July 8, 2009

Social Isolation and Homelessness

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:11 am by Editorial Team

To be homeless is to be worthless — cast out of society.  We look at them as inferior, as somehow less than human.  Don’t deny it.  When they ask us for something, we turn away and we try to ignore them.

The homeless have few friends.  They live in a cutthroat society, filled with violence and abuse.  They scramble for limited resources.  And no one talks to them, or even looks at them, except for a furtive glance of pity every now and then.

This is especially true for the chronically homeless — those diagnosed with a mental illness and/or substance abuse.  As bitter and harsh as the homeless environment is, when you try to take people out of it, it is incredibly challenging to to leave.

Enter housing.

First of all, housing is not a treatment goal.  Due to limited resources, it often becomes one.  Housing is a basic need, which left unmet, makes it impossible to address a number of factors.  For theoretical proof, see Maslow’s hierarchy.  Housing is the immediate reactionary step to beginning to address future goals.

However, when we take someone out of an environment and place them into an apartment unit in a nice quiet neighborhood, all kinds of problems begin.  Isolation is a big factor.  You can’t just leave someone in a nearly empty apartment unit all day with nothing to do.  All people need social contact, including the homeless.  Those who don’t have it are liable to move in their friends from the street, because they have a roof over their head and they simply want to share it.  Many return to the streets from the isolation.

Money is only a part of the solution.  The best intentioned and well-funded programs will often fail.  People who live on the streets face culture shock in attempting to return to an acceptable form of living.   People need and want things to do, they need relationships.  Our tendency is to subsidize the life of the beggar without any thought.  But we need to build relationships with the homeless.  As much as they need housing, they need community and supportive relationships.

Until we as a society learn to walk with the homeless, we will always have the homeless among us.

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