An Empty Vacuum

Posted: May 7, 2008 in Children, Family, Homelessness, Relationships, Self Esteem

When I stepped out to grab lunch, I saw a family who, based on the amount of personal items in their mini-van, were probably homeless. That sight caused me to start thinking along certain lines.

Homelessness creates different types of casualties. But it doesn’t afflict only single people. It also afflicts families; single and two parent families with dependant children.

The effect that homelessness can have on inter-family relationships can only be guessed at. But there is no doubt that it can – and does – create an undue amount of stress among family members. Even under the best of circumstances, relationships take work, but to heap the struggles of homelessness on top of that – with all of its precarious and unknowable circumstances – can leave families in shambles.  

Most of the studies and statistics that I’ve managed to find have been demographic in nature: what percentage of America’s homeless population is comprised of families, how long they stay homeless in general, what is the average age of the children and things of that nature. But I’ve yet to come up with any studies that show what type of impact homelessness has on a family.

During the time that I was one of San Luis Obispo’s homeless, I met a number of two parent families, as well as couples without children who found themselves homeless. The sad thing is that not that many of those couples are still together. A few of the two parent families have also had the parents going their separate ways.

I’m guessing that it was more than just homelessness which caused the break ups. However, I can’t help but think that some of those relationships might have been salvaged – and maybe even made stronger – had they not had to endure the rigors of homelessness. But there’s no way for me to know for sure. As I said, I have yet to find any types of studies or statistics regarding this issue. So, I’m pretty much just speculating.

On the other hand, having had to deal with homelessness myself, I can tell you that the experience is not one that I would care to repeat. The amount of self-recrimination that a person engages in when they become homeless is far beyond what most non-homeless ever go through.

When it comes to couples or families that experience homelessness, not only does the person have to deal with their own self-recriminations, but there are also the instances when the other of the person will blame the their partner for their current situation – regardless of whether the accusations are valid or not. All of this is not healthy for the self-esteem of the relationship.

Additionally, there is the overall lack of privacy.

The couple discovers that they are unable to find both, the time and the place, where they can spend "quiet time" together. This absence emotional and psychological intimacy prevents them from being able to support and nurture one other when it is most needed. If this lack of privacy continues for an over extended period of time, both individuals may find themselves receding into their "own little worlds." The lines of communications corrode and they find themselves focusing only on their own needs and not the needs of the relationship.

Then of course, there is the fact that both individuals will deal with homelessness differently by virtue of their respective personalities. One of them might find they can "adapt" to homelessness easier than the other. One may have an extremely difficult time adjusting to the experience. This brings about an imbalance within the relationship, which further creates friction between them.

In some extreme instances, one of them may even become so "comfortable" with homelessness that the relationships ends with one of them re-entering the community while the other remains homeless and eventually becomes chronically homeless.

In fact, during the time I was homeless I witnessed several situations identical to that.

In one instance, one couple was not more than a month or so from being able to find a place to live. One of the partners had finally managed to regain enough of a foothold to bring both of them out of homelessness. But, the other partner had become institutionalized by homelessness. In the end they found themselves going their separate ways, with the one who re-entered society being left emotionally wounded and alone, while the other began the life of a vagabond moving from one city to another; from shelter to shelter.

Families who fall apart as a result of homelessness find that there is more devastation that occurs than just between the couple. The children are the ones who suffer the brunt of the break up. Not only do these children find they no longer have a home, but then they find themselves with only one parent. Surely, this must leave a traumatic impact on the psyche of the child.

A person who finds themselves homeless loses so much more than just a place to live.

Even if they manage to become a self-sustaining part of the community once again, they may find that they’ve lost those things that were once the most precious and dear in their lives…

… and in its place – an empty vacuum and a wounded spirit.

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