Posts Tagged ‘low income living’

Reading other blogs about homelessness is a curious thing.  There are blogs by those who are or have been homeless, those who work or volunteer with a homeless clientele, and blogs about other topics that mention homelessness once in a while (typically when the author has an encounter with a homeless person).

The most frequently commented upon blog articles seem to be those about an individual’s first night of homelessness.  I admit, I frequently leave comments on these articles myself.

Why is it that we’re so sympathetic to the person who experiences their first day of homelessness, but callous toward the person who has been homeless for months or years?  It’s a matter of perspective.  The person spending a stray night in a homeless shelter could well be us, we think.  

What if we lost our jobs and had a concurrent major illness?  What if a loved one (or ones) passed away suddenly?  What if . . . whatever combination of tragedies it might take.  I think we’ve all had thoughts that it could be us.  For some it might take more tragedies than others, but the possibility is there.

In considering the chronically homeless person, we’re less sympathetic.  Why?  Because we believe we cannot sink to that level.  We would pull ourselves out or find help somehow.

We may be able to make the leap to understanding who someone (even ourselves) can become homeless, but we believe that if you’re homeless for more than a few weeks, well, you must just be lazy.  Or ignorant.  Or an addict.  Why don’t they just get jobs after all?  Or just apply for the loads of benefits we finance through our taxes?  Or get social security?

We fail to consider the psychological effects of life on the streets.  It takes many of our clients several days to warm up to staff at the Respite and our mission is to help them.  Imagine how difficult they find it to reconnect with family and friends.

And all those “free benefits”?  True, they’re out there.  But how long can you afford to wait?  It can take weeks to qualify for food stamps, months to gain tenant-based rental assistance, and years to be awarded social security disability.

As for employment, would you hire someone who admitted to being homeless?  How about someone who claimed to have stable housing, but was mysteriously never home when you called?  Would you hire someone with dirty fingernails or ragged clothing?  Maybe you would.  Then again, maybe you’d prefer to hire the clean-cut teenager who made the honor roll last quarter.

Are we really as impervious as we believe?  Or is the hard truth that homelessness, once it happens, can be nearly impossible to escape?  How many of these truths do we ignore because they are simply too frightening to accept?

The ultimate truth is surely more complex, but everytime I read comment-loaded articles about an individual’s first terrifying night as a homeless person, I wonder.


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How’s your emergency fund doing these days?  According to financial experts, you should have 3-6 months worth of living expenses saved (and liquid) for quick use in case of emergency such as illness or a layoff.  But how many of us do?  Some perhaps, but certainly not all.  Perhaps we have some money saved, but dip into the stash too frequently for fun items like tech upgrades, vacations, and daily lattes.  Perhaps we had some money saved and slowly chipped away at it.  Perhaps we have some money saved, but is it enough?

For some of the clients that come to the Center for Respite Care, homelessness isn’t the only life they’ve known.  In fact, many have held steady jobs, and lived in apartments and houses.  For some, a string of unfortunate events leads to homelessness.  They are the same events that happen to us all, although perhaps more concentrated. 

For example, many people experience loss of a job, death of a family member, or the end of a romantic relationship.  However, when events such as these happen quickly, a person barely getting by may find themselves suddenly unable to pay their rent and utility bills, not to mention find food and other basic necessities. 

Some turn to friends or relatives for temporary help, but many leave or are turned away after arguing with the host, or engaging in a behavior of which the friend does not approve.  Sometimes the behaviors are legal, sometimes not.

Once the person is homeless, an injury which may have caused them to quit working now becomes a lifelong disability as life on the streets doesn’t allow time for healing.  As the days on the street stretch into weeks, people become depressed.  They feel they are undervalued, invisible, worthless, and abandoned.

In many ways (and as we’ve discussed before) homelessness is a cycle.  It is rarely a chosen cycle.  Rather, a series of unfortunate events may tip the scales against our favor.

At the risk of sounding like an insurance salesperson: if you were physically unable to do your job tomorrow, what would you do? 

There are many paths to homelessness.  For some, the journey begins with a tough childhood, for others a string of hardships may be the spark, and for the rest, well, we’ll have to ask them ourselves.

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