by Dr. Paul Hardy
Founder and Executive Director– Recovery for Life Ministries
Raul had become homeless. A number of financial reversals and squashed dreams found him living in the back woods of Virginia Beach, always watching his back and developing a really nasty attitude about life. The anger and sarcasm oozed out of every pore of his body.
It hadn’t always been that way. Early on, his aspirations led him to play baseball and he was a pretty good catcher. He played hard at the game and also played hard at life.
After a blown out knee, and the end of his dreams of going pro, he found a job in a men’s clothing store. After some time, he became the store manager. Drinking became a way of life. It was his stress relief and a way to escape the pain of feeling useless. For a long time he managed his double lifestyle. He had everything under control. That was, until the owner of the store fired him immediately after he came to work drunk. Then his wife could take it no longer and took his precious little girl to leave and survive on her own.
Major Causes of Homelessness
1. "I could feel myself spinning out of control."
We often believe we can control ourselves and our issues in life. Yet, many people get to the point of spinning out of control and cannot maintain a functional life.
Disorders: No one wakes up and thinks they’re going to develop a disorder that could ruin their lives forever. OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), for example, can make going to work torturous. Delina goes through hours of rituals, counting and recounting steps, organizing clothes, scrubbing her hands over and over before she feels able to leave the house. She is about to lose her job because of showing up late so often. The next stop after that will be the woods.
It’s not only having a disorder, but also having an undiagnosed disorder. Some homeless people have the sense that they cannot be boxed in; they prefer (or at least feel they prefer) the woods, open spaces where they can be free. Yet the dangers of having disorders and living out in nature are severe. Many women are raped, taken advantage of. Men get into fights over territory and survival goods.
Addictions: We believe that about 70% of homeless people struggle with addictions. Many people numb the pain of their lifelong difficulties with addictions. When these take over one’s life, everything changes. The consequences catch up sooner or later. The sense of uselessness, despair and failure can be overwhelming.
2. "Two hospital stays took every bit of savings I had."
There are countless situations of people who have developed severe illnesses and could not cover the costs. One hospital visit without insurance can be devastating, let alone a chronic, prolonged stay due to life-threatening disease. Without a job, and with no healthcare, many homeless lose everything to insurmountable debt. It becomes so severe they feel their only recourse is to hide away.
Families are now the fastest growing segment of the homeless population and account for almost 40 percent of the nation’s homeless. On any given night, 1.2 million children are homeless.
Most children become homeless because their mothers and fathers are unable to find affordable housing. Traumatic events such as unemployment, illness, accidents, or violence and abuse further limit their ability to secure decent housing.
The average homeless family is composed of a young, single mother and two children under the age of six. (Stats provided by www.fightpoverty.mmbrico.com)
3. "Then I lost my job."
Both job loss and the inability to find work complicate the issues for many people. Companies are cutting back in many unforeseen ways and it is almost impossible to survive on minimum wage today. As well, when you have no id, driver’s license or vehicle, the challenge to advance in any employment can be next to impossible.
4. If you lose connection with your support base, you could become homeless.
When people are renting and face financial reversals, there may be nowhere else to go. The National Coalition for the Homeless website states:
“Recently, foreclosures have increased the number of people who experience homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless released an entire report discussing the relationship between foreclosure and homelessness. The report found that there was a 32% jump in the number of foreclosures between April 2008 and April 2009. Since the start of the recession, six million jobs have been lost. In May 2009, the official unemployment rate was 9.4%. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that 40 percent of families facing eviction due to foreclosure are renters and 7 million households living on very low incomes (31 - 50 percent of Area Median Income) are at risk of foreclosure.”
5. "Because of my addiction and problems, my family pretty much abandoned us."
Family is at the core of survival for many people. If you have burned your bridges to your family support and friends no longer help, you are truly alone. In many cases, mother and children seek refuge in family members who are still willing to help. This leaves many men out on the street. But due to the severity of the many issues people face, many more families are out in the cold. It is predicted that there are over 1.5 million homeless children in our country. Families who are struggling in today’s economy, find it very hard to bring in another family group which will imply more burden and expense.
Getting Out of Homelessness
Let’s get back to Raul. After years in the woods, he asked for help and found it in a non-profit that helped him sober up and get warm meals. He sensed that someone really cared. He just celebrated three years of sobriety in the program. The Director helped him get a job. He is now a manager and even has a company vehicle. He shares an apartment with his brother. One evening, during his recovery meeting, his phone kept ringing over and over. When he finally answered it, it was his estranged daughter. They meet almost weekly.
Core Concepts for Helping Those Who Need a Hand Up:
1. Micro change is still change.
2. Partnerships create greater possibilities.
3. Holistic approaches are best.
4. It requires an unwavering focus on solutions.
This blog article was written by Dr. Paul Hardy, a champion for the cause of broken and addicted people. For the last 12 years, he and his wife Suzie have dedicated their lives to helping people break free from the bondages of addictions and compulsive behaviors. Together, they founded Recovery for Life, a non-profit that ministers to over 300 people a week in the Virginia Beach, Tidewater area. He is also the Director of the Life Counseling and Recovery Center of Eastern Virginia. Visit their Recovery for Life website (formerly Recovery for the City)