I believe I know how some people can wind up out on the lawn with all their belongings, despite the fact that it takes some time before a landlord can legally and literally kick you out. It’s because it is so impossible to believe the reality of actually losing your shelter; the impossibility of believing you are truly about to become homeless – not to mention all the losses that go along with that: belongings, memories, activities, daily rituals and routines, self-care abilities, sleep habits, cooking and eating habits, … the list goes on and on. Your life is not just being altered; it’s being dismantled. Everything familiar is about to be lost – there is no longer any normalcy.
I think it may also be so unbelievable because of the arrogant myth in our culture that homeless people are somehow different than the “rest” of us: far removed from “normal” people. Even if compassion exists for the homeless, it may still be hard to fathom it could ever be you in that position. That homeless people somehow were destined to be homeless or somehow brought it on themselves. Whether born into poverty, uneducated, suffering serious mental illness or drug addiction, a runaway from an abusive situation, or just unwilling or unable to fit into society – they are not “us”. Not someone who seeks out an education, pursues a career, is driven to succeed, wants to work and have a sense of purpose, and is skilled and motivated. All the things we learn make us different and make a difference in how our lives will turn out. We learn these things set us apart from homeless people. We never learn that the homeless may very well have all these qualities of character or may have had them before they lost everything or may have had the potential for such things had they only had the opportunities most of us take for granted. And we definitely don’t learn that at any time our own circumstances can change: health, finances, etc. – and put us on the path to homelessness.
This myth has got to be dispelled. We must challenge it. Challenge people who perpetuate it, so that the bias and prejudice against the homeless can be obliterated. This is likely the only way to finally put an end to homelessness. If people recognize, and I mean truly recognize that homeless people are just people; people who lost their homes, livelihoods, and everything else; and that it could just as easily be them in that situation, I am sure there would be little tolerance for allowing people to end up homeless in the first place.
As long as we, as a culture, make excuses, we perpetuate a government that will abandon us if we ever find ourselves in a financial crisis. And more and more of us are falling into that category. Unfortunately, once we are in those shoes, we are far less likely to be heard by others, because we now are different from normal people; we are less worthy of attention. And as the losses mount, our own abilities to fight for support and assistance wane under the psychological and physiological stress.
Some time ago, a coworker responded to my fears of homelessness by saying that they (government welfare agencies) wouldn’t let me become homeless. I was boggled by this statement and said, “Of course they would. They do it all the time. There are homeless people everywhere.” Her reply was that “Those people want to be homeless.” In shock, I blurted, “Bullshit”.
And now, some months later, as I try to “plan” for an existence without a home and, in essence, without a life, I hope this coworker will find it hard to defend this myth; this need for denial. Unfortunately, I think she will find some way of holding on to it; of making me different enough from her that, in her mind, my ultimate homelessness will have more to do with something about me than it does with our government and our culture.
She, like so many others, probably doesn’t want to believe that the system abandons its people when they need help; or to believe it could ever happen to them; or even that they could have an influence or make a difference. This might mean having to do something about it; having to feel some responsibility. This might mean having to question their comfortably established beliefs or political philosophies; having to get up out of their cozy sinkhole in the couch.