the same time the number of empty homes is rising. In a way, it’s only a reflection of rising inequality. However, poverty is only half of the story behind homelessness.

Many people, in particular conservatives, tend to think that people often end up homeless because they are lazy and unwilling to take a job. While this may even be true occasionally reality is much more complex than this, even without conjuring up the sudden tragedy. In fact, the people often slide slowly into homelessness. So, what’s the story. My guess is that the majority of homeless people are neurodiverse. Here is the story of a man on the spectrum:

What is a tragedy is how underserved we are. I am a 49-year-old Autistic and I have spent much of my adult life homeless and hungry because, like so many of us, I was sliding through the cracks; one agency would turn me away for being “too high functioning” and another would turn me away for being “too low functioning.” ()

Or a learning disabled woman with Tourette Syndrome:

I’ve often talked about how invisible many of us in the learning disability community feel. Same for anyone with an “invisible disability” or identifying as neurodivergent, which includes those of us with Tourette Syndrome, dyslexia, and autism (just to name a few). We’re often not included in discussions that affect our lives. Nor in designing programs and services that serve our needs. ()

Of course, the vast majority of homeless people have no formal diagnosis. However, it’s not very surprising that a dyslexic person ends up finding no job. Or that an autistic person who has been fired a couple of times for misbehaving has given up looking for another job. Or that people with ADHD struggle to work 8 hours straight on the same routine jobs burn out very quickly. It’s not that these people wouldn’t like to have a steady job, many of them just find it impossible to achieve.

Homelessness is highest in American Blue States (see map). Again, this is little surprising as blue states are generally more expensive, in particular the innovation hotbeds (West Coast, NY, New England). So, we get a very weird correlation: the most innovative states also have the highest homelessness rates.

Is this connection merely an unfortunate side-effect of innovation or hiding a deeper causal connection? I have argued that progressives tend to have more ancient hunter-gatherer genes vs more ancient farmer genes for conservatives. Conservatives, therefore, tend to be higher on productivity, whereas progressives tend to be higher on creativity.

I am aware that this may sound pretty far-fetched at first glance. However, the group with the highest rates of homelessness are Native Americans:

American Indians are overrepresented among persons who are homeless: though they represent less than 1.5 percent of the population in the United States, it is estimated that they make up eight percent of those who are homeless ()

Here are some reasons why it would be easier for farmer types to hold down a job than forager types:

  • They are “programmed” for rote jobs by evolution

This means farmer types are more likely to succeed in school and at the workplace. Tighter social ties also make sure that poverty won’t hit as hard when it hits. Kinship ties are what provided a safety net and helped our species get through hard times. However, for hunter-gatherer types this may become increasingly difficult with fewer relatives around.

Forager types are typically higher in openness and creativity and lower in conformity than farmer types, which would explain why they are attracted to liberal states and have higher rates of being employed in the creative and knowledge sector and at the same time having higher rates of being unemployed. In fact, I have argued that the typical hobo and Einstein have very similar personality profiles (INTP type in Myers-Briggs).

Check out my book Einstein and the hobo: or The curious case of the INTP for more

Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on June 30, 2021.