Webster Dictionary says simply it is a state of “having no home or permanent place of residence. “
If only the answer were so simple.
The fact is that people who become homeless usually are coping with a tangled web of problems. An untreated severe mental illness makes it difficult to sustain work and to follow a lease. A victim fleeing domestic violence has to heal, and may even have to hide for a while. Families who suffer loss of income or face major medical expenses can lose everything.
Once they become homeless people feel disconnected; family and friends may cut them off, or the homeless person is too embarrassed to reach out. They lack much more than housing. Homelessness erodes a person’s ability to plan and think ahead. It robs them of dignity and confidence. The biggest loss of all? Hope.
About 20% of all homeless persons are homeless more than once. Some cycle between the streets, sleeping on a friend’s sofa, hotels and shelters. One gentleman I know lived this way for 17 years passed before he saw himself as homeless. He had an untreated mental illness and a dependency on drugs that clouded his self-awareness. Patient outreach to him finally engaged him in services he needed to recover from his illnesses. Today he has a home, is engaged in treatment and working part time.
Just the fear of homelessness can be paralyzing. Jan and her two year old son had received an eviction notice after she lost her full-time job and fell behind on her rent. Her family lived far away and could not help. Jan felt alone and she was angry. She had lost hope.
My agency, ICAN Housing Solutions, helped Jan get caught up on her rent. ICAN’s Homeless Prevention Program, funded by HUD’s Emergency Solutions grant program, provided rent assistance for six months until she was secure in a new job and back in school.
Jan’s dilemma was not only a matter of money. Anyone can write a check to a landlord. She needed someone to listen and support her as her life stabilized. She called ICAN 18 months later to report she and her child were still in their home, and she was close to graduation. Jan stayed in touch because a bond had been built.
If we want to solve homelessness we must pull apart the layers of problems homeless people face, analyze them, then put together a plan that will address them. We must find the financial, health care, educational and housing resources to implement the plan. Homelessness is not simply “having no home or permanent place of residence”. Homelessness is very personal. The answers must be just as personal. Agencies such as ICAN provide that person to person attention that moves an individual or a family from homelessness to a life of recovery.