Homelessness: A State of Isolation
Published on January 27, 2017 - This post currently has no comments
Written by our Head of Community – Bella Combest
Poverty and homelessness are two of the most longstanding social issues of all time. And yet, there still seems to be very little public understanding around their roots causes. Like many people, I use to think that most individuals on the streets were there as a result of personal irresponsibility. I assumed drug addiction and lack of work ethic played a large part in the majority of people’s homelessness. It wasn’t until I started working at a homeless crisis center in university that I began to see things differently.
The people I met at the shelter shook my perspective and showed me an entirely new side of poverty in my city. Though the use of alcohol and drugs were prevalent, it became clear that the people I worked with had far more in common than substance abuse issues. Most of them struggled with anxiety and depression, often as a result of childhood trauma, as well as job insecurity, and lack of education, but the biggest commonality among people was relationship breakdown. Across the board, people felt unseen, insignificant, unworthy, and burdensome in the eyes of their community. They were often cut off from connection with loved ones and marred by the alienation they felt from society. This persistent loneliness then led to more destructive behaviors and a negative self image. It became clear that the drug abuse I characterized homeless people by, was largely a coping mechanism resulting from long term isolation.
After my change in perspective, I became endlessly curious about the deeper nuances of poverty, addiction, and homelessness. So I set out on a journey to uncover the truth, and what I found was very surprising. During my research, I came across study after study indicating that contrary to popular belief, the causes of long term instability, both financially, residentially, and emotionally, are all related to social exclusion.
According to psychologists today, people who experience a lack of communal support are significantly more likely to struggle with addiction as well as deprivation-level poverty. Shahram Heshmat, doctor of health economics and addiction explains: “we [as humans] are driven innately from birth for close human contact. To the degree that if we are deprived of this…we are emotionally deficient and extremely vulnerable” ^1
Unfortunately, as a culture, we tend to dehumanize and exclude the poor, either blaming and shaming them, or pitying and patronizing them. Both responses are equally detrimental in that they both diminish an individual to his, her, or their most basic needs and failings.
So instead of defining people by their vulnerabilities, we need to begin to see ourselves in the “other”. We need to understand and recognize our unifying humanity. We need to push practical “solutions” and problem solving proposals LESS and start building on connection and compassion more. Because at the moment, we are trying to cure a cold with a bandaid. Without restoring broken relationships and regaining community unity, all of our innovation and progress will be in vain.
So start today!