It’s been a couple years since I last wrote on this subject. I read over that old post recently and found some problems with it. It’s not that the information was wrong but that I think I can explain things better, more clearly, now.
People outside of homelessness usually only consider the “how” of becoming homeless. The how of becoming homeless is fairly simple, and everyone who becomes homeless runs into this same problem. They lose the resources necessary for maintaining a home, that is, a place of their own in which to live. (I’ll try to define homelessness in another post.) The people outside of homelessness see that a person lost his job, and in turn lost his apartment. So to them the answer is easy, homeless people just need to get another job. But that is too shallow of a view of homelessness to be accurate. It fails to ask the question, “why did they lose their job?” To find the answer to that question requires more time and attention than most people want to give to the subject, and don’t pursue any deeper answers.
Of course losing a job is only one way a person losing his resources for keeping a home. Sometimes they are living with family or others who are paying the rent. This often happens to young people and to people going through a divorce. A parent my decide that they no longer want their child living with them, and so they put them out on the street. Or, after a divorce or a break up of a relationship, the income they depended on is either cut in half, or lost all together, if the other person involved was paying the bills. It is even more difficult to get back into that kind of living arrangement, once it is lost, and adequate employment is even more difficult for that person to find. I think most people would be surprised, if not alarmed, at the amount of people who became homeless after a divorce. There are many, especially for men who are required to pay child support and alimony. These men usually maintain their employment, but because of judgments against them, they no longer have enough income to also pay for a place to live. Because of this, many full time employed men live at shelters.
That answers the question “How do people become homeless”, but like I said before, it doesn’t answer the questions of “why”. When considering why people become homeless their appears to be two kinds of homeless person. There is the person whose only problem is financial. For whatever reason, they were unable to pay their bills. That may be because they did not adequately plan for periods of unemployment, or they made some decisions with their money that did not work out for them.
For these people, their homeless experience lasts only a short time, a few months at the most. Once they get a taste of homelessness, they become highly motivated to fix their financial problems, and to leave homelessness once and for good. Often, these people are able to get additional help from friends and family which will shorten their stay in homelessness even more. They arrange to stay with family, or perhaps borrow money from a friend. Because the cause of their homelessness was only an issue of finances, they can be trusted to payback loans, and to not over stay their welcome at their parents home, etc.
In the other group of homeless people, the “why” of their homelessness is more complex, or at least more difficult to determine. For these people, just getting another job isn’t going to help them. The reason they have lost their access to resources is because they have issues beyond their control. These people are suffering from some kind of mental health issue. And yes, I do include addicts and alcoholics in this group. There are actually more addicts and alcoholics who still maintain homes than are homeless. Surely there must be more to the homelessness of an addict that just being an addict.
It must be said that a person doesn’t have to be “crazy” for their mental health issues to become a reason for their homelessness. It only has to affect their decision making. People who suffer from depression or anxiety, or both, or a number of other issues, are not crazy by any stretch of the imagination, but they are still trapped in homelessness because they don’t have the means to overcome their mental health issues. It is often the case that a relationship is broken because one of the people in the relationship developed a debilitating depression. Being that they depressed, not only does their relationship end, but they are also unable to move on, get a new job, and live independently. That’s a double hit that for people suffering depression becomes very debilitating, and difficult to overcome.
For people suffering from mental health issues they must first be able to admit that they have a mental health issue, then they must accurately identify the issue, and then heal from that issue before they can move on towards getting the resources necessary to maintain an independent life. That takes a lot of work. It also requires many resources on it’s own. It is very difficult for homeless people to get and keep help from a mental health professional. The conditions of homelessness also interfere with maintaining that help. If your not able to get bus fair together, you might miss out of therapy sessions, etc. And that kind of thing can hinder a person’s healing.