By Lisa Desjardins, CNN
Follow on Twitter: @LisaDCNN
(CNN) - Homelessness is not a cute or cuddly cause.
It's often dirty, difficult and uncomfortable. And it is not something that most Americans have personally experienced.
This is a problem for homelessness advocates in a time where many charities, from St. Jude’s Childrens Hospital to the Susan G. Komen foundation that fights breast cancer, nationally market and carefully strategize their messages and images.
Now, some who work with homelessness are questioning how an issue that has been in the American consciousness for more than 30 years, has failed to gain more ground.
And they believe one issue is the message. Anne Mahlum is founder and CEO of Back on My Feet.
“Unfortunately I don’t think this issue has evolved much at all since the 80s. It might have been more of a hot topic back then when it really became a problem but I don’t think there has been enough education around this issue to get people familiar with the individuals who are experiencing homelessness”
Mahlum thinks homelessness needs to be rebranded, to shift its focus to images of individuals.
Her organization stresses examples like Walter Barrera. The 31-year-old started running with Back on My Feet while he was staying in a shelter. Two years later, he has a job and is a long-distance ultra-marathon athlete.
Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, has been working on homeless issues for more than three decades. He rejects the phrase, “rebranding”, shaking his head at the corporate image.
Donovan points out that not everyone experiencing homelessness can make the leap to marathon runner. But he agrees that homelessness needs a new message now.
“One of the consequences of homelessness being with us for now three plus generations is that homelessness has lost its rank as a tragedy in this country and it actually now has kind of leveled off to be some kind of social consequence that perhaps will always be with us.”
As potential budget cuts hang over local and federal funding, many who serve the homeless fear their cause will be too low on the priority list to keep resources.
Editor’s Note: To hear more about the “rebranding” of homelessness listen to the complete story in the Soundcloud player above.