Without a doubt, sleep is the biggest issue for homeless people. Surprised? Well yeah, homeless advocates are always focused on what are believed to be the root causes of homelessness, and providing the basics of food shelter and clothing to those who do without. And although those things are important in their own way, they don’t affect homeless people with the intensity that sleep does (or the lack thereof). Sure, I’ll explain why. (I knew you’d ask). When advocating for the homeless, the advocates are expected to talk about certain subjects in a certain way, otherwise they people they are talking to, the general public, will either not accept or understand, what is being said to them. The general pubic has certain ideas, prejudices really, (borne from ignorance) about the homeless, which advocates must address, and address in a certain way, so to gain the trust and respect of the general public, so that when all is said and done, the public supports, (financially and otherwise) the work of the advocates for the homeless. Sad but true, people are more often supporting the work of advocates by giving what they want to give, instead of giving what is actually needed. For the majority of the public, their experience with homeless people is limited to encounters with drunken panhandlers. Because of this most donations given to homeless service providers, and the majority of resources available to advocates are geared towards dealing with homeless people who are alcoholics that panhandle. The reality is that these alcoholic panhandlers are a minority of the total homeless population. “Do something about these drunks” “Do something about all these bums panhandling” “Do something about homeless people defecating in the alleys” “do something about these lazy vagrants” “Do something about these people asking for money for food.” “These people smell.” I have yet to hear anyone from the general public ask, “do the homeless people get enough sleep?” Now, you may think “that’s ridiculous. All I ever see is homeless people sitting about, or even lying down. If anything they are getting too much rest.” I understand that such comes from your particular perspective, but you are not seeing the whole picture of homelessness, you don’t know the full story. The importance of sleep is often talked about in the media, often focused on the problems that a lack of sleep causes people. F Mental and physical problems quickly mount for people suffering from sleep deprivation, depression grows, work productivity falls off, etc. This problem affects the homeless the same way. Odd as it may seem, the homeless are people too. For nearly everyone, their homeless experience begins with sleep deprivation. They lose their home, and don’t really know where to go, once their homelessness begins. If they still own a car, they will try spending a few nights sleeping in their not-quite-enough-room automobile. It is very difficult to sleep in a car just because of its design. Then you have all sorts of other issues to contend with, depending on where the car is parked. The police who patrol at night keep an eye out for people sleeping in cars, and even if sleeping in your car isn’t illegal (in more an more cities, car sleeping is being made illegal) they will often “check on your welfare” about 3am, just to make sure you are ok – and ruining any chance you’ll have of getting a decent night’s sleep. Parking in urban areas is just as problematic as paranoid residents easily spot unusual activity on their street and will quickly call the cops. If the newly homeless people doesn’t have a car, their first nights are often spent on bus benches or up against business doorways or in alleys. There, they are exposed to the elements of rain, wind, extreme temperatures, and to all the predators that roam the city at night – mostly of the human variety. Homeless people often have their personal possessions stolen from them as they sleep, but more often they are pestered by both homeless and non-homeless people who happen upon. Just because you are sleeping is no guarantee that people will leave you alone. Even if they mean you no harm, they may still wake you just to ask for a cigarette, or other unimportant thing. Then, of course is the difficulty of just trying to sleep in a new environment. So, after a few days of this, you become weary of it, and decide to look for help, for food, a place to shower, and a real mattress to sleep on. You check in to a a homeless shelter, and hope for the best. But the “best” is not offered at shelters, not by a long shot. After a long period of processing and standing in lines, and possibly being required to listen to some inane religious preaching, you’ll finally be assigned a bed. You’ll find this bed is located in a large warehouse type room with many other beds – more than likely they will be bunk beds, or army cots, (ever try to sleep on an army cot?) You will be in a room with anywhere from 25 to 150 other homeless people, and not all of them will be ready to go to sleep. They will be talking, laughing or yelling, getting into fights (verbal and physical) making noises, the mentally ill will be trying to wind down from their constant hallucinations. As is practiced in many shelters, you’ll be required to undress, give your clothes over to shelter personnel to be placed in a closet, you’ll have to wear hospital scrubs. You’ll be given one thin blanket, regardless of the temperature, you may, or may not be issued a pillow. If you like the cold, you’ll sleep well, if not, you could have problems. Me, I can’t sleep when I’m cold. Shelters in Nashville are always cold, regardless of the time of year. After a couple hours, most everyone has settled in to sleep, and you’ll get some sleep. But then you’ll be awaked, sometimes rudely, at 5am at most shelters. 5am every single morning. Well, in religious shelters they might allow you to sleep in until 5:30am on Sundays. You will be required (forced if necessary) to leave the dormitory and usually the entire property, immediately. You’ll do your actually waking up out on the sidewalk. There are no opportunities for homeless people to actually rest up, nap, relax in their daily routine. Shelters don’t offer day sleeping opportunities, weekends are treated the same as weekdays. What looks like laziness to the casual bypasser is actually sleep deprivation. Suffering from a lack of sleep, just how is a homeless person supposed to do all the things necessary for overcoming their homelessness?

About Kevin Barbieux

I have been diagnosed as being chronically homeless. I write about my experiences and opinions of being homeless
%d bloggers like this: