This post is going to brutally honest.
One of the main reasons I kept quiet about my experience of being homeless as a teenager for more than 2 decades is because of the stigma. I didn’t want to be judged because of it.
Let me explain to you how it feels to be judged because you are homeless. It is soul crushing. It makes you feel like you are nothing. Not worthy of anything. Of love. Of support. Of anything.
The worst part is the reason you are homeless is quite often because you are a victim of something, usually something incredibly traumatic, like abuse. You already feel like you are worthless and then when you have the stigma that is attached to being homeless added to that, it is a feeling that is indescribable.
I’m sitting here now and I’m going back to that place in my mind. I can feel that feeling within every fibre of my being. If I were to give it a comparison to something that most people would be aware of, it would be the Dementors in the Harry Potter series of books sucking the life out of you.
Sucking out your ability to feel any happiness. To feel any joy. To feel any hope.
Imagine living that way day in and day out. From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, you feel like you are scum. That you are worthless.
That is how you feel every minute of every day of your life when you are homeless.
There is such a common perception that people who are homeless are there because they have somehow caused it. They have done something wrong. They have a drug addiction or a mental illness.
That is such a convenient way to compartmentalise the whole issue. It’s somehow ‘their’ fault. By promoting this convenient explanation for the situation homeless people are in, it abdicates any and all responsibility for everyone else. It’s not ‘our’ fault. It’s ‘theirs’.
To say that people who are homeless don’t do their best is absolute bullshit!! Have you experienced not knowing where you are going to sleep each night or not knowing where your next meal is coming from?
Then imagine adding on top of that the emotional damage caused by the trauma (for me it was abuse) that led you to be homeless in the first place. Imagine the feelings of rejection. Isolation. Alienation. Heartbreak. Trauma.
The stigma that comes with being homeless actually adds more of these same feelings into the mix causing even more damage
Let me address two specific areas of stigma now. The first is mental illness.
Just saying that people are homeless because they have a mental illness is a cop out. It is a convenient way to abdicate all responsibility for it. It’s ‘their’ fault.
I’m not an expert but I would say most people who are homeless and who have a mental illness have it because of the abuse they have suffered or the trauma they have been through. The mental illness, like the homelessness, is a consequence of being abused or having something traumatic happen to them. These people are victims.
They are homeless because they are victims. They have a mental illness because they are victims.
You can’t put the cart before the horse just because it then means you don’t have to take responsibility for the issue or show compassion and understanding. It doesn’t work that way.
Then there is drug use.
I have touched on this in another post. When you feel like you are nothing, and that you are scum; when you have been rejected and abused; when you feel like you don’t matter and no one gives a shit about you, it is an indescribable pain.
If you haven’t felt it, you are lucky. I’m glad you haven’t because it is a feeling I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
It is a pain so indescribable that it isn’t any wonder people turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain. Would you want to live every day of your life feeling this way?
I very much doubt it.
I would say most people who are homeless turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. To not have to feel it sucking any ability to feel happiness out of them, like the Dementors in Harry Potter do.
I’m writing this post because the stigma that is generally placed upon someone who is homeless is unjust and unacceptable. It needs to change.
At it’s least toxic, it is ignorance. Ignorance isn’t okay, though, especially when it comes to someone else and their lives. We, as a society, need to do better in understanding where others might be at and what they are going through.
At it’s most toxic, the stigma placed on people experiencing homelessness is disgusting. It is sickening. Appalling. It completely abdicates everyone else from their responsibility in helping resolve the issue.
This is why there are 116,000 people who are homeless tonight here in Australia. It’s because it is easier to just blame these people than it is to accept that we, too, have a part to play here. That we, too, have a responsibility to help fix the issues that result in these people ending up homeless in the first place.
This week in Australia it is National Homelessness Week. Our Prime Minister said a few weeks ago “If you have a go, you’ll get a go!” That statement made me angrier than I have been in a very long time.
I know many, many, many homeless people are giving life a huge go. All day, every day, they are doing the best they possibly can.
They are trying to stay alive. They are fighting their demons day in and day out without a stable roof over their heads, whilst the rest of us have food on the table and warm beds at night. Whilst we have a place to call home.
If you think homeless people aren’t having a go, then you are ill informed.
For me when I was homeless, the best I could do every day was try to not kill myself. If that wasn’t giving life a huge go, then I don’t know what was.
It is the same for every person who is homeless. They are giving their life a red hot go in their own way. Who are the rest of us to judge and condemn them?
We haven’t walked the road they have. We haven’t lived with the heartbreak and trauma they have to live with! I have lived with my own trauma and heartache but my road is different to other people’s. Just because I have gotten to where I am today, doesn’t mean everyone else can.
It’s very easy to say things like “If you have a go, you’ll get a go” and place stigma on someone who is homeless when you haven’t experienced anything even close to what they have. When you haven’t been been subjected to the things I and so many others were subjected to.
The bottom line is, unless you have experienced it for yourself, you don’t have the right to judge someone who is in this situation. Try walking a mile in their shoes.
If you did, there is no way you would think it was ‘their fault’ again.
All my love, Gretel xx