So what’s it like being homeless?

Homeless man, Tokyo.

Image via Wikipedia

Most of us don’t have to answer that question and if we did I’m sure there would be some interesting answers, especially from those without the experience. One thing is for certain, unless you have, you will not likely have a credible answer. The reason for that is simple, at least in America. There is a limit to how much another person can empathize with this condition. I have always felt a touch of sorrow and maybe even a twinge of guilt whenever I’ve been approached by someone disheveled and shall we say, residentially challenged. Perhaps like me you may have shrugged it off and think, they must have brought this on themselves through some poor life choices or they are mentally incompetent. That maybe true but often there’s more to it than that.

Once you are cutoff from gainful employment significantly above the minimum wage, things start to devolve. If you are used to living in a nice home or driving a newer or maintained car after the savings run out, some very difficult choices become inevitable. The American dream begins to unravel. One of them is a loss of residence. Oh and that credit rating you worked so hard to protect for many years, kiss that goodbye too. If you have hobbies or a collection of nice things, say goodbye to them. Mementos, souvenirs, family photos, even military medals and records all become part of your past. Then you start to understand what a trap, both emotionally and physically the loss of home and employment becomes. The longer it goes on the more difficult it is to get out of this trap. You don’t have an address where mail can be sent. No telephone calls can be received. Potential worthwhile employers look at your present circumstances and see the bad credit, the long employment gap and only perpetuate your problem by not hiring you.

Friends and relatives or others might think you did this to yourself so you must deserve it. You’re considered indolent, a heavy burden on society and a rich topic for talk show hosts to rattle on about. If you are married with children the emotional load becomes even heavier. Your concerns switch from yourself to wanting to make it better for them but the problems get worse as time goes on. Some spouses forget the vows of ‘for better or worse’ and pack it in.

Over time the emotional challenges increase as your own self worth takes a beating. It’s difficult to stay positive when the reality of missing a warm place to stay, good healthy meals and the comfort of normal social interaction becomes a fading memory. If your health fails you don’t have many options. Sure, in an emergency you might be able to go to a hospital but they will only perform triage. Long term recuperative stays for pneumonia, influenza or worse cancer, stroke, crippling disease or damage to limbs from accident are not possible. If you have dental emergencies or cavity repair, you are out of luck. This only makes it worse for anyone desirous of wanting to escape the homeless trap.

Simple things most of us take for granted are a big problem. Most normal people don’t want to look or smell offensive but when you are homeless it’s almost impossible to get cleaned up or have a dignified way of going to the bathroom. Normal sleep is difficult and if you are caught somewhere in public either using the bathroom, cleaning yourself or trying to sleep you may be arrested. Now you have another unwelcome problem. I failed to mention a huge problem for the homeless, personal security. You are the prey of druggies, the criminal or the random young punk that thinks its a lot of fun to harass or harm you. Try carrying even a knife to protect yourself and your problems become larger.

So we have wealthy people holding lavish dinners, comedy skits and other charity fanfare to help, but do they? Frankly, no offense, but I think its more for salving their conscience because they do nothing to understand how to solve the problem. The only saving grace for some that are homeless is if they have caring families or good friends. Even their patience and goodwill has it’s limits. I recommend this blog as a starting point; Survival Guide to Homelessness. Additional insight on this topic can be found here; The Homeless Guy blog.

As the relatively poor economy drags on we hear another round of government spending is going to help. Don’t hold your breath because you can’t pay your own bills with borrowed money indefinitely and this will play out in a similar fashion. Someday the federal government will no longer be able to find a way to convince other countries or a collection of investors willing to infuse more cash. That is the time when our present situation will look like a picnic. More companies and banks will fail and even some of the super rich will be affected. No country or individual can ever spend their way to profit. Only skilled and traded labor provides true wealth. Someone’s labor becomes valued by others and then wages or monies can be exchanged. Taxes can be applied to this transfer of goods and services. The government does nothing to create this wealth so using our money or future money to put back into the public sector is akin to stealing your wallet and handing a portion of it back to you.