Losses And Broken Hearts

Posted: July 9, 2008 in Homelessness, Relationships, Self Esteem

Yesterday I received an email from a Colleen P.

She mentioned that she has stumbled on the blog a few weeks back when she "Googled" the phrase: "what impact does homelessness have on people."  

Although she didn’t come right out and say so, I’m speculating that she was asking what type of impact homelessness has a person who finds themselves homeless. The reason for the guess had to do with a couple of questions in her email which she asked directly of me personally:

"Has the experience changed you?" and "What was it like to be homeless?"

The answer to the first question is:

Yes. The experience of homelessness has changed me.

While the basics of who I am remain intact, there are some "battle scars" which I’ve incurred as a result of the experience.

All of us respond to the world around us based on our personal experiences. That goes without saying.

Homelessness is now a part of my personal history. There is nothing that can change that. I don’t know if it’s good or bad – it just is. All I can do from here on is to do what I’ve always done: the best I can.

As for what it was like to be homeless: take a look around at your personal world; at all of the people and things that make up the entire of your universe – then imagine all of it gone. Imagine being consigned to having only what you can carry in a backpack. No luxuries. No extras. No comforts. And then realizing a horrible reality: there were times in your life when you threw out more things than what is currently in your backpack.

Imagine that even the friendships you had at one time may no longer exist. Some of those friendships will have fallen apart because you no longer move within the same social circles you did before you became homeless. Then, there are those friendships which will have ended because your friends have to maintain the status quo. They can’t have it known that they’re friends with a homeless person. It just wouldn’t look good.

Imagine that the rest of the community no longer sees you the way it once did. Before – you were a "normal" person. Now you’re an outsider. You’re not a "regular" person. You’re something not socially acceptable. Some folks don’t even regard you as being a person. You’re a nuisance; a social pestilence; something to be shuffled along to somewhere else.

Imagine that when evening comes, if you’re lucky and the shelter isn’t filled to capacity, you might find a bed there. If not, then you’ll have to find some dark corner somewhere to curl up and try getting some sleep. Hopefully the weather won’t be too inhospitable. Also, hopefully something violent won’t happen to you in the middle of the night while you’re asleep.

Of course, if you do have to sleep outside somewhere, tomorrow morning you’ll have to wake up early because you don’t want someone to find you sleeping in pubic. Business owners don’t like having a homeless person sleeping in the doorways of their business. They don’t even want you sleeping in the alley behind their business. And, if you’re caught by local law enforcement, you could possibly get a ticket, or even taken to jail. But most certainly they won’t let you just curl up and go back to sleep.

Although you might be able to shower at the night shelter or at the day center – if your city has such a place for the homeless – you are probably going to start feeling grimy within a few days. It’s no fun having to put on dirty clothes after you’ve showered. And since there’s a limit to how much you can lug around with you in your backpack, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be wearing clean clothing everyday. If you’re lucky, you might be able to get access to laundering facilities. If not, be ready to wear the same dirty clothes for several days in a row.

Of course, having dirty clothes isn’t a plus when you’re out trying to find a job. It isn’t visually appealing. And then there is the body odor which clings to the clothes. That doesn’t help either. Hopefully, you don’t have feet that sweat a lot. You probably won’t be putting on clean socks everyday. What makes it worse is that you’ll become acclimated to your own body odor. You won’t notice it after awhile. But everyone else will.

Oh, by the way – I hope you like the idea of having people treat you with disdain and contempt. You’re going to get plenty of it. Not everyone will treat you like yesterday’s trash, obviously. But there will be more folks who will treat you scornfully than there are those who will show you compassion and kindness. And, hopefully you don’t mind being ignored as though you weren’t even there. That’s going to happen too. People will deliberately look right past you as if you were just a lamp post: nothing to take notice of.

The majority of the community will expect you to pick yourself up by your bootstraps and make something of your life. You’ll discover that programs and services to provide you with the types of assistance you need to help you rebuild your life are noticeably lacking.

In short order, you’ll find yourself wondering if you’ll ever be able to get out of homelessness. No one seems willing to help you pick up the pieces of your life. Feelings of hope will be replaced by feelings of hopelessness. Trying to get out of homelessness may even begin to seem a futile effort.

One of the RSS feeds I get is for a blog called Greatpoetymhf’s Weblog. The post for yesterday was titled, How Can I Put Heart In It?

It began this way,

How can I put "heart" in it
When my heart is broken
From saying too many good-byes.
Some folks were wrenched from me.
Some were adopted out.
Some moved away.
Some forced themselves out of my realm

Colleen, you wanted to know what it was like to be homeless…

Homelessness is a series of losses, broken hearts and goodbyes. And, hopefully, you’ll never have cause to find that out first hand.

  1. AnAmerican says:

    This is a powerful posting providing much needed insight into the reality of homelessness. May you find wonderful new beginnings & much deserved happiness,my friend.

  2. Don says:

    Very well put. Your description is right on the money and only the experienced would be able to describe in such detail. I have been there twice in my life. Once when I was very young, 18 I think.

    Thank you for this most excellent post.

  3. I always find your blog to be thoughtful and today’s post, very sad. Homelessness is a heavier burden than anyone can imagine and getting out harder than ever. Thanks for your deep insight.

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