January 4, 2016 by poverty2professional
Humor me for a moment: Let’s say you’re homeless. Keeping your identity as you are (you’re not teenager me, you’re not the guy down the street), let’s say you are literally without a home. And the day has just begun. Where would you go and what would you do?
Bear in mind: You don’t have easy access to personalized entertainment (the Internet, a TV, or video games) or a private, personal space. So, if you were hoping to invite some friends over or find a place to comfortably relax, the challenge has increased. Make a list of all the activities you enjoy that generally require a home setting. I’ll start:
- lounging on a sofa
- getting a snack out of the fridge
- working on a personal computer
- drawing cartoons without the wind blowing them away
That’s just to name a few, and it’s not even considering inclement weather. Or, even more important, money.
To make the most of your time outside, think about the amount of it that requires some cash and reliable transportation. Suddenly, the options dwindle. Attempts to mitigate costs can even be incurred through seemingly free options. For instance, if you want to go on a hike or to the beach and enjoy the great outdoors, you now have to make sure you have access to running water and a place to clean up after you’ve spent some time outside. That’s going to cost you.
The local library and hanging out in the nearby park become your haunts. They’re consistent, they’re free, and nobody questions why you’re there. Homelessness, in its own way, leads to a social death. In joining one of our society’s most shunned communities, being homeless means becoming a ghost. Passersby pretend not to see you, you usually show up in the same place over and over, and the only people who really take interest in you are the ones who don’t want you there because you’re mucking up the scenery.
So, where do you go?
“I’m going to be in the library applying to every job I find online!”
I hope you were able to eat breakfast before we began our simulation. And that you had a good night’s sleep. Otherwise, your focus and motivation is going to be lagging. I was lucky my school offered free lunch for low-income students because the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps) between me and my dad were not going to last the whole month. It’s called “the Food Stamp Challenge” for a reason and, even if you can manage to subsist on $1.25 per meal, you need a home to prepare most of the food that government assistance lets you buy. Only California (phew!), Arizona, Florida, and Michigan allow SNAP benefits to be used at participating restaurant/fast food locations. In 46 other states, you’d be out of luck.
But let’s revisit the job search. Given that you meet the general qualifications and aren’t in a time of recession like we were in 2008, the other question is what do you do after you apply? Look for modest work? Great! But the unwritten social rule is that in order to get and keep a job, you need to look like you have a home.
With nowhere to claim, you’re denied the basic mental goal posts that having a home provides: privacy, personalization, and permanency. What housed folks take for granted is that a home is so much more than a place to sleep. It’s a space to recuperate and refocus, to establish a sense of ownership, and to feel secure and stable. One of the keys to combating homelessness is establishing stability.
If being homeless comes with a gaping nowhere feeling, the anathema is to fill that void. Establish regularity, a sense of a secure, supportive routine. Think of all the things you do on a regular basis that have some semblance of structure. Commuting to work, heading off to school, waking up and brushing your teeth. These are all the things we do on a consistent basis to feel “normal.” It’s in building a routine that we establish the ability to keep sane under stress and focus our attentions on more critical circumstances.
In my family’s case, having a routine would help us on securing our next stable living arrangement. My routine was kept intact because I still went to school. For no less than seven hours each day, I had somewhere to be. If I was tutoring afterschool that day, that was another hour I didn’t have to be accountable for. At school, I got to feel alive again.
The benefit of an autonomous routine is one of the privileges afforded to a housed lifestyle. Homelessness demolishes any hope of conforming to traditional work hours. Then it would be time for the winter shelter’s curfew: 4:30pm. Still thinking you would have applied to all the jobs online? If you had a job and were homeless, like the 44% of folks who are, that would be an awfully difficult position to maintain. Much less that you’re missing a solid place to keep your nice work clothes stored. From 4:30pm to 6am, more than half the day was under the control of another entity that didn’t even offer an extra hour’s worth of shelter for the sun to warm up the morning.
In succeeding entries, this blog will examine the constraints of shelters and what it takes not only to survive but escape the cycle of homelessness. Before we get there, I’d like to take a couple entries to clarify some of obstacles before me and other families in my situation as well as acknowledge several of the blessings I had in my corner.
Nowhere can be a pretty dizzying domain to navigate. Let’s try not to get lost.
New resolution: As of January 4, 2016, Poverty to Professional will update every week on Monday. Thank you for reading!