By Randle Loeb on Dec 18, 2009 | In Caring and Surviving, Citizenship and Stewards By Randle Loeb
What Do Homeless People Experience From the Perspective of Loss of Loved Ones?
When a homeless person dies one thinks, “When is it my turn?” Usually the person, if they are alone thinks, “None will be aware of my death.” “My family, friends, loved ones, colleagues, people where I grew up will have forgotten me and not know whether I am dead.” This is a persistent feeling because the quality of life of a homeless person is unpredictable and precarious.
The question of whether a homeless person will be assaulted and lose their things is always a possibility. One has to sleep with one eye open and often the illnesses associated with being cold, losing toes or the opposite extreme and being vulnerable to heat and cold illnesses are prevalent. The average life of a homeless person, whether they have been housed or not, is at least twenty-five years less than the average age of a person. This means that people who live to their eightieth birthday will die at an average age of fifty-five.
There are few older homeless people because their lives are compromised by lack of hygiene, adequate health care, a place to bathe, a chance to change their clothes, suffering from fungus, loss of teeth, hearing and eyesight. Homeless people have little access to quality health care and for the thirty-five percent with persistent mental illnesses the impact of lack of mental health care can lead to suicide, depression, lack of awareness of the conditions that affect the person, and a total disregard for their safety and care.
Homeless people have little or no support from anyone and on average their social survival skills cannot inevitably protect them from inevitable death. Many people who are housed in “Housing First” die. Housing First is a program that takes people who are most severely limited and places them in housing without any question. The success rate of the program that was initiated in New York City is over eighty percent with approval of the program by the residents of ninety-five percent. The percentage of these people is more than ten percent and has been since the inception of the program in 2003.
A lot of social services throughout history believed that people had to earn the right to a bed and a place of one’s own. Today we understand to well that the only solution to homelessness is having a place off the street and a means to get on with one’s life, reconnect with family and friends and rebuild the life that was lost. Housing First is the only sustainable program that accomplishes this task. When measuring the impact of being homeless the first responsibility of the community is providing basic human rights as outlined in the Declaration of Human Rights in the United Nations Charter, adopted in 1948 and fought for by Eleanor Roosevelt.
All too often in America no one has been aware that homeless children start out their lives in utter poverty and never see what it means to have enough or to live with dignity. The entire history of this can be seen in a book called “America’s Children,” a portrait in black and white photography of the conditions of degradation and loss that was passed from generation to generation throughout the history of the United States. In this book the editors examine the course of child labor laws and the abandoned children littered throughout the landscape of America. Many people who are homeless, addicted, in the military, imprisoned, mentally ill, suffering have begun their fragile lives without any sense of who they are and what it is like to sit down at a table and eat. When we see the loss that is pervasive it is clear that a large number of youth who age out of foster care become homeless. Many start substance abuse when they are no more than ten years old.
When we consider the values and suffering that may occur with ethnic minorities the morbidity rate may reach one half of the life expectancy of white people. This means that the average age of a Native American may be forty-four years. The death rate is equivalent to the most impoverished nations in the world. Yet, these people live in America in our prisons, along the countryside, in hamlets and villages, in urban corridors, as nomads from place to place, along transit corridors and in the cramped and dilapidated condition of motels and parking lots, river banks, in waiting rooms of hospitals and on couches where they may stay for a spell.
The condition of women who experience this degrading poverty is far more stark as many homeless women must develop a strategy to avoid being assaulted and therefore take options of staying with someone to protect their lives only to discern that they are the victims of domestic violence. In many cases too many adolescents are snatched from the street into prostitution and enslaved. Far too many children are victimized as Precious was in the book, “Sapphire,” by abusive partners of their abused mothers. The death rate among abused and battered people continues to escalate when the conditions of economic stress are exacerbated.
There is one way to resolve these issues: to extend one self as Dr. Vincent Harding, Jr, the founder of the Ambassadors and Veterans of Hope, and offer a place for those who need a home. Many heroic leaders throughout history, like Anna Koop, of the Catholic Worker House have given respite to every person who came to knock on their door without question. In some places throughout the world it is untenable for any homeless person to be without a place to live. The townspeople of Geel in the Netherlands simply refuse to let the person stay on the street and offer their homes to the stranger as a matter of normal life. Life Sharing and Camphill Villages as well as Citizen Advocacy partner people with disabilities with people who have no where to turn and gratefully open their homes to the person who is wayward and has no one to ask for help.
In this season of giving we have to ask ourselves is my community taking care of the least of its citizens? Are we the Good Samaritan or do we turn and shrug our shoulders and say that this is the government’s responsibility to fix? Let us hope that no one will be homeless and that all our neighbors can one day age in place. As the constable of Geel said, “My mother took care of a way farer and when she died, my sister assumed the responsibility for his welfare.” We call this community models of recovery and it is time that we realized that this is way, the hope and the light that was expressed in scriptures. May this time and this season be a hearth of peace for all.
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