Societal Reintegration

Posted: July 24, 2008 in Acceptance, Discrimination, Homelessness, Housing, Misconceptions, Self Esteem

More than once, on this blog, I’ve mentioned that I am basically a simple soul. As such I intensely dislike it when someone contrives to complicate things just to make themselves seem "deep."

Moreover, I am not a person who likes to engage in certain types of discussions. For example – I’m not all that concerned about the "purpose of life" or trying to discover the "hidden meanings or mysteries of life." As far as I’m concerned those are questions best left to philosophers and theologians – something which I am not.  

While I do have some analytical tendencies, I try to avoid over analyzing anything. I’m too pragmatic to waste time pondering things for which there are no definitive answers. Let others obsess over it so long as they don’t waste my time trying to convince me of some hidden truth – which is usually just speculation anyway.

However, I do like it when someone asks a question that is so simple that it’s thought provoking. Example –

Yesterday morning after I published my post, I checked my e-mail and then made my "rounds" of the blogosphere. One site, which I receive via RSS feed is the Center for Respite Care blog. They’re post yesterday, Outstanding Utility Bills Challenge Tenant Applicants, was short, sweet and to the point.

The last paragraph of the post said this:

"Returning to society is something of a choice at first, but it also takes hard work, determination, and time to overcome all the obstacles and consequences of a life that has lead to homelessness. Health issues can be improved and sometimes even resolved, but there are so many tiny details of living in society that can take months and even years to resolve. Can you think of others?"

Could I think of others? Absolutely.

There were numerous "tiny details" that I could think of straightaway without even having to put my thinking cap on. But the one which stood out above the rest had to do with social interaction.

Once a person finds themselves homeless there are certain things which are denied them – almost from the get go. But perhaps none more emotionally and psychologically devastating than the feeling of being "cut off" from the rest of society.

Because of the stereotypes, misconceptions and stigmas associated with homelessness, the majority of non-homeless members of the community deliberately avoid interacting with a person who is homeless. This leaves a homeless person only one segment of the community with which they can interact: other homeless. The by-product of this narrowed social interaction takes its greatest toll when the homeless person manages to regain permanent housing. It is the point in time when that person will experience the deepest sense of isolation.

During the time they are homeless, they at least have other homeless persons to associate with. So there is some measure of human interaction. However, once they are no longer homeless, that interaction is reduced. At first there is the task of having to "set up" house. But once that’s done, the person finds that they really have no one to associate with. They no longer fit into the homeless community. But neither do they fit in with the non-homeless community. They are, in essence, caught in a social limbo.

Although it’s easy to say that they just need to get and about and begin socializing with the rest of the community, consider that during the time they were homeless, members of the mainstream community didn’t really want then around. That feeling of having been constantly shunned by the community makes a person a bit reluctant to try to develop new friendships – just out of the fear that they will still be rejected. The person is then left in a type of social exile.

It may seem that a fear of being rejected by the rest of the mainstream community – once a person has become housed – is unfounded. However, stereotypical thinking, misconceptions and stigmas die hard. There are those in the mainstream community who are still prone to viewing a person with prejudice if they discover that a person "used to be homeless."

I have met numerous individuals throughout SLO County, who at one time or another in their lives had been homeless. While they were willing to share with me their experience with homelessness, it was only because I myself had also been homeless. Yet, these folks were careful to avoid allowing others who had never been homeless know of their "past." And from personal experience I can understand why.

On more than one occasion I have met non-homeless members of the community who once they find out of my past experience as one of SLO’s homeless become extremely uncomfortable in my company. A few have become quite rude. But since I’ve already written about one such experience in my post, Still On The Fringes, I won’t belabor the point.

However, let me say this to answer the question posed by the Center for Respite Care’s blog: in my opinion, the one detail that is often times overlooked once a person becomes permanently housed is assistance with societal reintegration; assistance at helping them create a social network of friends and colleagues who can provide them with healthy social interaction.

It does us no good, as a society, to help a person become housed if we leave their inner person homeless.

  1. I’ve read several of your posts this morning. Your last sentence in this post speaks to the larger weights that can keep a life out-of-balance.

    Financial resources often provide adequate insulation against personal emotional/social issues that could otherwise cripple an individual with prolonged exposure. Once “out of step” to the point of homelessness, I can see that it would be a tremendous struggle to find one’s footing again. None are immune to that grim possibility.

    When people respond with anger rather than compassion, perhaps it’s an attempt to affirm their own (false) immunity from such difficult and often tragic circumstances…?

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