Homelessness is Resilience

WRITTEN BY ANDREA

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There are many ways to define resilience. I see this everyday in my job working with people who have experienced homelessness.

For the people we work with, homelessness is usually not a temporary condition for them, generally they have been chronically homeless. Chronic homelessness is defined by our government as someone who has experienced homelessness for at least a year, or multiple times in three years, and also they are disabled in some way.

Homelessness can be a result of trauma in someone's life but is a traumatic experience as well. Our basic needs as humans include safety, shelter, food, and water. These elements are listed at the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy pyramid of needs with higher order thinking like self-efficacy and expression being at the top. Relationships with others are somewhere in the middle. When humans don't have their basic needs met, behaviors can change radically and look very different than "normal" behavior, because the brain and the body are focused on survival.

Also, often the people we serve had very bad experiences at their home, either because of abuse or traumatic events like a death in their family. Home is not associated with good feelings or security, so even though someone is living on the street, it may be better than what they experienced when they had a home, and in fact being homeless is a survival mechanism. When people who have experienced homelessness have an opportunity for a stable home, sometimes it causes severe anxiety because of their past trauma at home, or because of the fear of losing their home again.

Sometimes because the change in lifestyle also means having to completely rewire their brain and way of doing things. I am often amazed at people who might have lived outside for literally decades, surviving being beaten up by strangers, arrested, going hungry or being cold for days and days at a time, being deathly afraid of going to the doctor or filling out paperwork so they can get housing, to the point they sabotage things that would likely make their life better because of their survival instinct.

One of the awesome things we have been able to do at the Resilience Project is to help people who have had these experiences tell their story to others, which is both empowering for them and educational for people who don't know why people experience homelessness. Their stories of survival and resilience are both heartbreaking and inspiring. Homelessness is resilience.