Homeless people are as diverse as other people we group together. I have heard friends and acquaintances talk about “these homeless people” followed by some overall judgement about how they’re all on drugs or they all break into people’s homes and cars.
It’s easier to oversimplify, pass judgement, and move on. Homelessness is a difficult topic to address. As with many difficult topics, rushing to a conclusion can help us feel more secure. If I know what causes something terrible to happen, I can avoid it. If it’s something I can do about myself for myself, then if someone is homeless it’s entirely their fault. If I can’t find a cause that I can help, then they must be are fated to be homeless.
If we slow down, we allow ourselves to feel that vulnerability. It can make us uncomfortable, yet there is a richness in understanding the challenges people face. There, we can begin to understand the complexity of the situation we’re facing as communities and as a country. Then we can know the varied causes of homelessness and the barriers to housing.
We can shed the one-size-fits-all solutions and blaming people for their homelessness. Some require mental health care. Some require substance abuse treatment. Some require both. Or neither. Domestic abuse survivors have different needs than elders. When we can truly sit with this issue and educate ourselves and each other, then we can understand the causes.
Then we can begin to understand homelessness as a societal problem. We can know that it isn’t simply issues with people who are homeless. Homelessness is a sickness of our culture, whether we have houses or not. We can begin to understand the multi-faceted nature of the issue and create resource to help alleviate the issue.
One of the problems we have in dealing with homelessness is access to services. Mental healthcare, housing resources, drug treatment can be distributed and highly specialized. One service provider may know very little about other services or have outdated information. It can take an enormous amount of research and running around to access services. There are lots of wrong ways to go and dead ends. With someone un-housed, it is even more difficult for them to do so.
It starts with knowing the challenges people face and knowing how much more difficult it is to accomplish things in life when your sleep, nutrition, physical and mental health are compromised. It starts with compassion.