Psychologically, the image of a house is a symbol of our self. The condition of the house in a dream (and in our waking reality) indicates the state of our psychic home. We assess: Whose space are we occupying?, What is going on in it?, and What is the condition of it? Are things in order or cluttered? What needs attention?
The nostalgic longing-for-home theme is archetypal and has deep psychological meaning. It resonates with poet John Newman’s thought, “The night is dark, and I am far from home.”
Indeed. All people desire the basic human right to a secure shelter, and a sense of community and belonging. What about people who do not have the basic human need of reliable and comfortable shelter – the homeless?
We often have difficulty acknowledging homelessness and interacting with homeless people.
R. C. Coates, author of The Street is Not a Home, suggested that the homeless represent “the shadow, the darker, the harsher side of life and humanity.” It is a side which many people find uncomfortable.
Homelessness often evokes fears of abandonment and social alienation, represents the loss of family and government support, and exemplifies the lack of autonomy. Our worst fantasies may involve the loss of our money, status and material belongings. How would I survive? Who would look after me? How would people look at me?
Homelessness also represents society’s shadow material. It reveals biased rigid and negative attitudes towards people, often those with mental health and addiction issues. We can be afraid of ourselves becoming homeless as well as being afraid of homeless people themselves. What are you afraid of? Are these fears based on reality and facts or on an irrational stereotype? What and from whom did you learn about homelessness? Does one hold a belief that “they ought to just go get a job” or “giving them money enables them”? (What would $2 allow you to do?)
Stereotypical views stigmatize “those” people, often without knowing the truth about the dynamics and factors contributing to homelessness.
Homelessness is usually the result of the cumulative impact of a number of factors, rather than a single cause. Factors include:
Structural factors are economic and societal issues that affect opportunities and social environments. Key factors include the lack of adequate income, access to affordable housing and health supports and/or the experience of discrimination.
People who are poor are frequently unable to pay for necessities such as housing, food, childcare, health care, and education and can mean a person is one illness, one accident, or one paycheck away from living on the streets. Do you know anyone in a similar position?
Systems failures occur when other systems of care and support fail, requiring vulnerable people to turn to the homelessness sector, when other mainstream services could have prevented this need.
Examples of systems failures include difficult transitions from child welfare, inadequate discharge planning for people leaving hospitals, corrections, mental health and addictions facilities, and a lack of support for immigrants, refugees and even military personnel (2% of Canadian homeless are veterans).
Individual and relational factors apply to the personal circumstances of a homeless person, and may include: traumatic events (e.g. house fire (e.g., Fort McMurray [300 homeless] or job loss), personal crisis (e.g. family break-up or domestic violence), mental health and addictions challenges (which can be both a cause and consequence of homelessness), and physical health problems or disabilities.
An Urban Institute report noted that “virtually every study shows that adverse childhood experiences (ACE) are strong predictors of homelessness.” These traumatic experiences include physical, psychological and sexual abuse, household substance abuse, domestic violence, family mental illness and the loss of a parent. In homeless under the age of 18, many indicate abuse as the primary factor for leaving their previous home.
One worldwide best practices approach to the homeless situation is using The Housing First program which is based upon these key principles:
- Immediate access to permanent housing with no housing readiness requirements.This involves directly helping clients locate and secure safe and permanent housing as rapidly as possible. Housing is not conditional on sobriety or abstinence or any other ‘readiness’ criteria.
- Offering clients choice and self-determination in housing and supports. Clients must be given choice in terms of housing options as well as the services they wish to access.
- A recovery orientation focuses on individual well-being, and ensures that clients have access to a range of supports that enable them to nurture and maintain social, recreational, educational, occupational and vocational activities.
- Individualized and client-driven supports.Individuals should be provided with “a range of treatment and support services that are voluntary, individualized, culturally-appropriate, and portable (e.g. in mental health, substance use, physical health, employment, education)” (Goering et al., 2012:12).
- Social and community integration. This helps people integrate into their community and requires socially supportive engagement and the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities.
Homelessness is not merely providing people will a secure living space. It is creating a space which fosters connection and belonging, hope and sense of self – much of which have been shattered by the very factors which have contributed to homelessness.
Solving homelessness is a two-pronged approach – the provision of housing and the necessary support services – the merging of home with soul.
See http://homelesshub.ca/ for more information.