What It Feels Like (Or So I’m Told) To Experience Homelessness

Check out The Banshee as published in Get Loud, “a submission driven publication that provides a platform which people experiencing homelessness can express their experiences, concerns and recommendations to the broader community in Denver; share the ways that public policy/actions affect their daily lives, become informed about developments that may impact them; and explore ways to work together to create meaningful change.”

What It Feels Like (Or So I’m Told) To Experience Homelessness

Want a quick way to be ignored, feel stigmatized, or miss out on an opportunity that is well deserved? Just say, “I’m experiencing homelessness.”

“Oh, um. Okay, well. I just don’t know what I can do for you.”

“What’s wrong with you? What happened to you?”

“Is there someplace else you can go?”

For nearly a decade, I have repeatedly heard these and a million other ignorant comments and questions fielded to my clients that are experiencing homelessness. Granted, over the years I have learned that I cannot expect people to understand what it feels like for those that experience homelessness, what homelessness really is, or why it is an issue that warrants our collective empathy.

Homelessness is an incredibly complicated social issue. It is utterly misunderstood, poorly depicted and completely stigmatized in our culture. It is not surprising that most people are not only clueless but also unaware and ill-informed. Though most days I feel that there is still much to learn, here is my attempt to put into words what it feels like (or so I’m told) to experience homelessness.

To experience homelessness is to experience loss. It is the loss of a job, a home, a marriage, a child, a pet. It is the loss of stability, good health, a sane mind. It is the loss of control over an addiction. It is the loss of ability to provide for yourself or your family. It is the loss of friends, of privacy, of shelter, of comfort. It is the absolute loss of hope, the loss of self, and the loss of dignity, self-worth, and pride. It is the loss of all that makes us feel most human. To experience homelessness is to experience loss every second of every day, yet the struggle to simply survive is so unrelenting there is no time to grieve.

To experience homelessness is to experience worry.  It is to worry about where to sleep, what the weather will bring, when law enforcement will hassle you, and if your belongings will get stolen in the night. It is to worry about the invasive and aggressive voices in your head and when they might stop telling you to kill yourself. It is to worry about getting stabbed, beaten and/or raped on the streets. It is to worry about where you can find a little something to help you sleep, where your next meal will come from, or how you will pay for the trespassing ticket you are sure to be issued. It is to worry about finding a private enough place to relieve yourself. It is to worry that you may never, ever be able to get off the streets. To experience homelessness is to experience worry every second of every day, yet the struggle to simply survive is so unrelenting there is no time to unwind.

To experience homelessness is to experience dehumanization. It is to watch the disapproving eyes of passersby who refuse to make eye contact with you. It is to feel lesser, insignificant, inhuman. It is to ask for help and be ignored. It is to experience verbal and physical abuse. It is to have your individuality disregarded, your value as a human diminished. It is to elicit abhorrence, disgust and exasperation from others instead of compassion and empathy.  To experience homelessness is to experience dehumanization every second of every day, yet the struggle to simply survive is so unrelenting there is no time to feel human.

To experience homelessness is to struggle with insufferable moral choices. It is to question whether the values that you have always held will serve you in the animalistic and dangerous world of the streets. It is to abandon long-held ideals and standards to meet more basic, more primal, more pressing needs.  It is to become someone entirely new, not out of desire but out of a necessity that those who have not experienced homelessness cannot even begin to understand. To experience homelessness is to struggle with insufferable moral choices every second of every day, yet the struggle to simply survive is so unrelenting there is no time for choice.

To experience homelessness is to see a perspective not afforded to most. It is to learn that the most valuable piece of our humanity is our connection to others. It is to know the true value of functioning collectively and asking for support. It is to be loyal to and protective of those around us. It is to reach deep within the oldest part of our brains and deepest part of our souls to find the skills, the resources, the courage and the strength to survive. To experience homelessness is to gain this profound perspective every second of every day, yet to express this perspective is fruitless because if you are experiencing homelessness, no one is listening to you.

 

“The world of the homeless is a tough and interesting world.“-Paul Dano

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